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Stepping into the Spotlight: How Rankings Become Public Performances

Worlds of Rankings

ISBN: 978-1-80117-106-9, eISBN: 978-1-80117-105-2

Publication date: 22 July 2021


Extant research conceptualizes rankings as measures that fundamentally shape modern life by virtue of being publicly available. Yet, studies seldom explore the act of publishing when accounting for the attention rankings raise in larger stakeholder audiences. In short, we know a lot about the impact of rankings, but considerably less about the organizational practices devised by those who produce them – the rankers. Borrowing from Goffman, the paper conceptualizes modern rankings as public performances carefully prepared on backstages and unfolding on multiple frontstages. Using a qualitative data set, the paper traces the full spectrum of organizational practices that make rankings public performances: on the backstage, launch dates have to be set, numbers packaged, and “teams” prepared; on the frontstage, performances are held through face-to-face interactions (at launch events) as well as in a variety of mediated settings. Overall, the findings indicate that the more ranking organizations seek the attention of larger stakeholder audiences, the more the publication process is transformed into what one of the informants describes as “a big firework.”



Ringel, L. (2021), "Stepping into the Spotlight: How Rankings Become Public Performances", Ringel, L., Espeland, W., Sauder, M. and Werron, T. (Ed.) Worlds of Rankings (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 74), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 53-76.



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