BNP: Et tyrannisk tal?

Anne Sophie Scavenius & Stine Vejen Eriksen

Student thesis: Master thesis


In this thesis argue show that numbers and measures are not just simply neutral tools for structuring our world. Numbers – just like words - can play an important role in influencing our understanding of things, and make us act differently than had we not had the measures. We focus on the broadly accepted and frequently used measure for national growth - Gross domestic product (GDP). GDP refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given period. GDP is used broadly to compare national growth between countries. GDP is represented by one single number. In our thesis we criticize this simplification of a whole nation to one tyrannical number. This limits the truth about our actual growth level and simplifies our understanding of growth. GDP is an empirical example of how numbers can transform into simplified messages about our world. In this thesis our aim is to understand further how measures like GDP become accepted institutions in our world and how such measures influence our understanding of growth. We will address this by answering the following research question: How has the use of GDP become an institution and what are the consequences of this for our understanding of growth in Denmark? To address the research question we use a discourse analytic approach that helps us exploring the research field further. First, we investigate the history of GDP and how GDP has become an institution in Denmark. This will give us an impression of what key elements are at play when indicators like GDP become accepted ways of measuring the world. One of the reasons are that GDP has met a need to measure countries’ production and growth. Eventually, it has become a measure for comparing economies between countries, and with no officially integrated alternatives in Denmark, GDP has become the dominating measure for growth. Second, we investigate how GDP can be seen as tools for governing and as an act of power. Through public debate certain patterns are created around the identification of ‘GDP’ and ‘growth’ that influence the way we think of growth and the way we act upon it. However, some elements are excluded from the pronunciation of GDP such as environmental and humanitarian concerns. We argue that GDP constitutes “the national” (us vs. them) and that it creates certain subject positions including the “the good citizen” and “the irresponsible consumer”, which can be seen to influence our behavior. In our findings, we show that measures like GDP are not just neutral mechanisms for structuring our world. They are active co-creaters and actively co-created in our modern social world, which leads to a need for understanding further the power processes that are at play around GDP.

EducationsMSc in Organisational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages155