Global Culture of Competition: Rankings, Benchmarks, Ratings as / in Popular Media

18Jan2018 19Jan2018


Masterclass, Public Lecture and Workshop organized by ASCA Cross Media Research Group supported by the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences and RMeS

No one seems surprised anymore that culture is more and more organized as a competition; there are awards for books, rankings for universities, likes or shares for photos, and casting shows for talents from singing to baking. But how did this become the default approach to culture?

Initiated by liberalist ideas in the late 18th century, competition quickly was taken for granted as a fundamental social dynamic that reached far beyond economic practices. From 1800 onwards, the relevance and quality of artworks was already discussed with the help of rankings. During the 19th century, both institutions (e.g. asylums. universities) and nation states were included in quantified forms of comparison that increasingly aimed for a global scale. Modern spectator sport in particular has made ongoing competitions, world records, and world championships conspicuous elements of all mass media.

According to sociologist Tobias Werron, these modern forms of competition can be understood as “competitions for the favor of an audience that are (re-) produced by public comparisons of performances" (Werron: Why do we believe in competition?). This also implies that competition is not a given. It is something that arises through two complex forms of mediation: (a) the comparison of things or actions at different times or locations, and (b) the staging of this comparison for a public that witnesses and evaluates the competition. Competition thus depends on the establishment and universal acceptance of (quasi-) scientific procedures which allow for a reliable and shared evaluation of organizations, governments, populations, and physical or mental activities – e.g. regulated forms of observation and of objective representation, serialized procedures of measurement, and their presentation to a broader public. A critical analysis of the contemporary culture of competition needs to scrutinize how the tools that structure the ongoing comparisons of performances have achieved plausibility and validity, and how they thereby transform the social into a series of competitions for a global evaluating audience.

The first part of the masterclass/workshop will focus on the culture of competition’s historical establishment and its conceptual characteristics. The example of rankings will be used to discuss how one mechanism spreads across different social fields, gets adapted in different ways, and provokes reflections on the distinction between subjective and objective evaluation criteria.

The second part will offer case studies from different fields, asking how specific procedures for comparing performances become established and transform the respective cultural practices’ economy, public knowledge, and politics. We will also ask what might be productive ways to inflect the injunctions to perform and to compete into more livable conditions.

Open to all interested scholars, PhD- and MA-student. Deadline for registration is 6 January 2018; RMa and PhD students who want to earn 1 ECTS can either contribute a presentation (15 minutes) or a report on the event (800-1000 words). Registration Masterclass via RMES ( ) All other registrations and further questions:

18 January 2018, 14–16h: Masterclass

Discussion of the following texts

- Werron, Tobias. 2015. ‘Why Do We Believe in Competition? A Historical-Sociological View of Competition as an Institutionalized Modern Imaginary’. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory 16 (2):186–210.

- Werron, Tobias. forthcoming. ‘Global Publics as Catalysts of Global Competition A Sociological View’. In The Global Public. Its Powers and Its Limits, edited by Valeska Huber and Jürgen Osterhammel. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Background reading: Simmel, Georg. 1955. Conflict & The Web of Group-Affiliations. Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, pp 57-64

18 January 2018, 16:30–18h: Public Lecture - The Emergence of Rankings

Tobias Werron (Professor of Sociology, University Bielefeld)

19 January, 2018, 10–15h: Workshop - Global Culture of Competition

10–12:30 (Chair: Judith Keilbach)

  • Karin van Es: Counting Views on YouTube
  • Vicki Mayer: “Obey the Multiplier". The role of job multipliers in regional competition for media and communications industries
  • Erin Manning, Toni Pape, Halbe Kuipers: Exhaustion: different modes of working between production and creation; presentation of the latest issue of the journal Inflexions

12:30-13:15 Lunch

13:15–15:00 (Chair: Abe Geil)

  • Markus Stauff: Big Data in Media Sports
  • Sebastian Scholz: Cloud Competing: Media Infrastructures of Self-Tracking Culture


Media Studies, BG1 (Turfdraagsterpad 9), Room 0.16 (E-Lab)

Published by  ASCA