International organizations and the production of indicators: The case of freedom house

Christopher G. Bradley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Global indicators, which purport to render characteristics of states measurable and comparable across national borders, have become ubiquitous in news reports and public policy discussions. Global indicators assess and rank states on every basis: medical care, education, and business regulatory environment, as well as more abstract concepts such as “freedom.” Some indicators, for instance, gross domestic product, have long served as foundations of policy analysis (despite known limitations; see Stiglitz et al. 2009a, 21–40, 85–142), while newer indicators, such as “state fragility,” have achieved prominence only recently (Bhuta 2012). Initially, scholarly attention lagged behind the policy influence and public prominence of indicators, but research into indicators has developed significantly in recent years, including in the form of numerous books, articles, and policy reports (e.g., Morse 2004; Arndt 2008; Davis et al. 2012b; Cooley and Snyder, forthcoming). Nonetheless, as the editors of this volume observed in a previous article (Davis et al. 2012a, 4), “little attention has been paid to questions such as: What social processes surround the creation and use of indicators? How do the conditions of production influence the kinds of knowledge that indicators provide?” They noted that “the answers to these questions all have significant normative, theoretical and practical implications” (Davis et al. 2012a, 4; see also Halliday 2012; Pistor 2012). Using the prominent indicator producer Freedom House as a case study, this chapter proposes some answers to these questions and sketches some normative, theoretical, and practical implications. The historical evidence from Freedom House’s archives suggests that its indicator production was motivated predominately by the goal of strengthening Freedom House’s own institutional identity and reputation. Among other things, the indicator appealingly defined Freedom House’s “brand,” which in turn enhanced its ability to raise funds (including most importantly from the United States government), which in turn allowed the organization to engage in widespread “pro-freedom” activist efforts around the world.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Quiet Power of Indicators
Subtitle of host publicationMeasuring Governance, Corruption, and Rule of Law
Number of pages48
ISBN (Electronic)9781139871532
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2015.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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