Examining the State: A Foucauldian perspective on international 'governance indicators'

Oded Löwenheim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


This paper offers a critical perspective on the growing phenomenon of governance indicators in international politics. I employ a governmentality approach to shed light on the political meanings and outcomes of the increasing tendency of various international actors to rate and rank the governance capacities and performances of states. In particular, I argue that, beyond being an analytic tool or an advisory system for governments, this practice in fact reproduces structures of authority and hierarchy in the international system. Power and knowledge are bound together in many governance indicators, as powerful states either examine themselves, the quality of governance of Third World states, or adopt the examinations carried out by other agents. Consequently, poor and developing states cannot simply ignore these ratings and rankings. The governance indicators establish a discursive field of state legitimacy and normalcy and 'responsibilises' states: construct them as ethical actors that are capable of correct and responsible choices and policies. As a result, the responsibility of powerful states and international actors for a host of social, economic and political problems in many Third World countries is obscured. Therefore the paper calls for closer attention to be paid to the elements of power in these governance indicators.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)255-274
Number of pages20
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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