David Nelken (Macerata): Social Indicators as a New Form of Global Normativity


Comparative social indicators are increasingly influential tools used in global and domestic settings for shaping and monitoring decision-making over a wide range of topics. The information they provide certainly seems an advance on acting on guesswork and their league tables about relative levels of performance often seem broadly convincing; but they may also be seen as examples of techniques that exercise power without responsibility and 'normalise' certain local standards as if they were globally applicable. Many authors argue that indicators help make social practices knowable and comparable, have the virtues of impartiality, simplicity, efficiency, and consistency, encourage transparency, overcome relativism, produce useful change, and allow learning from experience. Other writers insist, on the contrary, that indicators oversimplify, are misleading and partial, make for false comparisons and bogus harmonisation, are too far removed from local knowledge, and are ideologically biased. How are such different views possible?

Prof. Dr. David Nelken, University of Macerata

Curriculum Vitae

David Nelken (PHD, LLD, Cambridge) taught philosophy of law, sociology of law and criminology at Cambridge University, Edinburgh University and University College, London before moving to Italy in 1989. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Macerata, Italy, as well as Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Cardiff University, UK, and the Visiting Professor at Oxford University's Centre of Criminology (teaching the course on comparative criminal justice). He is an Academician of the UK Academy of Social Sciences, received a Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Sociological Association in 1985, the 'Sellin- Glueck' International Scholarship Award from the American Society of Criminology in 2009, the 'Podgorecki' Award of the International Sociological Association in 2009, and the 'International Scholar Award' from the Law and Society Association in 2013.