Revisiting the “Glocal” integration of universals and historical context

Integrated considerations of the universal and the local, the pure ideal parameters and the messy concrete observations, seem ever more ubiquitous in my reading lately. For instance, Ricoeur (1992, p. 289) takes up the problem of human rights imperfectly realized as a product of Western Europe’s cultural history that has nonetheless been adopted by nearly every country in the world. Ricoeur raises the notion of “universals in context or of potential or inchoate universals” that embody the paradox in which

“on the one hand, one must maintain the universal claim attached to a few values where the universal and the historical intersect, and on the other hand, one must submit this claim to discussion, not on a formal level, but on the level of the convictions incorporated in concrete forms of life.”

I could hardly come up with a better description of Rasch measurement theory and practice myself. Any given Rasch model data analysis provides many times more individual-level qualitative statistics on the concrete, substantive observations than on the global quantitative measures. The whole point of graphical displays of measurement information in kidmaps (Chien, Wang, Wang, & Lin, 2009; Masters, 1994), Wright maps (Wilson, 2011), construct maps and self-scoring forms (Best, 2008; Linacre, 1997), etc. is precisely to integrate concrete events as they happened with the abstract ideal of a shared measurement dimension.

It is such a shame that there are so few people thinking about these issues aware of the practical value of the state of the art in measurement, and who include all of the various implications of multifaceted, multilevel, and multi-uni-dimensional modeling, fit assessment, equating, construct mapping, standard setting, etc. in their critiques.

The problem falls squarely in the domain of recent work on the coproduction of social, scientific, and economic orders (such as Hutchins 2010, 2012; Nersessian, 2012). Systems of standards, from languages to metric units to dollars, prethink the world for us and simplify a lot of complex work. But then we’re stuck at the level of conceptual, social, economic, and scientific complexity implied by those standards, unless we can create new forms of social organization integrating more domains. Those who don’t know anything about the available tools can’t get any analytic traction, those who know about the tools but don’t connect with the practitioners can’t get any applied traction (see Wilson’s Psychometric Society Presidential Address on this; Wilson, 2013), analysts and practitioners who form alliances but fail to include accountants or administrators may lack financial or organizational traction, etc. etc.

There’s a real need to focus on the formation of alliances across domains of practice, building out the implications of Callon’s (1995, p. 58) observation that “”translation networks weave a socionature.” In other words, standards are translated into the languages of different levels and kinds of practice to the extent that people become so thoroughly habituated to them that they succumb to the illusion that the objects of interest are inherently natural in self-evident ways. (My 2014 IOMW talk took this up, though there wasn’t a lot of time for details.)

Those who are studying these networks have come to important insights that set the stage for better measurement and metrology for human, social, and natural capital. For instance, in a study of universalities in medicine, Berg and Timmermans (2000, pp. 55, 56) note:

“In order for a statistical logistics to enhance precise decision making, it has to incorporate imprecision; in order to be universal, it has to carefully select its locales. The parasite cannot be killed off slowly by gradually increasing the scope of the Order. Rather, an Order can thrive only when it nourishes its parasite—so that it can be nourished by it.”

“Paradoxically, then, the increased stability and reach of this network was not due to more (precise) instructions: the protocol’s logistics could thrive only by parasitically drawing upon its own disorder.”

Though Berg and Timmermans show no awareness at all of probabilistic and additive conjoint measurement theory and practice, their description of how a statistical logistics has to work to enhance precise decision making is right on target. This phenomenon of noise-induced order is a kind of social stochastic resonance (Fisher, 1992, 2011b) that provides another direction in which explanations of Rasch measurement’s potential role in establishing new metrological standards (Fisher, 2009, 2011a) have to be taken.

Berg, M., & Timmermans, S. (2000). Order and their others: On the constitution of universalities in medical work. Configurations, 8(1), 31-61.

Best, W. R. (2008). A construct map that Ben Wright would relish. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 22(3), 1169-70 [].

Callon, M. (1995). Four models for the dynamics of science. In S. Jasanoff, G. E. Markle, J. C. Petersen & T. Pinch (Eds.), Handbook of science and technology studies (pp. 29-63). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Chien, T.-W., Wang, W.-C., Wang, H.-Y., & Lin, H.-J. (2009). Online assessment of patients’ views on hospital performances using Rasch model’s KIDMAP diagram. BMC Health Services Research, 9, 135 [10.1186/1472-6963-9-135 or

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1992, Spring). Stochastic resonance and Rasch measurement. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 5(4), 186-187 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011a). Bringing human, social, and natural capital to life: Practical consequences and opportunities. In N. Brown, B. Duckor, K. Draney & M. Wilson (Eds.), Advances in Rasch Measurement, Vol. 2 (pp. 1-27). Maple Grove, MN: JAM Press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011b). Stochastic and historical resonances of the unit in physics and psychometrics. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research & Perspectives, 9, 46-50.

Hutchins, E. (2010). Cognitive ecology. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2, 705-715.

Hutchins, E. (2012). Concepts in practice as sources of order. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19, 314-323.

Linacre, J. M. (1997). Instantaneous measurement and diagnosis. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation State of the Art Reviews, 11(2), 315-324 [].

Masters, G. N. (1994). KIDMAP – a history. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 8(2), 366 [].

Nersessian, N. J. (2012). Engineering concepts: The interplay between concept formation and modeling practices in bioengineering sciences. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19, 222-239.

Wilson, M. R. (2011). Some notes on the term: “Wright Map.” Rasch Measurement Transactions, 25(3), 1331 [].

Wilson, M. (2013, April). Seeking a balance between the statistical and scientific elements in psychometrics. Psychometrika, 78(2), 211-236.


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