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Scales of measurement - embedded in our sense of self?

Art Initiative took Assistant Professor Emilia Cederberg to the Jacob Dahlgren Room - and she wrote this on standards, good performance and our sense of self.

Scales of measurement are all around us. They are deeply embedded in the economic realm, where numbers, scales, scores and rankings circulate. As such, standards of measurement can be thought of as building blocks, as they frame and perform not only that which is conventionally measured in monetary terms, but also broader notions of performance.

Most economic activity relies on established scales; they underpin exchange of goods and services, enable the scale and temporality of globalization, and they participate in pointing out what should be achieved: GDP? Return on equity? Net-zero carbon emissions? Such behemoth performance concept would be impossible without the gradual establishment of a distributed, standardized and more or less agreed-upon measurement arrangement. A standard can be understood as having a dual meaning, as both a standardized entity or approach of measurement, and in the form of a benchmark level to be attained.

As social scientists, we can follow the production and establishment of particular standards, and how some become embedded in taken-for-granted notions of value. As a business school, we participate in the making and reproduction of – but also possibly the potential for breaking away from – commonplace notions of ‘good performance’. We can ask: what are the implied standards that a business school inscribes in its graduates? What type and level of performance do students encounter when they enter life after university? Sometimes those standards are explicit and articulated, and sometimes they are deeply embedded in our sense of self.

Emilia Cederberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Accounting & Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets, Stockholm School of Economics