Reading cases of local quality of life assessment as incomplete and socio-politically contentious practices

Luigi Doria (2022)

Quality and Quantity, Online first

Abstract. Quality of life represents one of the most relevant and controversial issues in the contemporary socio-economic and political scene. This paper examines local quality of life projects from a peculiar viewpoint. It does not primarily focus on the methodological debates on measurement but concentrates instead on two macro-issues: the socio-political implications of the assessment of quality of life and the peculiar incompleteness and precariousness that characterize many calculative exercises in that field. The case analysed are anomalous in respect to mainstream scientific practices: in fact, they concern an international ranking of cities according to liveability and a project aimed at the participatory assessment of local well-being. These cases are examined through the lens of the sociological debates on the processes of qualification, with specific reference to the convention theory and the studies on the economy of qualities grounded in the actor-network theory. Reading the experiences from that theoretical perspective provides important indications on the relationships between forms of knowledge, agency and power, on the controversial impacts of market logics on the public sphere and on the risk of a calculative rationalization of local knowledge. Moreover, the paper demonstrates that such issues manifest themselves not only in the initial intentions and rationales of the projects but in what the latter become through the continuous transformation of their paths and the re-framing of their boundaries – a phenomenon that may be seen as linked to the peculiar “elusiveness” of quality of life as a calculable object.

Extract: “The attention will be concentrated, in particular, on two different strands of thoughts which deal with qualification practices: the convention theory (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991; Thévenot 2002a; 2015; 2019) and its contributions on the conventional qualification (and quantification) of social phenomena and the studies on the economy of qualities and on markets as calculative devices developed within the frame of the actor-network theory (Callon et al. 2002; Callon and Muniesa 2005).” (p. 6)

Lien / Link