How can accounting inform our understanding of the reviews, rankings and ratings that permeate contemporary life? Professor Ingrid Jeacle and Professor Chris Carter of CAS explored this question in a joint keynote address delivered at the Communities of Evaluating workshop held at the University of Hamburg, Germany, on 14 December 2017.
Hosted by the Media and Participation research group based at the University of Hamburg and the University of Konstanz, the workshop gathered scholars in sociology and digital media to discuss the practices and cultures of evaluation that are emerging on digital media platforms. Professors Jeacle and Carter opened the workshop with their presentation titled “Rankings, league tables and user reviews: the apparatus of evaluation and assurance in contemporary life”.
Professors Jeacle and Carter began their presentation by noting how digitalisation has facilitated the growing influence of new expert groups whose authority appears to be rooted in lay experience as opposed to professional expertise. Drawing on their own research on TripAdvisor and Amazon, Professors Jeacle and Carter then explained the role of accounting-based practices in contributing to the rise of these new arbiters of knowledge. In particular, they highlighted how the mechanisms of quantification and auditability embedded in user review websites create trust in these websites and their user communities.
The second keynote of the workshop was delivered by Professor Carolin Gerlitz of the University of Seigen. Professor Gerlitz’ presentation focused on the sociotechnical elements of social media platforms, and how they produce and constrain certain forms of participation and evaluation.
On the following day, Professors Jeacle and Carter, together with CAS doctoral researcher Yi Ling Ong, participated in the workshop discussions centred around three presentations on online communities of evaluation.
The morning session began with a presentation by Thomas Frisch and Louise Stoltenberg of the University of Hamburg. Sharing their recent research on hospitality platforms Airbnb and Couchsurfing, Frisch and Stoltenberg explained how these platforms foster a sense of community among users and create a review culture of overwhelmingly positive reviews. The next talk was delivered by Dr Thorsten Peetz of the University of Bremen. Drawing on his research on dating app Tinder, Dr Peetz explored the network of human and non-human actors involved in the valuation of persons. After lunch, Dr Daniela Wentz of the University of Lüneburg took the audience back in time to the 1960s with her talk on the history of computer dating.
The workshop concluded with a lively group discussion on the workshop theme of “communities of evaluating”. Productive conversations were had on the suitability of “communities of evaluating” as an analytical concept, motivations for leaving online reviews and ratings, and whether an implosion of reviews and ratings is underway.
The CAS participants had an enjoyable and stimulating time engaging with key trends in digital media and reflecting on the role of accounting in shaping such trends. The workshop also provided a unique and timely opportunity to broaden academic conversations with the wider social science community. Sincere thanks go to the workshop organisers, in particular Professor Urs Stäheli, Thomas Frisch and Louise Stoltenberg of the University of Hamburg, for their kind invitation and warm hospitality.