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The Performance Complex

Stark, David C.

What’s valuable? Market competition provides one kind of answer. But competitions offer another. On one side, competition is an ongoing and seemingly endless process of pricings; on the other, competitions are discrete and bounded in time and location, with entry rules, judges, scores, and prizings. Here I examine what happens when ever more activities in many domains of everyday life are evaluated and experienced in terms of performance metrics. The ratings and rankings of such systems do not have prices but are more like the prizes of competitions. Yet unlike organized competitions, they are ceaseless and without formal entry. Instead of producing resolutions, their scorings create addictions. In the performance society, networks of observation – in which all are performing and all keeping score – are entangled with a system of emotionally charged preoccupations with one’s positioning within the rankings. We refer to this assemblage of metrics, networks, and their attendant emotional pathologies as the performance complex.


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The Performance Complex: Competitions and Valuations in Social Life
Oxford University Press

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March 4, 2020