Academic work and quantified control

With workload and research metrics systems being introduced by management at DCU, Roger Burrows in this article throws some light on the effect of such measures on the working  lives of UK academics, where quantified control has already been adopted widely as third level education has become marketized.

The article – a related Goldsmiths podcast is also available – extends beyond simplistic notions of transparency and efficiency, and provides a good overview of the damaging effects of systematic, individualized monitoring of the work of academics, who, Professor Burrows concludes, have no choice in the imposed numbers game but to ‘play’ or to ‘be played’.

This paper examines the relationship between metrics, markets and affect in the contemporary UK academy. It argues that the emergence of a particular structure of feeling amongst academics in the last few years has been closely associated with the growth and development of ‘quantified control’. It examines the functioning of a range of metrics: citations; workload models; transparent costing data; research assessments; teaching quality assessments; and commercial university league tables. It argues that these metrics, and others, although still embedded within an audit culture, increasingly function autonomously as a data assemblage able not just to mimic markets but, increasingly, to enact them. It concludes by posing some questions about the possible implications of this for the future of academic practice.

See also Lorenz on academic surveillance

A wider discussion of the corporate panopticon being implemented by computerized measurement systems is offered in Simon Head’s Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans

  • Burrows, R. 2012, “Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy”, The Sociological review, vol. 60, no. 2, pp. 355-372.
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