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Ordinalization: Lewis A. Coser Memorial Award for Theoretical Agenda Setting 2014

Abstract

© American Sociological Association. We can think of three basic principles of classificatory judgment for comparing things and people. I call these judgments nominal (oriented to essence), cardinal (oriented to quantities), and ordinal (oriented to relative positions). Most social orders throughout history are organized around the intersection of these different types. In line with the ideals of political liberalism, however, democratic societies have developed an arsenal of institutions to untangle nominal and ordinal judgments in various domains of social life. In doing so, I suggest, they have contributed to the parallel amplification of both. In this article, I specifically discuss the socio-technical channels through which ordinal judgments are now elaborated, a process I call ordinalization. I conclude by exploring the political and economic possibilities of a society in which ordinal processes are ubiquitous.

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