Irrationality of metrics and metricide

Metricide, death by metrics, is catalyzed by an accelerated culture of irrationality that parades itself under the guise of reason.

I think of the epidemic of metricide each time that I speak with a junior colleague, each time that I write a promotion and tenure letter, and each time that I sit on a review committee. Mentoring assistant professors is an everyday reminder of this death by metrics.

The burden of metrics is borne by the most junior academics, subjecting them to a continual state of anxiety.

The suicidal anxieties produced in academics by the race for metrics has deleterious health effects, in many instances resulting in poor mental health outcomes among academics; and in some instances, resulting in death (recall the stories of a colleague dying of a heart attack in the office next door).

Beyond killing academics, metrics kill academia. They take the creativity, joy, and freedom of academia, and turn these positive emotions into an accelerated chase for numbers. The number frenzy makes numbers the end goal of academic work, obfuscating the fundamental spirit of inquiry.

Underneath its veneer of rationality (that numbers would offer a standard for quality), the metrics game is entirely irrational. The irrationality of the metrics game becomes apparent once we consider the various ironies in how metrics are determined and implemented.

One of the striking ironies of the culture of metrics is the mass implementation of numbers, carried out often by academic-managers with mediocre academic track records and a whole lot of ambition. That the managers implementing the metrics are mostly mediocre or failed academics that don’t really understand the research process creates and reproduces the condition for metricide.

You have a Head who had never published in a top tier journal telling junior academics that “without a solo-authored publication in a top tier journal, you would not even have tenure track job.” You have a Dean with an h-index of 3 telling an Associate Professor that an h-index of 17 is nothing to be proud of, “the University is looking for excellence these days.” You have a Vice President of Research with 12 publications in sub-standard journals telling an Associate Professor that her productivity, with 5 publications in the last three years, has been low recently.

Without a deep understanding of what guides numbers, a new number, number of total citations, h-index, i-10, field weighted citation index, takes center stage. The ever-accelerating rush for new metrics also works to maintain the opacity of the metric epidemic.

This is the second irony of the metric culture. The propaganda of rationality and drive toward standards obfuscates the opaque processes through which decisions are made regarding what metrics to apply, and the very absence of agreed upon metrics. Once the ideology that metrics are ever-evolving and in a continual state of being calibrated in the search for excellence is accepted, it becomes the basis for tyrannical and prejudiced decisions made by management, all under the veneer of searching for excellence. A colleague with 18 peer reviewed publications and an h-index of 9 does not make it to associate professor, the management states “She did not measure up to the continually evolving standards of excellence.” Another colleague with 7 articles and an h-index of 5 gets promoted and tenure, management argues “excellence is in the quality of the work.” Excellence itself becomes a trope that justifies the prejudice built into academic systems of evaluation.

In the meanwhile, hearing the story of the colleague with 18 publications not making tenure, assistant professors push themselves to 25-30 publications, believing this is what would earn then tenure. The eternal perpetuation of anxiety is the underpinning principle of the game of metrics.

I have often argued that metrics kill creativity. I have also often written about the ways in which metrics, articulated in narrow frameworks of evaluation, constrain and limit the possibilities of new thought. Narrowly driven by how much to produce, where to produce, and how to generate citations, scholars are driven to kill all that which is creative within.

In this blog entry, I will further argue that the veneer of rationality of metrics works ideologically to cover over a fundamentally irrational process driven by the tyranny of mediocre academic management. Whereas metric-mania is meant to portray a drive toward excellence, what it actually does is write over an array of political practices and practices of power play that are inherently unequal. Whereas metrics are projected as instruments for calibrating the drive toward excellence, junior academics would do well to recognize the irrationality and prejudice that are built into how metrics are implemented and reduced.

For academia to retain its culture of creativity and for academics to fight the onslaught on their wellbeing by a culture of metrics, academics ought to consider the ways in which they can build networks of solidarity and collective claims-making. Unions and academic labour collectives have key roles to play in challenging the epidemic of metrics.

CARE OpEd: The National Register of Citizens And The Politics of Exclusion and Hate

BJP propaganda driven by deportation of “illegal” Muslim immigrants

Rendering four million people, almost all Bengalis and largely Muslim, stateless, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has given a state-driven political face to the ongoing attacks on minorities across India.

The NRC, a list of people that can prove they came to the state on or before March 24, 1971, the day Bangladesh secured independence, is an extension of the broader climate of hatred and fear of the “other” stoked by the Hindutva forces across India.

The erasure of citizens from the NRC serves as the fundamental basis for their erasure from the right to land, right to vote, and freedom. Without access to structures of justice, the four million citizens rendered stateless are also rendered vulnerable to a broader climate of violence where lynchings and murders of minorities have become the norm. The normalization of hate goes hand-in-hand with the normalization of the exclusion of minorities.

The propaganda around the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant has been systematically catalysed across Assam to create the grounds for the politics of exclusion. The image of the Muslim infiltrator from Bangladesh is circulated through media images and everyday discourses, with the threat of the “other” infiltrating and colonizing state-driven resources.

The campaign of hate carried out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been driven by the narrative that the illegal Muslim immigrants will be deported. This targeting of illegal Muslim immigrants is juxtaposed in the backdrop of the Hindutva agenda of the BJP, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his preference for Hindu Bangladeshi migrants and the BJP considering the introduction of a bill that would offer legal rights to Hindu migrants. The stage for this politics of exclusion had been set much earlier with the Assam accord that gave legitimacy to the xenophobic response to the “other.”

To draw from Hannah Arendt, citizenship acts as the basis for the “right to have rights.” Fascist regimes driven by hate therefore specifically work on the mechanisms of erasing citizenship of minority communities, then turning these stateless bodies into sites of violence. Once these communities can be marked as the other of the state, their access to fundamental resources of livelihood are erased and they are subjected to various forms of state-driven oppressions.

Stateless people are often the targets of a wide range of societal violence, often without access to juridical structures and processes. Integral to the large-scale deployment of violence is the marking of the other as without citizenship rights, and therefore, without the right to be counted.

Moreover, the precarity of the largely poor Bengali Muslim communities working under conditions of exploitation over generations is further rendered vulnerable in conditions of statelessness. The symbolic marking of the other as without citizenship is intrinsically tied to the material exploitation of the other and the systematic perpetuation of oppression. Even as the NRC offers a framework for appealing the exclusion, the complexity of the legal processes of appeal make it particularly difficult for the margins to access. The NRC as a framework therefore disproportionately targets poor minorities who have over generations formed the backbone of the economy.

The sham of the NRC process in Assam being a secular process starts falling apart when interrogated for the logic for the organizing of the NRC. That the NRC is established on the fear of the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant disrupts any claim to secularism underlying the NRC.

The deployment of citizenship as a category for marking the “other” catalysed by the Hindutva forces follows the nation-wide top-down implementation of the Aadhaar card as a tool for identifying citizenship, evaluating eligibility to state provisions, and allocating resources. The seduction of technology works alongside a fascist framework for marking the other of the state and differentiating this other from the citizen, working in complementary ways to achieve the Hindutva agenda.

The limits of the technology and its techniques, its failures in implementation are however left out of the seductive appeal of the solution to governance. That many individuals who have not been named on the list have lived in or have ancestors living in Assam from before 1971 needs to be foregrounded, pointing to the limits of the techniques of marking and identifying. As an instrument of governance then, the effectiveness and efficiency of the NRC ought to be interrogated from within its internal logics.

Beyond questioning the techniques of marking citizens however, the very basis of the Assam accord needs to be critically interrogated. The idea that citizenship can be reproduced as a category to exclude and to legitimize violence needs to be examined. The arbitrary marking of 1971 as the year for determining who is a citizen and who is not needs to be brought under scrutiny.

The recognition of the very complexity of the ethnic composition of Assam amid histories of movements and migrations across West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam offers a framework for understanding the complicated nature of the citizenship question. Closely interrogating the very basis for how citizenship is determined, by whom, and under what power configurations offers new ways for thinking through the politics of belonging, and for organizing in strategies of resistance.

The NRC that renders 4 million Indians stateless shares in its framework the politics of hate that is evident in the deportations in the US organized by Donald Trump, in the treatment of Rohingya refugees across Asia, and in the treatment of refugees across large parts of Europe.

The deployment of hate as an instrument for organizing citizenship is dialectically related to the marking of the “other” of the state, the outside that must be targeted as a site of violence to mobilize affect and to continually create bodies for labour extraction without rights. The fascist politics of hate that underlies the rise of the politics of exclusion is a global phenomenon, which simultaneously releases large numbers of stateless bodies into the global flows of capital, labour, and precarity without access to structures for voicing rights.

Critically situating the politics of hate organized by the NRC in relationship with the global logics of hate as tools of exclusion from the state, from Myanmar to the US offers opportunities for considering the ways in which this politics of hate ought to be resisted locally, nationally, and globally.

Recognition of the interplays of neoliberalism and the fascist politics of exclusion offers a basis for transformative politics that undoes the normative ideas of citizenship. Resistance to the politics of exclusion ought to begin with interrogating the very idea of the citizen: who is the citizen and who is not, and the ways in which this relates to the global reproduction of precarity.

Finally, the politics of exclusion being mobilized by the NRC in Assam creates a moral opportunity for the neighbouring states to create a politics of inclusion by offering refuge to those rendered stateless, and doing so through the framework of rights.

It also creates an opportunity for progressive politics in India to open up altogether new possibilities for imagining a politics of belonging through acts of resistance that disrupt the very idea of citizenship, connecting the citizenship question to the question of capital.

(Mohan J. Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) in the School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing at Massey University).

Resistance, change, and development: The story of Jangalmahal

My work in Santali communities in what is now described as Jangalmahal started in the mid-1990s, attempting to understand the communicative production of marginalization. This work was driven by the questions: What is the role of communication in producing material marginalizations of Santalis? How does communication work to reproduce these forms of marginalization? What are the imaginaries of resistance articulated in the backdrop of such marginalization?

These questions and the emerging ideas formed the bases of the culture-centered approach (CCA), attending to the role of communication as an instrument for perpetuating power and for reproducing the marginalization of indigenous communities. The communicative disenfranchisement of indigenous communities is deeply intertwined with their material disenfranchisement. The struggles against displacement, exploitation, and erasure from sites of access to resources mirror the indignities, stigmas, and erasures experienced by Santalis.

Between 2008 and 2012, Jangalmahal witnessed resistance organizing across various spaces. Our community-engaged work of building infrastructures for democratic participation took the form of witnessing the violence, the role of the state, and the many ways in which resistance emerged in this backdrop. While the resistance was narrativized in an essentialized story of Maoist violence, the ongoing fieldwork of CARE points to a much more complex story, with multiple sites of voice making and story telling.

In the post-2012 work of CARE in Jangalmahal, we have been collaborating with Santali communities in building communicative infrastructures for voice. The struggles for voice and democratic opportunities for participation present ongoing challenges in the backdrop of a development model that is targeted specifically at the margins of Jangalmahal.

The following piece co-authored with Dr. Subhasish Ray outlines this ongoing struggle for voice in the backdrop of the state-driven development model.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14672715.2017.1415762

On “closed door meetings” and totality of control

One of the forms of totalitarian control is the control over discursive spaces and sites of knowledge production.

The totality of control is achieved through the tools of surveillance, systematic management, and manipulation of academic spaces, constructed within the logics of state and market power.

The market reigns precisely through the arms of the state that give legitimacy to forms of resource extraction in the hands of private capital. The state, thus reorganized as a capitalist tool, legitimizes various forms of control through explicit communicative tools such as policies as well as implicit tools that set the expectations of communication.

One such tool of totalitarian control exerted over knowledge production is research calibration. Research calibration works as a method for aligning academic work with the agendas of the state, setting implicitly the limit imposed on what can be studied, how studies are conducted, and the ways in which studies are circulated.

For instance, “closed door meetings” are legitimized as informal processes through which academics can contribute to policy and lend their work to social change. However, the very formulation of “closed door policies” is situated within the ambits of power, legitimizing various forms of state control as the necessary tools for managing the generation and reproduction of knowledge. The closing of the door on the findings and how they are shared offers the state the tool for deploying knowledge to fulfil its agenda of totalitarian control. This is further complicated when public funds are deployed toward the funding of the academic work.

Knowledge thus formulated achieves the totality of control, albeit under the guise of social change.