Title: Meritocracy and Democracy: The Temptations of Mechanical, "Objective," and Impersonal Measures of Quality
24 - April - Lecture
26 - April - Discussion
Lecturer: James C. Scott, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology


Lecture Description:

"Why are nearly all modern democracies, as well as large bureaucracies, inclined to devise impersonal, mechanical, 'objective' measures for what most of us would agree are qualitative judgements? Thus, although we now understand that there are many kinds of intelligence (analytical, aesthetic, imaginative, mechanical, spatial, etc), intelligence is, for the purpose of college admissions, gauged by the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Many of the benefits and burdens of large projects (dams, agricultural colonization, roads) defy measurement. And yet, a single metric called 'cost-benefit analysis' which assumes that all outcomes are commensurable, is typically used to evaluate them, whether by the World Bank, Ministries of Public Works, or development consultants. Why are professors increasingly evaluated by the number of articles, books, and their "social science citation index' scores? Why are school teachers judges by the mean scores of their pupils? What are the consequences of judging the quality of people and their work in this fashion? Why, in other words, do political systems designed to peaceably resolve differences
in values actually end up removing so much of the stuff of politics to the realm of technical calculation?

Copyright 2001, James C Scott






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