What happens when ever more activities in many domains of everyday life are evaluated and experienced in terms of performance metrics? The ratings and rankings of such systems do not have prices but are more like the prizes of competitions. Yet unlike organized competitions, they are ceaseless and without formal entry. Instead of producing resolutions, their scorings create addictions. In the networks of observation of the performance society all are performing and all keeping score. I refer to this assemblage of metrics, networks, and their attendant emotional pathologies as the performance complex. The chapters in this book study discrete contests (architectural competitions, international music competitions, and world press photo competitions); show how the continuous updating of rankings is both a device for navigating the social world and an engine of anxiety; and examine the production of such anxiety in settings ranging from the pedagogy of performance in business schools to struggling musicians coping with new performance metrics in online platforms.
The Performance Complex
David Stark, “The Performance Complex,” introductory essay for The Performance Complex: Competitions and Valuations in Social Life, edited by David Stark, Oxford University Press, in press.
What’s valuable? Market competition provides one kind of answer. But competitions offer another. On one side, competition is an ongoing and seemingly endless process of pricings; on the other, competitions are discrete and bounded in time and location, with entry rules, judges, scores, and prizings. This book examines what happens when ever more activities in many domains of everyday life are evaluated and experienced in terms of performance metrics. The ratings and rankings of such systems do not have prices but are more like the prizes of competitions. Yet unlike organized competitions, they are ceaseless and without formal entry. Instead of producing resolutions, their scorings create addictions. In the performance society, networks of observation – in which all are performing and all keeping score – are entangled with a system of emotionally charged preoccupations with one’s positioning within the rankings. From the bedroom to the boardroom, pharmaceutical companies and management consultants promise enhanced performance. We refer to this assemblage of metrics, networks, and their attendant emotional pathologies as the performance complex.
For What It’s Worth
In Research in the Sociology of Organizations. 2017, Volume 52., pp. 383-397
This essay takes its point of departure from the intellectual milieu in the mid 1980s that gave rise to Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s book, On Justification: Economies of Worth. It shows how exposure to ideas and concepts in that book came to take varied forms as they were elaborated and modified in my work across several decades of research in diverse empirical settings. The essay appears in a volume on Economies of Worth and French Pragmatist Sociology edited by Charlotte Cloutier, Jean-Pascal Gond, and Bernard Leca.
Top 100 Valuation Devices
This PowerPoint presentation was prepared for the workshop, « From Prizes to Prices, » held in Bologna, January 2017, sponsored by The Leverhulme Trust. To see this self-timed presentation, download the file and click « Play Slide Show. »
Pragmatist Perspectives on Valuation: An Introduction
Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance, Oxford University Press, 2015.
Michael Hutter and I wrote this introductory chapter for an edited volume, Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance (Oxford University Press, 2015). In making the case for a pragmatist perspective on valuation, we emphasize that valuation takes place in situations. Tastes can be put to test, and these tests are themselves contested. As situations, the contestations over valuation are spatially localized and temporally marked.
Concluding chapter of The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in Markets, Patrik Aspers and Jens Beckert, eds. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 319-338.
This essay is the concluding chapter for The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in the Economy, edited by Patrik Aspers and Jens Beckert (Oxford University Press, 2011). I start with an insight of John Dewey’s that the terms price, prize, and praise all share a common Latin root. To this triplicate I add a fourth, perform, using these four concepts as a device to discuss the papers in the volume. In one section, I address the phenemon of Top Ten lists: On-line ratings and rankings by consumers now provide vast sources of data on prizing and appraising – new means to register value judgments in the economy.