Since the early 1990s there has been a surge of global country rankings and governance indices. We think that there is a need to examine numbers (i.e. statistics, indicators and rankings) more carefully. This is because numbers are one of the mechanisms that play an ever more significant role in transforming political ideas into practice, thereby making transnational governance effective. We thus analyse European governance from an instrumentally-oriented angle, seeing it as an ensemble of policy-relevant mechanisms embedded in coercive, economic, institutional and normative forms of power/authority structures.
Numbers ultimately define the scope of governing, since statistics are constructed (hence abstract) entities upon which we can politicise, debate and make decisions. In other words, numerical descriptions of certain social phenomena entail an objectification of these phenomena. Numbers make new concepts of governing operable by bringing new issues to the fore and allowing them to become desired goals, guidelines or deficiencies of governing. However, numbers also narrow the room for debate.
While sovereign states have developed semi-regulatory frameworks (international law and organizations) to work out their external relations, most supranational governance works through subtler mechanisms, such as ‘soft law’, imitation, networking, (private) self-governance and (expert) knowledge. Statistics are increasingly being produced in the international context for the purposes of supranational governance. Even though supranational actors such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum or Transparency International do not pursue state-like sovereign power, their actions and the use of calculative technologies in defining issues of concern bear remarkable resemblance to historical attempts at making the modern state calculable. The collection of global data is a strengthened manifestation of global governmentality.
Even more pronouncedly, this applies to the European Union which has since the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) actively endorsed non-binding, usually knowledge-led cooperation between member states in policy fields formally falling under member state competence. Indeed, the open method of coordination is heavily dependent on numeric indicators. In addition to examining the politics of numbers and their production, we are interested in how these mechanisms translate informal cooperation into formal regulation and institutional practices in Europe.
Too few works try to look at European governance and political implications of numerical objectifications in unison. Studies concerning global and European rankings of various sorts (democracy, good governance, corruption, competitiveness, equality, etc.) have mostly concentrated on methodological questions, often overlooking their political implications, i.e. their role as mechanisms of governance. Commensurable quantitative data covering more concrete policy sectors (e.g. employment, education, environment, energy, agriculture or taxation) are usually analysed separately with no links to the overarching architecture of European governance. Our primary objective is to overcome these shortcomings by exploring various ways in which numbers obtain governance functions.
Our research sets out to examine:
- different types of numbers and measurement methods;
- the producers, their roles, resources, motives and bases of authority;
- the various ways in which the governance function is played out;
- the political implications and regulative institutionalisation of numerical assessments.
As a result, we will be able not only to precisely describe the processes of production and use of global indices and rankings but also to review – with robust empirical backing – the practice’s political significance in Europe more generally.
The project is divided into three subprojects, reflecting the areas of expertise of our researchers:
- Gender, Science and Demographic Governance in Europe (Jemima Repo)
- Good Governance Indicators and State Traditions in Europe (Tero Erkkilä & Ossi Piironen)
- Rankings and Structural Shifts in Higher Education Governance: Convergence or Divergence? (Tero Erkkilä, Niilo Kauppi & Ossi Piironen)