09 SES 03 JS, How to Tame Monsters: Encounters Between Standards and Deviants
Symposium Joint Session NW 09 and NW 28
Standardisation processes seek to overlay bumpy, contoured terrains with grids of smoothness and precision and make the dynamic turmoil of life amenable to tidy mathematics. Standardisation projects are getting ever more ambitious and pervasive (Lampland & Star, 2009), especially in education.Yet a close look shows that such projects are never complete; non-standard monsters continue to roam the planet, albeit sometimes subdued and disguised, defying classification and standardisation (Latour, 1993).
The ubiquity, invisibility and reach of standards have made standardisation an important focus of sociological attention. Studying standards as technosocial hybrids of science and politics (Law, 1991), scholars in ANT and more broadly in STS have developed a range of concepts to study how standards successfully become part of our world or disassemble and fade away.
The four authors in this symposium use these resources to direct their ANTish attention to encounters between monsters (i.e. the non-standard) and theexpanding projects of standardisation in education. They trace the negotiations and the translations that attend the mobilisation of standards, and explore how entities resist and escape such efforts. Their empirical sites are not geographical; instead, their ‘sites’ are the processes of standardisation in international assessments. Escaping methodological nationalism, they offer no ‘national perspectives’. Instead, they describe the thorough intermingling of politics, nature, science and culture involved in international assessment. They collectively ask: how can European scholars respond to the growing confrontations between standardisation and the social and cultural diversity so valued in Europe? The Discussant will comment on the critical possibilities offered by the approaches explored in the four papers.
Gorur examines how the monsters of difference, diversity and uncertainty are tamed by mathematics in the OECD’s efforts to develop international education indicators and to produce annual comparisons ‘at a glance’. She concludes that this annual standardised account has itself become an out-of-control monster, variously used and misused around the world.
International assessments such as PIAAC and the UNESCO LAMP programme seek to examine the extent to which students are able to apply what they know about ‘real life’ contexts and problems. However real life and real people are irreducible and are reluctant to be standardised. The paper by Bryan Maddox explores the dynamics of testing situations, and how human and non-human actors interact to produce standardised data.
PISA was originally intended for the OECD member nations, but the OECD now seeks a PISA for Development to encourage more low and middle income nations to comparatively benchmark their progress. Addey explores how PISA will negotiate the always delicate balance between innovation and the maintenance of trend stability in projects of standardisation and how the attempt to manage this balance leads to conceptual contradiction and methodological standardization.
An important by-product of processes of ordering and standardising is the production of the ‘other’ to order: disorder. Examining the media responses to the first PIAAC survey of the OECD, Hamilton explores the extent to which the OECD’s careful efforts to orchestrate and manage the media reporting of PIAAC become unruly and difficult to control as the media – especially interactive blogs and other forms of social media – blur the lines between producers and consumers of news and thus translate the PIAAC project.
The four papers together demonstrate how ANT’s descriptive sociology can also be disruptive, opening up new points of interference and participation. Treating humans and non-humans as analytically symmetrical, they explore how collectives are mobilised and stabilised in standardising projects, and also how these projects are never complete. Together, they hope for a world which may learn to live with – and love – monsters.
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