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From Eminent Men to Excellent Universities: University Rankings as Calculative Devices
University of Borås, Faculty of Librarianship, Information, Education and IT.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1504-8395
Leiden University.
Leiden University.
2017 (English)In: Minerva, ISSN 0026-4695, E-ISSN 1573-1871, Vol. 55, no 4, 391-411 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Global university rankings have become increasingly important ‘calculative devices’ for assessing the ‘quality’ of higher education and research. Their ability to make characteristics of universities ‘calculable’ is here exemplified by the first proper university ranking ever, produced as early as 1910 by the American psychologist James McKeen Cattell. Our paper links the epistemological rationales behind the construction of this ranking to the sociopolitical context in which Cattell operated: an era in which psychology became institutionalized against the backdrop of the eugenics movement, and in which statistics of science became used to counter a perceived decline in ‘great men.’ Over time, however, the ‘eminent man,’ shaped foremost by heredity and upbringing, came to be replaced by the excellent university as the emblematic symbol of scientific and intellectual strength. We also show that Cattell’s ranking was generative of new forms of the social, traces of which can still be found today in the enactment of ‘excellence’ in global university rankings.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017. Vol. 55, no 4, 391-411 p.
Keyword [en]
University rankings, Calculative devices, Excellence, Eugenics
National Category
Information Studies
Research subject
Library and Information Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hb:diva-12990DOI: 10.1007/s11024-017-9329-xISI: 000415582900001Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85025071265OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hb-12990DiVA: diva2:1156929
Projects
Measuring Science
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2013-7368
Available from: 2017-11-14 Created: 2017-11-14 Last updated: 2017-12-14Bibliographically approved

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Hammarfelt, Björn

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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  • Other locale
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Output format
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