The proliferation of auditing culture in post Fordism indicates that the demise of the big Other has been exaggerated. Auditing can perhaps best be conceived of as fusion of PR and bureaucracy, because the bureaucratic data is usually intended to fulfill a promotional role: in the case of education, for example, exam results or research ratings augment (or diminish) the prestige of particular institutions. The frustration for the teacher is that it seems as if their work is increasingly aimed at impressing the big Other which is collating and consuming this ‘data’. ‘Data’ has been put in inverted commas here, because much of the so-called information has little meaning or application outside the parameters of the audit: as Eeva Berglund puts it, ‘the information that audit creates does have consequences even though it is so shorn of local detail, so abstract, as to be misleading or meaningless – except, that is, by the aesthetic criteria of audit itself ’. 

New bureaucracy takes the form not of a specific, delimited function performed by particular workers but invades all areas of work, with the result that – as Kafka prophesied – workers become their own auditors, forced to assess their own perfor- mance. Take, for example, the ‘new system’ that OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) uses to inspect Further Education colleges. Under the old system, a college would have a ‘heavy’ inspection once every four years or so, i.e. one involving many lesson observations and a large number of inspectors present in the college. Under the new, ‘improved’ system, if a college can demonstrate that its internal assessment systems are effective, it will only have to undergo a ‘light’ inspection. But the downside of this ‘light’ inspection is obvious – surveillance and monitoring are outsourced from OFSTED to the college and ultimately to lecturers themselves, and become a permanent feature of the college structure (and of the psychology of individual lecturers). The difference between the old/heavy and new/light inspection system corresponds precisely to Kafka’s distinction between ostensible acquittal and indefinite postponement, outlined above. With ostensible acquittal, you petition the lower court judges until they grant you a non-binding reprieve. You are then free from the court, until the time when your case is re-opened. Indefinite postponement, meanwhile, keeps your case at the lowest level of the court, but at the cost of an anxiety that has never ends. (The changes in OFSTED inspections are mirrored by in the change from the Research Assessment Exercise to the Research Excellence Framework in higher education: periodic assessment will be superseded by a permanent and ubiquitous measurement which cannot help but generate the same perpetual anxiety.)

 In any case, it is not as if the ‘light’ inspection is in any sense preferable for staff than the heavy one. The inspectors are in the college for the same amount of time as they were under the old system. The fact that there are fewer of them does nothing to alleviate the stress of the inspection, which has far more to do with the extra bureaucratic window-dressing one has to do in anticipation of a possible observation than it has to do with any actual observation itself. The inspection, that is to say, corre- sponds precisely to Foucault’s account of the virtual nature of surveillance in Discipline And Punish. Foucault famously observes there that there is no need for the place of surveillance to actually be occupied. The effect of not knowing whether you will be observed or not produces an introjection of the surveillance apparatus. You constantly act as if you are always about to be observed. Yet, in the case of school and university inspections, what you will be graded on is not primarily your abilities as a teacher so much as your diligence as a bureaucrat. 

— Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

Global Poverty

The Science of (Not) Ending Global Poverty