Valuation, Recognition, and Signaling in the Digital Public Sphere: the TED Talk Ranking Ecosystem

  • Heidi GautschiEmail author
  • Gianluigi Viscusi


In the past few years a new actor, who is playing an increasingly important role in ranking ideas and the scholars who share them, has emerged: the TED organization. While debate has surrounded popular academic research output rankings such as, impact factor, h‐index, Times Higher Education Ranking and Google Scholar, the TED Talk phenomenon does not seem to have garnered the same amount of interest. We argue that TED talks can be seen as a social form of ranking which specifically affects higher education and potentially research and innovation through decisions on what to invest in next. The TED organization then becomes a gatekeeper in the production and the cultural valuation of symbolic goods and social practices, especially with regard to research and innovation worth spreading. In this chapter we attempt to demonstrate how the TED ecosystem is a marketplace for ideas. By applying the concepts of recognition, valuation and signaling, we show how the TED ecosystem functions as both a means of gaining recognition for speakers and their ideas, but also provides a means of ranking those ideas and projects by signaling their importance by inclusion in the curated collection of talks accessible on the TED website.


  1. 1.
    H. Shema, The Impact of TED Talks, Sci. Am., 2014.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    P. Bourdieu, Les trois états du capital culturel, 30 Hrsg., Actes Rech. Sci. Soc., 1979, pp. 3–6.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    M. Lamont, “Towards a Comparative Sociology of Valuation and Evaluation,” in Annu. rev. Sociol., Annual Reviews, Bd. 38, 2012, pp. 201–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. Honneth, The I in We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition, Polity, 2014.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    D. Gambetta, “More Hedgehog than Fox – The common thread in the study of criminals, taxi drivers and suicide bombers,” in unpubl. Present. Nuff. Sociol. Semin. Oxford, 2005.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. Alberts, T. Nakayama und J. Martin, Human Communication in Society, 3 Hrsg., Pearson, 2014.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    J. Habermas, The structural transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, MIT Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    J. Habermas, Public space and political public sphere – the biographical root of two motifs in my thought, Commem. Lect., 2004.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    J. Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    P. Scannell, Media and Communication, London: Sage, 2013.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    L. Doganova, M. Giraudeau, C.-F. Helgesson, H. Kjellberg, F. Lee, A. Mallard, A. Mennicken, F. Muniesa, E. Sjörgren et al., Valuation studies and the critique of valuation, Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    P. Bourdieu, La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    M. Iser, “Recognition,” Stanford Encycl. Philos. (Fall 2013 Ed., E. N. Zalta Ed.), [Online]. Available:
  14. 14.
    A. Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    R. Brandom, Making it Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    D. Gambetta, “Signalling,” in Oxford Handb. Anal. Sociol., Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    N. Heller, “Listen and Learn,” in New Yorker, New York, 2012.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    C. Sugimoto, M. Thelwall, V. Larivière, A. Tsou, P. Mongeon und B. Macaluso, Scientists Popilarizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters, Bd. 8, PLoS One, 2013.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    TED, “Debunking TED myths | How TED works | Our Organization | About | TED,” 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 08 01 2016].Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    TED, “TED Talks | Programs & Initiatives | About | TED,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 08 01 2016].
  21. 21.
    C. Sugimoto und M. Thelwall, “Scholars on soap boxes: Science communication and dissemination in TED videos,” in J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Technol., Bd. 64, 2013, pp. 663–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    L. Ford-Brown, DK Guide to Public Speaking, 2 Hrsg., Pearson, 2013.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    W. Sanders und S. Boivie, “Sorting Things out: Valuation of New Firms in Uncertain Markets,” in Strateg. Manag. J., Bd. 25, Wiley, 2004, pp. 167–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    B. Connelly, S. Certo, R. Ireland und C. Reutzel, “Signaling Theory: A Review and Assessment,” J. Manag., Bd. 37, pp. 39–67, 2011.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    H. Gautschi und G. Viscusi, “Information-based recognition: TED talks and the institutional fabric of valuable innovation,” in EGOS (European Gr. Organ. Stud. Colloq.), Nales, Italy, 2016.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    F. Levy und R. Murnane, The New Divistion of Labor – How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    C. Vercellone, From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect: Elements for a Maxist Reading of the Thesis of Cognitive Capitalism, Bd. 15, Hist. Mater., 2007, pp. 13–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    P. Virno, A Grammar Of The Multitude – For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press – Foreign Agents, 2004.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    C. Winter, “The TEDification of Corporate America,” Businessweek, New York, 2014.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.École Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations