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Formality versus Flexibility: The Effects of Evaluation Practices on Judging and Performance

Worlds of Rankings

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

Publication date: 22 July 2021


The statement that evaluation works differently in different contexts might seem fairly obvious, but given how central it is to virtually all aspects of modern life, it is important to understand how these differences affect the objects of evaluation and the people doing the evaluation. Drawing on a mixed-methods study of evaluation in figure skating and classical music, the author addresses how evaluation practices affect judging and performance. In the early- to mid-2000s, the figure skating world transitioned from a judging system where judges used two overall marks to rank skaters to a much more rigid system where judges rate very specific aspects of performances without actively ranking them. These changes have impacted judges and skaters. In the classical music competitions the author focuses on, judges use deliberations to rank performances. The relative flexibility of these evaluation practices generally does not affect judges or performances as much. Building on research on the effects of measurement and evaluation systems, the author argues that formal, specific rules surrounding evaluation shape judging and performance more than informal, diffuse rules. Focusing on competition settings in skating and music, the author discusses how evaluation practices affect program and repertoire construction and the technical and artistic aspects of judging and performance in these fields. In addition to supplementing research suggesting that evaluation systems actively shape what they are designed to evaluate, this work highlights how different types of evaluation contribute to different responses in terms of the evaluation itself and the objects of evaluation.




I am grateful for helpful comments and suggestions from Michael Sauder and two anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by a Research Grant from the University Research Grants Committee at Northwestern University. Earlier versions of parts of this chapter were presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meetings.


Lom, S.E. (2021), "Formality versus Flexibility: The Effects of Evaluation Practices on Judging and Performance", 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. 199-220.



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