A test of wills? Exploring synecdoche and gaming in the national literacy and numeracy performance monitoring regime

Joseph Drew, Janine O'Flynn

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Indeed, Aristotle defined the art of rhetoric, in his treatise of the same name 2,300 years ago, as the function of ‘persuading … of discover[ing] the means of coming as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case allow’ (Aristotle 2012, p. 8). For Aristotle, the ethos (character or portrayed character of the rhetor), logos (reasoning through speech required to prove an apparent truth), and pathos (the emotions of the rhetor and listener) were all critical elements to be mastered for the purposes of persuasion. More recent scholarship on rhetoric has emphasized it as a collaborative ‘art of discovering good reasons, finding what really warrants assent because any reasonable person ought to be persuaded by what has been said’ (Booth 1974, p. xiv). This view of rhetoric – which runs well beyond dialogue to also include the fine arts and music – puts the discovery of truth and new levels of truth at centre stage (Booth 1974) and presumes the close interaction of agents who are open to change. By way of contrast, the pragmatic Riker (1990) defines rhetoric as attempts to ‘change opinion’, whilst noting that little opinion does indeed change. An unwillingness to change reflects that doing so ‘implicitly at least requires recognition of [previous] error’ (Riker 1990, p. 54). The art of rhetoric infuses performance monitoring in the public sector (Drew et al. 2018). Those implementing a performance monitoring regime, at a minimum, have persuaded themselves and their political masters that the performance metrics chosen are important and that the method employed to summarise and communicate performance is appropriate for the policy goal. The other party to the dialogue – those who are being monitored – provide data which they implicitly assert is a valid representation of reality (Drew et al. 2018). Moreover, if the data is to be employed for decision-making purposes then end-users must be persuaded that the metrics appropriately reflect important aspects of the entity’s performance and that the data outputs are sufficiently robust and reliable to warrant reaction. Persuasion has become central to public performance monitoring regimes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Editors Deborah Blackman
    Place of PublicationMassachisetts
    PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
    ISBN (Print)978 1 78990 120 7
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


    Dive into the research topics of 'A test of wills? Exploring synecdoche and gaming in the national literacy and numeracy performance monitoring regime'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this