2.2 The role of judgement devices Judgement devices are tools that enable information to be gathered from multiple parties (Karpik, 2010; Lamont, 2012). Judgement devices play a critical role in enabling a value to be ascribed to singularities, which, given the inability to find a ready-made comparator, are very difficult to value (Karpik, 2010; Lamont, 2012). As such, the role of a judgement device is to enable prospective users of singularities to make decisions about the value of the singularity, and in doing so, to choose between items, that by their very nature, are not readily comparable.
Judgement devices, therefore, provide individuals with tools that they can use to evaluate singularities and gain greater insight into how the singularity aligns with their personal (yet diverse) preferences. Given the multidimensionality of criteria often needed, even on an individual level, to evaluate singularities, multiple judgement devices may act in a complementary manner, at times providing a consistent set of information to the user, but often producing conflicting views,3 which will also need to be evaluated and resolved by the user in order to make a decision. Karpik (2010) notes that individuals will interpret judgment devices in their own way. What is considered to be a ‘good’ singularity will vary considerably from person to person, and all evaluations will be heterogeneous. Without credible judgement devices4, there would be no way to make a reasonable choice in relation to singularities (Karpik, 2010). Therefore, while judgment devices are not unique to singularities, the way they are used will be unique to each individual.
According to Karpik (2010: 45), judgement devices can take multiple forms, including “networks”, “cicerones”, and “rankings”,5 which will now be discussed in turn. Networks can be of a personal or practitioner nature (Karpik, 2010). Personal networks, which are generally an amalgamation of interpersonal relationships, can provide users with credible and personalised information about products and services, while practitioner networks ensure knowledge transfer between professionals in an industry. Karpik (2010: 45) offers a somewhat restrictive definition of personal networks, describing their composition as including “family members, friends, work colleagues, and contacts”, and indicating that personal networks operate by “…circulation of the spoken word”. However, recent research in accounting has also considered the role of the online written word in social media, and the trust placed in the rankings generated by websites such as TripAdvisor (Jeacle and Carter, 2011). In the context of films, therefore, we see the potential for personal networks influencing film choice not only through the spoken recommendations of friends, family, and colleagues, but also through the written recommendations of users on websites such as IMDb. As such, we propose a conceptualization of personal networks that extends beyond those contacts with which an individual has a ‘face-to-face’ relationship, and includes connections that may exist solely via social media.
The term ‘cicerones’ is used by Karpik (2010) to refer to the critics and experts that offer evaluations of singularities. The role of a cicerone in the evaluation of singularities, according to Karpik (2010: 46), is to provide “…a soft, symbolic form of authority whose influence, when it intersects with user consent, reduces or dispenses with the distress of individual choice.” In the context of films, and similar singularities such as literature and art, the term ‘cicerone’ would appear to refer to expert critics (as opposed to laypeople). As such, the information generated by cicerones about the quality of a film would include not only published expert reviews, but also awards and nominations for awards determined by critics (for example, the Academy Awards). Blank (2007) notes a number of circumstances which indicate when there will be high demand for independent third-party reviews of products and services: when there is high demand for products, when audiences lack product knowledge, and when price information is not useful. In the context of films, as Blank (2007) notes, if a film is popular, a cinema chain might respond by scheduling more sessions, or by running the film for a longer period, but the price of the film at the cinema will remain the same.
Shrum (1996: 15-16) argues that the status of expert reviewers is based on “…a special kind of knowledgeability…”, which is based on the application of appropriate standards, claiming “after all, there is no reason to grant anyone control over your opinions unless theirs are better than yours.” However, recent research has also considered the role of user, or layperson, reviews. David and Pinch (2008: 342) note that “…user reviews are mushrooming as an alternative to traditional expert reviews in many areas of cultural production”, although they also note that there is disagreement as to the effects of these systems. David and Pinch (2008) further note that the mere presence of a review on a reputable website appears to be enough to give a reviewer legitimacy; the fact that a user of the site does not know the reviewer does not seem to be a limiting factor (although there is disagreement as to the effects of these systems). Jeacle and Carter (2011) extend this in their study of users of TripAdvisor, finding that the opinions of laypeople tended to be privileged over those of experts.
To better understand the role of expertise in reviewing, David and Pinch (2008) drew on a framework from science by Collins and Evans (2007), relating to levels of expertise. Collins and Evans (2007) identify three levels of expertise – contributory expertise, whereby the individual is an expert in relation to a technical specialty, interactional expertise, where the individual has sufficient expertise to comment on the field, but not enough to directly contribute to the field, and no expertise. David and Pinch (2008) argue that in the field of online reviewing, having no expertise is no longer an impediment to writing a review – the only skills required are basic literacy and a willingness to participate. Whether or not these reviewers are deemed to be ‘expert’, David and Pinch argue, is not determined by an editor of a newspaper, or by an assessment of the individual’s qualifications for the task, but rather by the online community. To this end, some websites, such as Amazon, provide rankings of top online reviewers (David and Pinch, 2008).6
The final category of judgement devices considered by Karpik (2010) is that of rankings. Rankings provide a clear signal to prospective users of singularities that there is a hierarchy of some dimension of quality in relation to these goods and services; i.e., that one is better than another. Espeland and Sauder (2007) identify three attributes that rankings provide users; firstly, the provision of a common metric simplifies information; secondly, the process of commensuration draws together items that are seen to ‘belong together’, evaluates them according to a common metric, and distinguishes them by developing a hierarchy between items; and thirdly, the commensuration process invites reflection on what the numbers used actually mean.
Karpik (2010) distinguishes between expert rankings and buyer rankings. In our context - the IMDb website - our focus is on buyer/user rankings, given that these are the rankings that appear on the site. Rankings, and their properties, have been considered in some detail in the literature. Pollock and D’Adderio (2012: 565) note that “rankings represent an important mechanism shaping markets…such that scholars have labelled them ‘engines’ within the economy”, and that to view rankings in this way implies that rankings actively shape their environment. A number of studies have focused on organizational responses to rankings (see for example, Elsbach and Kramer, 1996; Free et al., 2009; Sauder and Espeland, 2009; Wedlin, 2006; Zell, 2001), often in the context of business school, or law school, rankings.7 We seek to contribute to these studies by highlighting the underlying properties of singularities and how they influence the choices individuals make in relation to them.
Research has pointed to the changing nature of judgement devices over time. Pollock and D’Adderio (2012: 584) focus on the “format and furniture” of a ranking device, and argue that “…whilst there has been a good understanding and theorisation of 20th century accounting representational devices…, those of 21st century accounting are still being formulated. In this respect, Qu and Cooper (2011: 345) talk of new forms of inscriptions “materialized through different media with different qualities” and [they] give the example of power point sldes, flip chart pages, emails, strategy maps, graphics such as bullet points and checklists, and so on, to exemplify this.” We see our empirical context as being a suitable one to add to knowledge in this area. Our empirical context features both rankings, albeit to a limited subsection of films (IMDb ranks the top 250 films, and provides some rankings of films by genre), and ratings. Given the relationship between ratings and rankings (that is, ratings can be used to construct a ranking), and the predominance of ratings on the IMDb website, we include ratings along with rankings in this category of judgement device.