Drawing on the case of business school rankings, we study how institutions are maintained and remain persistent despite their contested nature. We argue that rankings as institutions can be maintained through subtle disciplinary practices that freeze power relations in recipient organizations. Our analysis rests on a Foucauldian understanding of control emphasizing that rankings discipline (1) by enhancing the visibility of individuals’ performance, (2) by defining ‘normal’ behavior, and (3) by shaping how people understand themselves and the world around them. We show that these three disciplining effects support rankings’ durability, reproducibility, and communicability enhancing their overall stability and diffusion. Our arguments demonstrate that rankings’ relevance and impact is not entirely based on the legitimacy they are able to offer to ranked schools. Rather rankings impel a variety of disciplinary effects within business schools which help to stabilize and diffuse the institution.
Business school rankings; Institutional maintenance; Disciplinary control; Organizational field