The politics of indicators: creating governable nature at the science-policy interface - Esther TURNHOUT
Do we measure what we value or do we value what we measure? The case of ecological indicators is an excellent illustration of the fundamental entwinement of knowledge and values. Ecological indicators can potentially perform an important role at the science policy interface because they form the link between policy goals, which are often vague and abstract, and scientific measurements. In other words, through ecological indicators, policy goals and ecological quality are rendered measurable and nature is rendered governable. However, this is not a neutral or innocent process because indicators are inevitably selective. The way in which indicators represent nature – the specific qualities and characteristics they foreground and consequently also obscure – determines whether ecological quality will be considered high or low and whether policies are deemed effective or not. As such, ecological indicators become a site for politics. In this lecture, I will use a perspective grounded in science and technology studies (STS) to reflect on the politics of indicators. Using examples from my own research I will discuss their development, their role at the science policy interface, and their implications for how we know and act upon nature in practice.