The Normalisation Power of Commensuration: How Did University Ranking and Rating Programmes Manipulate Universities?

Jinxi Xu, Cambridge University

This study interprets the university ranking and rating programmes as essentially a power with dual connotation of the Foucauldian ‘normalisation’ and the Weberian ‘commensuration’. Applying Foucault’s concept of ‘discipline’ to explain the empowering mechanism of rankings/ratings, this study elucidates their evaluation criteria as frameworks of discourse that normalise their values to be accepted and further desired by higher education institutions (HEIs). Divergent from typical denotations of ‘discipline’ (e.g., modern prison), rankings/ratings are using commensuration instead of surveillance to realise the process of normalisation. The concept of ‘commensuration’, rooting in a Weberian paradigm on power, refers to the self-empowering process that the unauthorable ranking/rating issuers legitimate themselves to define the standards of ‘good’ education and homogenise HEIs for evaluation and comparison. Supplementally, case study of the Double First-Class (DFC) Ratings by China’s central government and the company-led QS, Times, Shanghai, and U.S. News rankings is conducted to demonstrate the normalisation power of commensuration. Based on critical dialogue analysis (CDA) of the documents from both the case rankings/ratings issuers and the participating case HEIs, higher education norms hidden in the ranking/rating evaluation principles and/or index are revealed with evidence that HEIs comply with rankings/ratings.

Black Swan Pedagogy:  Remnant Ecologies and Navigating the Difficulties of Disruption and Loss beyond Modernity/Coloniality

Sharon Todd, Maynooth University

One of the key issues facing educators in the time of climate emergency has to do with navigating between hope and despair, between disruption to and loss of life as we know it. Elsewhere, I have suggested one way of approaching this question is through an aesthetic approach to education, one that includes an attunement to beauty and art (Todd 2023).  But which kind of art opens up educational possibilities that move away from the nihilism of the Anthropocene while also not falling into a false sense of hope? 

According to ecofeminist artist Aviva Rahmani (2022) ‘the best art is always a black swan, a surprising event’ (18), a term aptly borrowed from economist Nassim Taleb to indicate a disruptive event that changes fundamental perceptions of who we are. Akin to Jacques Rancière’s (2006) idea that art occasions ‘a sensible or perceptual shock’ that can create new communities of sense and existence, a black swan event offers us a way of moving beyond the nihilism that so often characterises discourses of the Anthropocene.  

There is pedagogical force in the black swan event that propels a felt experience of something different and unexpected.  For Rahmani, one way to create such events is through the staging of ‘trigger points’: elements of the environment that come together in unexpected ways to precipitate change. Insofar as education is very much about staging encounters with elements of the environment (from books, screens, and maps to trees, water, and earth), how might we understand the nuances of these disruptive encounters in light of our current existential anxieties and environmental losses? That is, how do we educationally curate trigger points that aspire to change, on the one hand, while attending to the feelings of loss that are part of experiencing ecological crisis in the present, on the other? 

This paper explores Jony Easterby’s recent artwork (2022) Remnant Ecologies, which focuses on navigating loss and disruption through immersive outdoor installations, and asks what it has to teach us about our ambivalent connections with the more than human world and about pedagogical possibilities moving into the future.