Stephen Ball and others on ‘Performativity’

Performativity invites and incites us to make ourselves more effective, to work on ourselves to improve ourselves and to feel guilty or inadequate if we do not

Performativity is enacted through measures and targets against which we are expected to position ourselves but often in ways that also produce uncertainties about how we should organise ourselves within our work.

Performativity ‘works’ most powerfully when it is inside our heads and our souls

Experienced either way its effects are to alter our working practices, our goals and satisfactions and our identities – our sense of who we are at work. In a sense it is about making the individual into an enterprise, a self-maximising productive unit operating in a market of performances

In being responsible and serious we make our work and ourselves into measurable entities and render our worth in terms of our ‘output’.

Performativity drives out those things which cannot be justified in its terms.

Commitments are sacrificed for impression. But the force and logic of performance are hard to avoid.

This is, ‘the re-invention of professionals themselves as units of resource whose performance and productivity must constantly be audited so that it can be enhanced’

Performativityindividualises and fragments and leaves us to struggle alone with our doubts and fears.

We are required to spend increasing amounts of our time in making ourselves accountable, reporting on what we do rather than doing it. And there are a particular set of skills to be acquired here – skills of presentation and of inflation, making the most of ourselves, making a spectacle of ourselves.

Ball S.J. (various papers)

The point is that we make ourselves calculable rather than memorable. Experience is nothing, productivity is everything. We must keep up, meet the new and ever more diverse targets which we set for ourselves in appraisal meetings, confess and confront our weaknesses, undertake appropriate and value-enhancing professional development, and take up opportunities for making ourselves more productive,

Ball S.J. (Aug 2005) ‘Health Sociology Review Special Issue: Workplace Health: The Injuries of NeoliberalismVolume 14/1Published

We and our workplace are made visible and we become ‘subjects which have to be seen’ (p. 187)

Foucault, M. (1979) ‘Discipline and Punish’ Peregrine Harmondsworth

Gray illustrates this in her discussion of the performance management of Training and Enterprise Councils. Her examples show ‘how the preoccupation with quantitative indicators and quantitative targets in “contract culture” leads to perverse results’. She calls these perversities ‘target fetishism’, that is ‘a concern with targets which threatens to become detached from the social purposes of the policies at stake’ (p. 353).

Gray, A. (1997) ‘Contract Culture and target fetishism: the distortive effects of output measures on local regeneration programmes’ Local Economy, 11, 243-257

Saltman sees the hegemony of the market and the profit incentive as displacing the struggle over values, which is an essential condition of democracy.

Saltman, K. J. (2000) ‘Collateral Damage: Corporatizing public schools – A threat to democracy’ Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham: Maryland.

Rose points out this involves ‘the supplanting of certain norms, such as those of service and dedication, with others such as those of competition, quality and customer demand’. We are re-positioned as ‘autonomous’ but ‘calculating’ agents. We are thus made responsive and productive. Deliberation and judgment are no longer of value here – except when applied to commercial well-being. Our contractual obligations, survival in the marketplace or achievement of targets are the new basis of ‘professional’ responsibility. (p.56)

Rose, N. (1996) ‘Governing “advanced” liberal democracies’ in ‘Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government’ Eds, Barry, A., Osborne, T. and Rose, N. UCL Press, London.


One comment on “Stephen Ball and others on ‘Performativity’

  1. Nice blog on performativity – some useful notes about how and where it rears its ugly head.

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