Ordinalization and the OECD’s Governance of Teachers

Tore Bernt Sorensen and Susan L. Robertson


Drawing on Marion Fourcade’s notion of ordinalization, we develop a conceptual grammar of comparison to explain a shift in the nature and outcomes of the governing capacity of the OECD over time. We argue that comparison as a mode of governance has been bound into the DNA of the OECD as a lever for advancing political liberalism since the inception of the organization. Moreover, we show that around 1990 the organization injected competitiveness into comparison by embracing ordinal modes of comparison revolving around the vertical ordering of things and people according to their relative positions on ranking scales. Yet, by analyzing the case of OECD statistics on teachers and in particular the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) program, we argue that the outcomes of the mechanism of ordinalization in the context of TALIS have thus far remained muted due to methodological constraints as well as the pluri-scalar politics involved.

Comparative Education Review, volume 64, no. 1 (February 2020): pages 21-45.