Social policy by numbers numerical tools in global social policy making

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
John BERTEN , University of Bielefeld, Germany
The paper investigates the role of a special class of tools in the formulation of global social policy: the use of numbers and quantification. We argue that numerical tools, beyond their technical function of supporting decisions, shape or even constitute the 'social' in the global sphere, and that they enhance the legitimacy of policies that make use of them. We draw on recent sociological theories of quantification and numbers, on world society theory and on the constructivist theory of social problems. Empirically, the paper flows from an ongoing research project on basic social protection worldwide, a field replete with quantitative tools of policy formulation and implementation. We compare three types of international organisations (IOs) as to the degree and the varieties of numerical tools they use in designing and spreading social protection policies worldwide: lending IOs (World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the latter producing the Social Protection Index for Committed Poverty Reduction); standard-setting IOs (ILO); and non-governmental advocacy IOs (HelpAge).

We pursue two questions: In which ways are social problems and related social policies constructed by numerical tools as globally comparable and applicable? How do numerical tools create legitimacy for policies advanced by IOs, making up for the lack of electoral legitimacy (e.g. the strong role of quantitative communication in achieving the unlikely global consensus on 'social protection floors' by the ILO in 2012)? Overall, we hypothesize that these practices change the meaning of ‘the social’ as compared to conventional national social policies, initiating socio-technocratic 'policies by numbers' in both global and national arenas.

Key words: global social policy, world social theory, policy by numbers, international organisations, international non-governmental organisations