A sweeping critique of how digital capitalism is reformatting our world.
We now live in an “ordinal society.” Nearly every aspect of our lives is measured, ranked, and processed into discrete, standardized units of digital information. Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy argue that technologies of information management, fueled by the abundance of personal data and the infrastructure of the internet, transform how we relate to ourselves and to each other through the market, the public sphere, and the state.
The personal data we give in exchange for convenient tools like Gmail and Instagram provides the raw material for predictions about everything from our purchasing power to our character. The Ordinal Society shows how these algorithmic predictions influence people’s life chances and generate new forms of capital and social expectation: nobody wants to ride with an unrated cab driver anymore or rent to a tenant without a risk score. As members of this society embrace ranking and measurement in their daily lives, new forms of social competition and moral judgment arise. Familiar structures of social advantage are recycled into measures of merit that produce insidious kinds of social inequality.
While we obsess over order and difference—and the logic of ordinality digs deeper into our behaviors, bodies, and minds—what will hold us together? Fourcade and Healy warn that, even though algorithms and systems of rationalized calculation have inspired backlash, they are also appealing in ways that make them hard to relinquish.
An incisive, crystalline account of how the tracking and scoring of personal data has come to modulate contemporary existence—not only its dreary routines, creepy supervisions, and troublesome extractions and biases, but also its experiences of delight, connection, and effervescence. Essential reading for understanding the hold of digital ordering on our world, and for thinking up ways to loosen its grip.
This groundbreaking and revelatory book illuminates the seismic social changes provoked by the ubiquity of data. Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy show how in this new ordinal society, where everything and everyone is ranked, social stratification is created, codified, and in the end legitimized like never before. Far-reaching and deeply researched, this is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand inequality in the twenty-first century.
With precision and eloquence, Kieran Healy and Marion Fourcade map the tectonic forces driving the digitization of everyday life. If you want to know where the fault lines are—and how they got there—read this book.
The Ordinal Society will enter the pantheon, both as a work of cross-cutting social theory and as a clear-eyed reflection on the stakes of digital technology. Marshalling an astonishing range of theoretical and empirical knowledge to build their argument, Fourcade and Healy compellingly demonstrate just how integral measurement and ranking have become to markets, politics, culture, and the very fabric of social life. And they manage to do it with both rigor and style; this book is both intellectually rewarding and a true pleasure to read.
Under digital capitalism, social interaction itself has become the target of private appropriation and capital accumulation. Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy show how sociality has been corralled and monetized in the ordinal society—a society that may soon prove to be unbearable to most. A must-read.
If any work can advance contemporary social theory for our age of AI and bring it to a wide audience, it is The Ordinal Society. With the elegant theory of ordinality as a common thread uniting disparate phenomena, Fourcade and Healy sort out key paradoxes of digitality, particularly the way in which computation simultaneously promotes democratization and hierarchy. This important book deserves to have a lasting influence in sociology and beyond.
- 384 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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