Today’s longing for ultimate openness and accessibility of information – transparency – has resulted in an explosion of visualising objects that represent a certain reality – rankings. Rankings have become instruments that turn organisations inside-out by creating representations of organisational performances that justify their actions – accountability. In their act of representing, rankings seem to have the intention to reveal what has happened in organisations.
The Irony of Rankings is a PhD thesis in which I join the academic debate on rankings that criticises this mainstream belief that rankings are useful for increasing transparency and accountability. By engaging with the work of Karen Barad and performing an organisational ethnography, I have studied the becoming, enactment and unfolding transformative consequences of rankings in a local Dutch hospital.
This study enabled me to develop a dynamic sociomaterial understanding of rankings in an organisation. We can learn from this thesis that rankings were locally constituted in daily care practices and that rankings did not only change individual reactive behaviour or have performative consequences on organisational processes but also continuously produced transformations for themselves and other connected practices.
Studying the becoming, enactment and these transformative consequences of rankings has also enabled me to theorise about the quantum effect of rankings: the inability of rankings to represent what they intend to; their inability to create transparency. Although the rankings in the hospital measured, valued, and visualised performances like the quality of care or the quality of doctors, the particular ranking practices of measuring, valuing, and visualising, changed these performances at the same time. The rankings could thus hardly provide a representation of the performances they intended to represent. It was this insight that brought me to the term irony.
Rankings intend to create transparency, but since they will not be able to, they are thus the opposite of what they are meant to be or meant to create. This is the irony of rankings.