Seeing like PISA: A cautionary tale about the performativity of international assessments

  • Radhika Gorur
  • European Educational Research Journal, July 2016, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/1474904116658299

What is it about?

Large-scale comparisons and rankings like OECD's PISA aim to represent the state of affairs and provide information for governments to take decisions. While such invariably reductionist exercises can provide useful information, there is a danger that the complex worlds these exercises represent themselves are remade in the image of the reductionist representations. This paper uses the story of 18th Century German forestry management practices to illustrate how such fiscally-focused quantification processes might lead to irreversible damage in the long run.


Radhika Gorur
Deakin University

James Scott's seminal 'Seeing like a State' has long been a favourite of mine - and it was a joy to use his parable of how 18th Century Prussian forestry practices and other well-meaning exercises designed to "improve the human condition" failed to do so, and to draw a parallel between those practices and contemporary quantification and comparison in education. The story illustrates more clearly than I have previously succeeded in doing what I mean by 'performativity' and how PISA changes the very world it tries to represent.

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The following have contributed to this page: Radhika Gorur