Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 27 September
Reflecting on Metrics in Black Mirror
Acknowledgement that all statistics are not the same has spurred interest in the relationships between discursive practices of enumeration, their settings and the histories of their emergence. This paper examines a distinctive form of recent times. Metrics are measures used to track processes or their outcomes. Digital data processing has enabled their widespread use across a range of social domains and constructs from creditworthiness and international governance to online tracking of tastes.
But how much do metrics have in common across their multiple variants? It would appear that they are largely inseparable from valuation, i.e. they engender value judgements based on interests that those using them bring to measurement. They also result in data that can be subject to further calculation in line with those interests. In this sense, like other forms of social statistics, metrics may be considered to facilitate certain kinds of moral intervention in and management of social situations. Of particular interest to recent observers has been their capacity to generate data sets that allow comparison of and differentiation between actors in ways that affect future allocations of goods, status and entitlements. In some cases, this may be considered benign such as in customized access to suitable music. However, with reference to China’s emerging social credit system and the Fifteen Million Merits and Nosedive episodes of Black Mirror the paper examines unease over instrumental, evaluative and calculative sociality fostered by metrics, and the growing role that quantitative regimes of valuation may play in social control and stratification when increasingly to act is also to create data that feeds forward into the shaping of future life situations of oneself and others.
Guy Redden is Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. His research revolves around the relationships between culture and economy. Among his interests are commodification, alternative cultures, religion and the moralisation of consumption/lifestyle. His most recent book is Questioning Performance Measurement: Metrics, Organizations and Power (Sage, 2019).
The Department of Gender and Cultural Studies hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Participants include staff, associates and postgraduate students from the department, as well as presenters from other University of Sydney departments and from outside, both nationally and internationally.
Please join us after the seminar for drinks at the Holme Courtyard Bar
Everyone is welcome to attend.
2019 Seminar Series convenors:
Thom van Dooren and Shawna Tang
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