On the Use of Educational Numbers: Comparative Constructions of Hierarchies by Means of Large-Scale Assessments

Daniel Pettersson, Thomas S. Popkewitz, Sverker Lindblad


Our text is focusing on two central knowledge problematics. First, the relation between education and a specific technology, framed by ideologies on modernity and meritocracy, understood as a selection to different and hierarchical positions in society by means of education performances. Second, the development and expansion of national, regional and international assessments and the increasing use of them within educational practice, policy and bureaucracy is acknowledged. In doing so we note that an historical tradition within education to compare and use data evolved into a specific technology for framing education with a centrality of numbers. Educational numbers came as such to be transformed from representations of education into education per se. This could happen due to societal historical connections to reasoning about modernity and meritocracy, which were considered as central in the development of the state and society. Porter (1995) is making an argument about that the reason that numbers came to be central in the development of society had to do with that numbers are perceived as «objective» and as such «neutral», but in reality this is in many respect false, and even contradictory. Instead, numbers should be perceived as a technology of steering and managing society and the state, a technology based on connotations of «objectivity», but also as a technology of distance and neutrality. What we are making an argument about is connected to Porters statements. We state that comparisons and the use of numbered data for describing education dependent on parallel societal processes, in science, society and state, came to be transformed into that numbered data on education came to be perceived as education per se. This development can be described in several aspects, but we are primarily describing it through emphasizing some historical comparative and data aggregative collaborations within science and governmental organizations and later the growing importance of transnational agencies and international, regional and national assessments.

How to reference this article

Pettersson, D., Popkewitz, T. S., & Lindblad, S. (2016). On the Use of Educational Numbers: Comparative Constructions of Hierarchies by Means of Large-Scale Assessments. Espacio, Tiempo y Educación, 3(1), 177-202. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.14516/ete.2016.003.001.10



Education by the numbers; meritocracy; assessments; educational comparisons; modernity

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14516/ete.2016.003.001.10


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