Sub-theme 22: Evaluative Actions: Exploring Evaluation in Professional and Organizational Life

Iris Wallenburg
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Sarah de Rijcke
Leiden University, The Netherlands
Peter Dahler-Larsen
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Call for Papers

New forms of evaluation are reconfiguring professional and organizational life, reframing how organizations are assessed, decisions are made and juniors are trained. Various scholars have highlighted the constitutive effects of evaluation, pointing at the generative potential of e/valuation instruments (Dahler-Larsen, 2013; Espeland & Sauder, 2016). Evaluative practices such as audit, accreditation, and performance indicators, have provoked organizational changes, tailoring professional practice to meet evaluative registers (e.g. performance indicators, league tables, protocols) recognizing certain worths over others, and shaping what gets obscured, what gets highlighted and what is conceived of as good performance – whether in terms of research output, patient care or educational quality.
The increasing prominence of evaluations within organizations has given rise to multiple calls for a responsible uses of evaluation technologies and methods, pointing at the dangers of ignorance, gaming and perverse effects. Whilst these calls are crucial and pertinent, they may also obscure the more creative ways in which e/valuations can and are being used, as well as the caring craftwork this involves (Davies & Horst, 2015). Evaluative metrics, for instance, also allow for productive experimentation enabling more diverse and context-sensitive practices of evaluating and assessing professionals (Wallenburg et al., 2016; de Rijcke et al., 2016). Evaluations, and the qualculative work (Callon & Law, 2005) they often entail, may simultaneously add reflexivity to organizational practices and involve strategic ignorance (Pinto, 2015; Gross & McGoey, 2015); rendering certain aspects invisible, while strengthening others.
In this sub-theme, we explore evaluative practices in organizations, focusing on the dynamics that occur when activities in an organization become subject to multiple (sometimes competing) registers and orders of worth (Brandtner, 2017; Pontikes, 2012; Stark, 2009). Sociological research suggests that the plurality of evaluation registers to which an organization is subject may strengthen the ‘resilience’ and ‘creative potential’ of that organization.
Moreover, bringing together various e/valuation practices may allow to better account for the heterogeneous aims and practices that constitute organizational work (Bal, 2017). The production of evaluative facts, however, involves work as well, bringing in new kinds of legitimate and often highly technical expertise in organizations, further (re)shaping organizational infrastructures (Keating & Cambrosio, 2009), sometimes at the expense of old hierarchies. Hence, we wish to bring into awareness the multiplicity of evaluation practices and how these influence evolving organizational practices as a way of ‘becoming’ (Clegg et al., 2005), which includes, but is not limited to, affective as well as cognitive aspects of subjectivity. We wish to explore the resulting ambiguities and uncertainties not only as side effects of evaluation, but also as potential arenas for the production of social order(s).
We propose to proceed in the mode of what Fochler and de Rijcke (2017) have termed as the ‘evaluative inquiry’. This experimental mode aims to be sensitive to the critical multidimensionality of encounters between evaluations and professional environments, as well as further exploring ways to express this multidimensionality as punctualizations in ongoing organizational processes of producing value.
We kindly invite papers that deal with, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • How to analyze the complex relationship between evaluative knowledges and professional practices?

  • What ‘comfortable’ and less fitting subjectivities are interpellated in certain evaluative systems?

  • Whose voice is or becomes legitimate within organizations and what kind of expertise does this involve?

  • Which valuation practices and commitments (professional, ethical, material) are we ourselves entangled with in our own work?

  • How do we study and engage with such practices?



  • Bal, R. (2017): “Playing the indicator game: reflections on strategies to position an STS group in a multi-disciplinary environment.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 3, 41–52.
  • Brandtner, C. (2017): “Putting the World in Orders: Plurality in Organizational Evaluation.” Sociological Theory, 35 (3), 200–227.
  • Clegg, S.R., Kornberger, M., & Rhodes, C. (2005): “Learning/Becoming/Organizing.” Organization, 12 (2), 147–167.
  • Dahler-Larsen, P. (2013): “Constitutive effects of performance indicators.” Public Management Review, 16 (7), 969–986.
  • Davies, S.R., & Horst, M. (2015): “Crafting the group: Care in research management.” Social Studies of Science, 45 (3), 371–393.
  • de Rijcke, S., Wallenburg, I., Wouters, P., & Bal, R. (2016): “Comparing comparisons. On rankings and accounting in hospitals and universities.” In: J. Deville, M. Guggenheim & Z. Hrdličková (eds.): Practising Comparison: Logics, Relations, Collaborations. Manchester: Mattering Press, 251–280.
  • Espeland, W., & Sauder, M. (2016): Engines of Anxiety. Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability. New York: Russel SAGE Foundation.
  • Fochler, M., & de Rijcke, S. (2017): “Implicated in the indicator game? An experimental debate.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 3, 21–40.
  • Gross, M., & McGoey, L. (2015): Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies. London: Routledge.
  • Keating, P., & Cambrosio, A. (2009): “Who’s minding the data? Data monitoring committees in clinical cancer trials.” Sociology of Health & Illness, 31 (3), 325–342.
  • Pinto, M.F. (2015): “Tensions in the agnotology: Normativity in the studies of commercially driven ignorance.” Social Studies of Science, 45 (2), 294–315.
  • Pontikes, E.G. (2012): “Two Sides of the Same Coin. How Ambiguous Classification Affects Multiple Audiences’ Evaluations.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 57 (1), 81–118.
  • Stark, D. (2009): The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Wallenburg, I., Quartz, J., & Bal, R. (2016): “Making Hospitals Governable. Performativity and Institutional Work in Ranking Practices.” Administration & Society, first published online on November 30, 2017,

Iris Wallenburg is an Assistant Professor of Healthcare Governance at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Her main research interest includes the sociology of numbers, studying quantitative infrastructures and valuation practices in the healthcare arena. Besides, Iris is involved in various projects on experimenting with the regulation of quality of care, studying the (changing) roles of professionals, organizations and public authorities.
Sarah de Rijcke is Professor of Science and Evaluation Studies and Deputy Director at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands. In Leiden, she leads a research group that analyses academic evaluation processes, changing research cultures, knowledge infrastructures, and roles of research in and for society.
Peter Dahler-Larsen is a Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, where he is the leader of CREME – The Center for Research on Evaluation, Measurement and Effects. He is interested in the constitutive effects of evaluative information. Currently, Peter is studying the use of assessments of the working environment of public employees. He is the author of “The Evaluation Society” (Stanford University Press, 2012).