Governance initiatives based on rankings are predicated on the possibility of making companies compete for the achievement of social goals by means of public comparisons of performance. The public of such performance – the ranker and various stakeholders in whose name the ranker speaks – thus fulfills the role of a “third party” whose favor is sought by competitors in what Simmel analyzed as “pure” or “indirect” competition. Yet little is known about how rankers seek to produce or entice such favor in order to enact competition. Through the case of the Access to Medicine Index, we examine the process of selective foregrounding, enticing and orchestration of different stakeholders through the gearing of the ranking’s information infrastructure aimed at optimizing the type and intensity of the competitive pressure exercised on the ranked. We illustrate how the ranker segments the public into different third parties, some well-identified stakeholders alongside a more anonymous audience. We find that stakeholders perceived as wielding legitimate power in the eyes of companies (such as investors) are actively equipped with the tools to witness competition, whereas stakeholders seen as powerful but involved in an agonistic relation with the companies (such as radical Non-Governmental Organizations) are discretely groomed at a distance, while those stakeholders with no perceived power over companies tend to remain unequipped. Whilst the gaze of stakeholders as third parties is differentiated along the lines of a hierarchy of observations, the voice of stakeholders as representatives of different interests is equalized and unified so as to adhere to an ideal of consensus. We reflect on how the needs of competition and those of stakeholder representation come to intersect in the particular governance space of access to medicine. Competition, far from being the automatic consequence of rankings, emerges as a contrived and laborious enactment requiring painstaking attention to publics and their selective equipment as third parties. Understanding the modes of such enactment is thus crucial for appreciating rankings’ governance outcomes.
We would like to thank all our interviewees, especially at the Access to Medicine Foundation, for their generosity with their time and ideas. We also thank the participants in the 2019 workshop on Rankings at the University of Bielefeld and the editors of this volume for their rich comments and suggestions.
Samiolo, R. and Mehrpouya, A. (2021), "Between Stakeholders and Third Parties: Regulatory Rankings and the Organization of Competition", 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. 77-100. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20210000074029
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