The Performance Complex: Competition and Competitions in Social Life

  • 7h
  • David Stark
  • Oxford University Press (US)
  • 2020

What's valuable?

Market competition provides one kind of answer. Competitions offer another. On one side, competition is an ongoing and seemingly endless process of pricings; on the other, competitions are discrete and bounded in time and location, with entry rules, judges, scores, and prizes. This book examines what happens when ever more activities in domains of everyday life are evaluated and experienced in terms of performance metrics.

Unlike organized competitions, such systems are ceaseless and without formal entry. Instead of producing resolutions, their scorings create addictions. To understand these developments, this book explores discrete contests (architectural competitions, international music competitions, and world press photo competitions); shows how the continuous updating of rankings is both a device for navigating the social world and an engine of anxiety; and examines the production of such anxiety in settings ranging from the pedagogy of performance in business schools to struggling musicians coping with new performance metrics in online platforms. In the performance society, networks of observation - in which all are performing and keeping score - are entangled with a system of emotionally charged preoccupations with one's positioning within the rankings. From the bedroom to the boardroom, pharmaceutical companies and management consultants promise enhanced performance. This assemblage of metrics, networks, and their attendant emotional pathologies is herein regarded as the performance complex.

About the Author

David Stark is Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology at Columbia University where he directs the Center on Organizational Innovation. He is also Professor of Social Science at the University of Warwick. His book The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life (2009) studies how organizations and their members search for what's valuable. Stark's current research is supported by a five-year Advanced Grant from the European Research Council for a project on "Diversity and Performance: Networks of Cognition in Markets and Teams."

In this Book

  • The Performance Complex
  • Pick the Winner, So You Can Then Choose the Reasons—Epistemic Dissonance in Architecture Competitions
  • Competition and Consecration in the World Press Photo Awards
  • Classical Music Competitions as Complex Performances
  • Formalized Evaluation—The Work That Rankings Do
  • What's Observed in a Rating?—Rankings as Orientation in the Face of Uncertainty
  • Crowdsourcing before the Smartphone—The Zagat Survey's Quantification of Everyday Life in 1980s New York
  • Weathering Winner-Take-All—How Rankings Constitute Competition on Webcam Sex Platforms, and What Performers Can Do about it
  • Post-Liberal Competitions?—Pragmatics of Gamification and Weaponization
  • What are Digital Reputation Measures Worth?—The Rise and Fall of Reputation Metrics on Social Media
  • Merit, Morality, and Market—The Chinese Social Credit Experiment
  • Performing Numbers—Musicians and Their Metrics
  • Business Education and Anxiety in the Performance of Value
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