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Quality of What? On the Concept and Currency of Merit

Quality of What? On the Concept and Currency of Merit

Lily Lamboy
May 12, 2017 -
1:15pm to 3:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Lily Lamboy, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, Stanford University

In this chapter, I define the principle of selection by merit and showed that it is an important object of study for those interested in distributive justice. I argue that the merit principle is the primary mechanism through which advantage-conferring roles are distributed, and showed that supply-side instructional, assessment, and parenting strategies are endogenous to beliefs and practices about what constitutes merit. The criteria that we value are those that trickle down and influence K-12 and postsecondary educational practices as well as parental practices and obligations. Yet the processes we use to determine and measure merit are endogenous to two problematic features – the traits and beliefs of the current elite, as well as conceptions of quality derived from the origins of a given institution. As a result, when merit-based procedures are operationalized in the real world, they often reflect the biases and beliefs of those in a position to construct and apply them. This makes merit a fraught foundation for distributing opportunity, and one that requires careful consideration from normative theorists. Toward this end, my primary aim in this dissertation is to articulate normative principles to regulate the process of selection by merit. These considerations must be attentive to the empirical realities of how merit-based selection processes work within existing organizations. In the final pages of this chapter, I briefly describe my whole argument and chapter outline, summarizing the empirical and conceptual tools that inform my approach.  


Lily Lamboy is a Ph.D. candidate with an interest in political theory and American politics.