Post-modern Measurement and The Hyper-Measured Self: ITC paper finished

My paper for the Integral Theory Conference is finished!

Here are some experts from Stein, Z. (2015). Desperate measures: the global crises of measurement and their meta-theoretical solutions. Paper prepared for the 4th Biannual Integral Theory Conference, Sonoma, CA. July 2015. [pdf]

Humanity must find a way beyond measures of total abstraction.

While universalistic and scientific approaches to measurement brought much of the dignity of modernity, they also brought disaster. The metric system set the tone and tenor for the developments we see before us today: the wide spread use of measures that are indifferent to interiority and incapable of capturing the dynamic variability of the local, contingent, and unique. Universalistic and scientific measures dominate global and local life across nearly every sector of experience and society—from agriculture to education to healthcare. Practices are seen as if they need to be standardized and measured, even if they never were before, even if they defy standardization or would better be understood as personal and unique. This is an age of hyper-measurement, as more and more is measured every day in greater and greater detail.

Make no mistake: many standards and measures are good and necessary. We must not throw out the baby of rigorous measurement with the bathwater of modernity’s disasters. The integral meta-theory of measurement being developed here aims to transcend but include pre-modern, modern, and post-modern perspectives on measurement. Nevertheless, taking an integral approach to measurement does mean overcoming the simplistic (and usually mindlessly quantitative) measures used today, which are the legacy of modernity. So-called “modern measurement” has fractured and diversified during the maelstrom of post-modern planetization. Today’s measures still suffer from the abstract universality of modernity. In addition they also suffer from a new post-modern form of standardized differentiation (Busch, 2011). The universal is displaced by post-modern fragmentation and a diversification of measures ensues. Yet this new set of measurement-enabled standardized differentiations is equally as abstract and artificial as the single universal that was displaced.[1] The post-modern landscape of measures is one in which a hyper-measured self is shaped by a network of mostly superficial or fictional measures. While there are some true and just measures that must be protected, the best measures have yet to be built.

Measurement Proliferates During Post-Modern Planetization

Sociologists have converged on the little noted fact that today standards-based regulatory regimes and measurement infrastructures constitute some of the only existing rules and regulations that are implemented on a global scale (Busch, 2011). “Most standardizers [and metric makers] are private sector organizations or private persons. They are particularly common and important on the global stage, where they meet less competition from other rule setters; there is no world state with legislative power…. Rather than being controlled by states, many standardizers want to influence and control state polices…. Many of these standardizers are also highly successful” (Brunsson & Jacobsson, 2002 pp. 1-4). The list of the Non-Governmental International Organizations that function as standards-based regulatory regimes and the administrators of measurement is long: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF); UNESCO; International Women’s Rights Watch; the International Standards Organization (ISO); OECD; International Labor Organization, and so on (see: Busch, 2011; Brunsson & Jacobsson, 2002). This is cursory overview leaving out whole realms such as finance, education, and ecology (each of which I discuss below).[2]

All this standardization and measurement amounts to an unprecedented state of affairs. This movement towards a hyper-measured humanity began right after WWII, but started picking up steam around 1970, as standards-based regulatory regimes and measurement infrastructures have been part and parcel of neoliberal global policies toward increasing efficiencies in planetary trade and communications (Harvey, 2005. Busch, 2011). Today the post-modern world is overrun with measures and standards. And although we may not realize it, much of the anomie and injustice of the post-modern lifeworld is a result of the proliferation of measures and standards. Importantly, today we do no face the pathology of the one-dimensional modern human, the distortion of individuals when they are all aligned against one abstract standard (although in some places and institutions, we still face that). The post-modern condition involves the fragmentation humanity, a multi-perspectival personality, refracted through a prism of standardized differentiations and mass-customizations (Harvey, 1990).

The hyper-measured self is a result many things, but largely of the recent increased emphasis on measurement in education and human capital management systems. For example, ISO9000, the human resource and management standards issued by the ISO impact the lives of millions of workers, as the largest quality control body for human capital management in the world. Not surprisingly, those most impacted by the standards (the millions of workers) have no say in the creation of these standards. They are created by a group of experts, with ties to most major international corporations. ISO9000 exemplifies trends in measurement intensive accountability and efficiency oriented standards for post-modern organizations. These trends, now global, began with Fredrick Winslow Taylor (1911), in the 19th century, whose simple use of a stopwatch (a crucial innovation in measurement technology), would allow him to optimize workflows and rebuild entire industries around the principles of measurement intensive scientific management. Today more sophisticated versions of the system sciences are applied to organizational governance and development, and they are always measurement intensive. Most people involved in institutionalized life are thus subject to a whole array of measures over which they have little or no control.

Let us return to our morning routine example from the introduction and have our average Joe or Jane go school, work, shopping, or a doctor’s appointment. We would see the further implications of post-modern standards-based regulatory regimes on the formation of human personalities and cultural patterns. The move from modernity’s homogeneity to postmodernity’s standardized diversity is a move from less to more measurement, in terms of both sheer numbers of measures and in terms of magnitude of impacts. Post-modernism is about difference, and marking out more differences requires more measurement. Our late-capitalist commodity intensive life-styles are caught in a web of standardized differentiation. We are not being unified and homogenized as we were during modernity; we are being divided and isolated into a pastiche of mass-customized personalities via measurement intensive standardization practices, from marketing to service industries, therapy, medicine, education, and fashion.

Personality crisis: the hyper-realty and hyper-reflectivity of the over-measured lifestyle

This has been discussed above, and I have elsewhere theorized about the current species wide identity crisis in which humanity is embroiled (Stein, 2015). We have been fractured into a thousand imagines of humanity, with competing worldviews and competing definitions of human origins, the human self, soul, and mind. Our species is playing out an identity crisis on the world stage, and for the first time we are collectively facing the fact we do not know what it means to be human.[3]

In the post-modern west, where lifestyle and worldview pluralism reigns, you can pick your self-related measure (intelligence, money, credentials, titles, fitness, etc.), and you can find a group that hypertrophies it. There are a wide variety of new technology enabled self-related measures, from Facebook “likes” to smartphone apps that track your steps and calories. It should be noted also that the automated data sorting done as a routine part of government surveillance as well as the complex psychometric advertisement-generating backbends built into social media and online marketplaces are measurement infrastructures; and they shape our experiences in ways that are beyond our control. We are over-measured and super-standardized, caught in a web of complex self-shaping infrastructures. All this right at the moment when we are least sure of what the shape of our humanity ought to be. The old stories about human identity—the old ideals and standards of human character, health, and livelihood—they have dissolved. In their place is a pastiche of ideals and lifestyles, standardized differentiations, without an overarching form or narrative.

Integral Meta-theory offers a complex multi-dimensional model of the psyche, which allows practitioners to create a constellation of self-related measures as part of a unique integral psychograph (Wilber, 1999). I have previously argued for an integral metrological pluralism in the realm of psychological measurement (Stein & Hiekkinen, 2009). It is a natural outcome of a model of the self that involves levels, lines, states, stages, and types (each has its own marketplace of measures). Beyond this plurality of representations, there is the Unique Self, which is beyond any and all measures. Uniqueness is the apocalypse of measurement; respecting it is one of the goals of Integral Metrology.


[1] And, of course, there have always been public sector and state run standards-based regimes and measurement infrastructures. These peaked with modernity, and have since been supplanted by non-governmental international organizations as the dominant players in large-scale standardization and measurement (Brunsson & Jacobsson, 2002).

[2] Consider the realm of psychological measurement, just as an example of how the move from modern to post-modern is a move from the standardization of a single abstract universal to the standardization of differences. In the early decades of the 20th century there was one test that really mattered, the IQ test. It claimed to measure a single index of your mental worth, and was broadly institutionalized as such across a wide array of gatekeeping institutions. Today there are literally hundreds of distinct psychological measurement techniques, (thousands depending on your definition of testing). Instead of taking one or two high-stakes IQ tests, children take dozens of high-stakes standardized tests (hundreds depending on which state in the US you live in). Many of these new tests are just as illusory and ideological as early IQ tests, yet their sheer quantity and diversity impact the shape our lives and our self-understandings—the hyper-measured self is a uniquely post-modern phenomena I discuss more later on.

[3] To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be said that humanity has never known its true identity and purpose. This is not something we once knew and have forgotten, or something we lost and must now find. No doubt, certain cultures have previously been convinced of a particular identity and purpose for all humans, and there have been visionaries who’ve offered their stunning guesses at the riddle of our being. The difference now is not ignorance—we’ve always been ignorant—the difference is that now there is wide spread knowledge of our ignorance and an unprecedented groping toward truly new answers; answers that are post-dogmatic, post-disciplinary/academic, post-conventional, and trans-national/ethnic. Don’t misread the recent upwelling of fundamentalist religion as a sign to the contrary. This reactive—and often violent—grasping and entrenchment of tradition is driven precisely by the now inescapable and hegemonic force of alternative stories about the meaning of humanity. The biggest sacrilege—and what looks to fundamentalist cultures like godlessness—is really the “storylessness” of post-modern culture, which stems in part from its (pseudo)-scientific basis; a non-foundationalist, open-ended, “choose your own adventure” worldview that glibly dismisses ancient traditions by citing the latest scientific headline, and then dismisses that headline when a newer study is released.