Jose Antonio Ballesteros Figueroa
Science and technology studies, Environmental Sociology, Policy Indicators, Democracy and Social Indicators, The politics of transparency and accountability, Sociology of Knowledge, sociology of scientific knowledge
In a world where numbers and science are often taken as the voice of truth and reason, Quantitative Devices (QDs) represent the epitome of policy driven by facts rather than hunches. Rankings, forecasts, indexes and similar QDs are now commonplace across diverse areas of life, ranging from education to crime. Despite the scholarly interest in understanding the role of quantification in policy, the production of QDs remains, to a great extent, underexplored. sing devices incapable of being replicated independently from their place of production.
The empirical focus for this research is two university-based research centres where QDs are being produced: the Violence Early Warning System (ViEWS) and the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). These are located in Uppsala University and Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy, respectively. Researchers created ViEWS to forecast the probability of drought-driven conflicts within the next 100 years, while the EPI ranks the performance of countries' environmental policies.
This thesis challenges existing claims within STS and the Sociology of Quantification that QDs are capable of co-producing knowledge within their realms. I argue that these devices act as vehicles for sociotechnical infrastructures to be consolidated. Given their understanding as scientific and objective tools, these devices often escape public scrutiny. In this sense, this research found, first, the dynamics between research centres and data providers in relation to what is quantified. For a metric to be incorporated within a QD, it needs to be deemed as relevant for those making the devices but also valuable enough as to have been previously quantified by data providers. Second, the role of tacit knowledge and sociotechnical inequalities in reinforcing power relations between those with the means to quantify and those who can only accommodate to proposed futures. By scrutinising mundanity, this work is a step forward in the understanding of the construction of sociotechnical imaginaries and infrastructures. Second, existing sociotechnical inequalities and power relations will impede disadvantaged communities' (e.g., in the Global South) ability to challenge metrics that frame their future from centres in the Global North. This thesis, therefore, demonstrates how the future QDs propose is unilateral and does not acknowledge the myriad possibilities that might arise from a diversity of worldviews. In other words, they cast a future designed to fit under the current status quo.