Skip to main content
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 2
  • Cited by
    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Fariss, Christopher J. and Dancy, Geoff 2017. Measuring the Impact of Human Rights: Conceptual and Methodological Debates. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 13, Issue. 1, p. 273.

    Botero, Juan Carlos Pinzon-Rondon, Angela Maria and Pratt, Christine S. 2016. How, When and Why Do Governance, Justice and Rule of Law Indicators Fail Public Policy Decision Making in Practice?. Hague Journal on the Rule of Law, Vol. 8, Issue. 1, p. 51.

  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: June 2015

Introduction: The Local-Global Life of Indicators: Law, Power, and Resistance


This book is about the quiet exercise of power through indicators. With the turn to evidence-based governance, reliance on statistical data along with its synthesis into the kinds of scales, ranks, and composite indexes we refer to as indicators has become essential for policy formation and political decision making. The use of indicators in governance has expanded from economic and sector-specific quantitative data to measurement of almost every phenomenon. This book focuses on indicators of governance itself, specifically governance through law: indicators purporting to measure practices or perceptions of good governance, rule of law, corruption, regulatory quality, and related matters.

This volume presents nine original case studies that investigate how leading indicators of legal governance produced with global or transnational scope or aims are created, disseminated, and used, and with what effects. The indicators studied include Freedom House's Freedom in the World indicator, the Global Reporting Initiative's structure for measuring and reporting on corporate social responsibility, the World Justice Project's measurement of the rule of law, the Doing Business index of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, the World Bank–supported Worldwide Governance Indicators, the World Bank's Country Performance Institutional Assessment (CPIA), the Transparency International Corruption (Perceptions) index, and several indicators (including some of these) used by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation in determining which countries are eligible to receive certain US aid funds.

The underlying theoretical framework of this volume is the linkage between knowledge and power. Indicators are both a form of knowledge and a technology for governance. Like other forms of knowledge, indicators influence governance when they form the basis for political decision making, public awareness, and the terms in which problems are conceptualized and solutions imagined. Conversely, the kinds of information embodied in indicators, the forms in which they are produced and disseminated, and how they function as knowledge are all influenced by governance practices.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Quiet Power of Indicators
  • Online ISBN: 9781139871532
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Asdal Kristin, Brenna Brita and Moser Ingunn (eds.) 2007. Technoscience: The Politics of Interventions. Oslo: Oslo Academic Press.
Bell Daniel, and Mo Yingchuan. 2013. “Harmony in the World 2013: The Ideal and the Reality.” Social Indicators Research.
Benjamin Paul, and Theron Jan. 2009. “Costing, Comparing and Competing: The World Bank's Doing Business Survey and the Benchmarking of Labour Regulation.” In Corder Hugh (ed.), Global Administrative Law: Innovation and Development,204–234. Cape Town: Juta.
Bhuta Nehal. 2012. “Governmentalizing Sovereignty: Indexes of State Fragility and the Calculability of Political Order.” In Davis Kevin, Fisher Angelina, Kingsbury Benedict, and Merry Sally Engle (eds.), Governance by Indicators: Global Power through Classification and Rankings,132–162. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bhuta Nehal. 2015. “Measuring Stateness, Ranking Political Orders: Indexes of State Fragility and State Failure.” In Cooley Alexander and Snyder Jack (eds.), Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bowker Geoffrey C., and Star Susan Leigh. 1999. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bukovansky Mlada. 2015. “Corruption Rankings: Constructing and Contesting the Global Anti-Corruption Agenda.” In Cooley Alexander and Snyder Jack (eds.), Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Buthe Tim. 2012. “Beyond Supply and Demand: A Political-Economic Conceptual Model.” In Davis Kevin, Fisher Angelina, Kingsbury Benedict, and Merry Sally Engle (eds.), Governance by Indicators: Global Power through Classification and Rankings,29–51. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cooley Alexander, and Snyder Jack. 2015. Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davis Kevin E. 2004. “What Can the Rule of Law Variable Tell Us about Rule of Law Reforms?” Michigan Journal of International Law 26: 141–161.
Davis Kevin E. 2014. “Legal Indicators: The Power of Quantitative Measures of Law.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 10: 37–52.
Davis Kevin E., and Kruse Michael B.. 2007. “Taking the Measure of Law: The Case of the Doing Business Project.” Law and Social Inquiry 32(4): 1095–1120.
Davis Kevin, Kingsbury Benedict, and Merry Sally Engle. 2012. “Indicators as a Technology of Global Governance.” Law and Society Review 46(1): 71–104.
Davis Kevin, Fisher Angelina, Kingsbury Benedict, and Merry Sally Engle (eds.), 2012. Governance by Indicators: Global Power through Classification and Rankings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Desrosières Alain. 1998. The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning. Translated by Naish Camille. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Desrosières Alain. 2008. L'Argument statistique. Pour une sociologie historique de la quantification (tome I) et Gouverner par les nombres (tome II). Paris:Presses de l'école des Mines,
Dezalay Yves, and Garth Bryant G. 2002. The Internationalization of Palace Wars: Lawyers, Economists, and the Contest to Transform the Latin American State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Espeland Wendy Nelson, and Stevens Mitchell L.. 1998. “Commensuration as a Social Process.” Annual Review of Sociology 24: 313–343.
Espeland Wendy Nelson, and Stevens Mitchell L.. 2008. “A Sociology of Quantification.” European Journal of Sociology XLIX(3): 401–436.
Foucault Michel. 1980a. “Truth and Power.” In Gordon Colin (ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, 109–126. New York: Pantheon.
Foucault Michel. 1980b. “Two Lectures.” In Gordon Colin (ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, 78–108New York: Pantheon.
Foucault Michel. 1991. “Governmentality.” In Burchell Graham, Gordon Colin, and Miller (eds.) Peter, The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, 87–105Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Frydman Benôit, and van Waeyenberge Arnaud (eds.). 2014. Gouverner par les standards et les indicateurs: De Hume aux rankings. Brussels: Bruylant.
Hacking Ian. 1990. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Halliday Terrence C. 2012. “Legal Yardsticks: International Financial Institutions as Diagnosticians and Designers of the Laws of Nations.” In Davis Kevin, Fisher Angelina, Kingsbury Benedict, and Merry Sally Engle (eds.), Governance by Indicators: Global Power through Classification and Rankings,180–217. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Halliday Terrence C., and Shaffer Gregory (eds.). 2015. Transnational Legal Orders. Cambridge Series in Law and Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kaufmann Daniel, Kraay Aart and Mastruzzi Massimo. 1990. “The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5430. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Kelley Judith, and Simmons Beth. 2015. “Politics by Number: Indicators as Social Pressure in International Relations.” American Journal of Political Science 59(1): 55–70.
Kingsbury Benedict, Stewart Richard B., and Kirsch N.. 2005. “The Emergence of Global Administrative Law.” Law and Contemporary Problems 68(3–4): 15–61,
Kipnis Andrew B. 2008. “Audit cultures: Neoliberal governmentality, socialist legacy, or technologies of governing?American Ethnologist 35(2): 275–289.
Lampland Martha. 2010. “False Numbers as Formalizing Practices.” Social Studies of Science 40(2010): 377–404.
Lampland Martha, and Star Susan Leigh (eds.). 2009. Standards and Their Stories: How Quantifying, Classifying, and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Latour Bruno. 1987. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Merry Sally Engle. 2011. “Measuring the World: Indicators, Human Rights, and Global Governance.” In Partridge Damani, Welker Marina, and Hardin Rebecca (eds.), Corporate Lives: New Perspectives on the Social Life of the Corporate Form. Wenner-Gren Symposium Series. Current Anthropology, 52, Supplementary Issue 3: S83–S95.
Merry Sally Engle. 2014. “Global Legal Pluralism and the Temporality of Soft Law.” Special Issue on Temporalities of Law, Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 46(1): 108–122.
Merry Sally Engle, and Coutin Susan. 2014. “Technologies of Truth in the Anthropology of Conflict.” Co-authored with Susan Coutin. American Ethnologist 41(1): 1–16.
Poovey Mary. 1998. A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Porter Theodore M. 1995. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Power Michael. 1997. The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rodríguez-Garavito César. 2011. “Beyond the Courtroom: The Impact of Judicial Activism on Socio-Economic Rights in Latin America.” Texas Law Review 89: 669.
Rose Nikolas. 1999. Predicaments of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rosga AnnJanette, and Satterthwaite Margaret L.. 2009. “The Trust in Indicators: Measuring Human Rights.” Berkeley Journal of International Law 27(2): 253–315.
Simmons Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Strathern Marilyn (ed.). 2000. Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy. London and New York: Routledge.
Symposium 2011. “Indices and Indicators of Justice, Governance, and the Rule of Law: An Overview.” In Botero Juan Carlos, Nelson Robert L., and Pratt Christine (eds.), Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 3: 2.
Tsygankov Andrei. 2015. “The Securitization of Democracy: The Politics of Special Interests and the Freedom House Ratings of Russia.” European Security 31(1): 77–100.
Valverde Mariana. 1998. Diseases of the Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.