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“Measure of Shame”: Media Career of the Global Slavery Index

Worlds of Rankings

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

Publication date: 22 July 2021


Rankings are widely regarded as particularly well-suited for capturing the public eye, which is considered a reason why they have become ubiquitous. However, we know little about how rankings direct media attention, as well as how media in turn shape and help sustain careers of specific rankings in the public over longer periods of time. To advance our understanding of the discursive dynamics at the intersection of rankings and the press, this study examines the media career of the Global Slavery Index (GSI) by analyzing 361 newspaper and magazine articles, published between the release of index’s inaugural edition in 2013 and until the end of 2019. To interpret the media coverage, the study draws attention to GSI’s universality, highly rationalized character, and a pledge to spotlight violation of the global moral order. The examination of the media coverage points to the following properties of the index as having shaped and helped sustain its career in the public: (1) repeated publication; (2) broad conceptualization of modern slavery; and (3) the construction thereof as a measurable global burden. The study finds that, throughout the period, the media were remarkably consistent in amplifying the most dramatic elements of the index. Over time, however, the index was increasingly more invoked for other purposes, usually either to lend credibility to a story or as a way of embedding local and situational concerns into global narratives.




I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers and volume editors for providing helpful comments on earlier drafts. The manuscript has been greatly improved also thanks to the generous feedback and advice from Julian Hamann, Melina Aarnikoivu, Marcelo Marques, Stefan Wilbers, and Mike Zapp. All errors are mine.


Brankovic, J. (2021), "“Measure of Shame”: Media Career of the Global Slavery Index", 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. 103-125.



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