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The Institutionalization of Rankings between 1850 and 1980

Project Description

Companies, artists, sports clubs, hospitals, hotels, universities or countries: Today, all kinds of entities are being "ranked" on a regular basis. Most of the literature focuses on rankings that emerged and proliferated since the 1990s. This neglects, however, that rankings have a long history that we need to understand in order to explain their rise in the last few decades. Our project therefore looks at the history of rankings in two fields - competitive sports and science/universities - between the mid-nineteenth century and around 1980. We conceptualize rankings as a modern practice of comparison that combines comparison of performances, quantification, visualization and publication. With this understanding in mind, we are particularly interested in three research questions: (1) Which rankings were produced and published during this period? (2) How were they discursively received and interpreted? (3) And how where they related to discourses on performance, competition, and transparency / publicity?

Project Directors

Prof. Dr. Tobias Werron

Dr. Leopold Ringel




Staff Members

Clelia Minnetian, M.A.

Stefan Wilbers, M.A.

Stella Medellias, B.A.

Karina Korneli


2019 – 2022 (36 Monate)


Funding Institution

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


SFB1288 Practices of Comparing

Project-related Publications

Brankovic, J., Ringel, L., & Werron, T. (2018). How rankings produce competition. The case of global university rankings. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 47 (4), 270–288. doi:10.1515/zfsoz-2018-0118

Werron, Tobias/Leopold Ringel (2017): Rankings: Conceptual Remarks. In: Lessenich, Stephan (Hg.): Geschlossene Gesellschaften. Verhandlungen des 38. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie.

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