The Metric Society: On the Quantification of the Social

4 May 2022


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In today’s world, numbers are in the ascendancy. Societies dominated by star ratings, scores, likes and lists are rapidly emerging, as data are collected on virtually every aspect of our lives. From annual university rankings, ratings agencies and fitness tracking technologies to our credit score and health status, everything and everybody is measured and evaluated. I argue and show with reference to different fields that the ubiquitous language of ranking and scoring has changed profoundly our perception of value and status. What is more, through quantification, our capacity for competition and comparison has expanded significantly – we can now measure ourselves against others in practically every area. The rise of quantification has created and strengthened social hierarchies, transforming qualitative differences into quantitative inequalities that play a decisive role in shaping the life chances of individuals.


Steffen Mau is Professor of Macrosociology at Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his diploma from the Free University Berlin and his PhD from the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. For more than ten years, he worked as Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bremen. He was member of the Council of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat, 2018-2018) and is member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science. Recent publications are: Inequality, Marketization and the Majority Class. Why did the European Middle Classes accept Neoliberalism? (2015, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), The Metric Society. On the Quantification of the Social (2019, Cambridge: Polity); Lütten Klein. Leben in der ostdeutschen Transformationsgesellschaft (2019, Berlin: Suhrkamp).

Further reading

The Metric Society (book)

Numbers matter! The society of indicators, scores and ratings