Sally E. Merry (New York University)
'The Seductions of Quantification:
Bureaucracy and the Politics of Measurement'
26 April 2017, 17:00-18:30
Chair: David Lebow (LAW)
Introduction: Nehal Bhuta (EUI LAW Professor)
An intense preoccupation with numbers is sweeping the worlds of international and domestic governance, based on the idea that political decisions must be made on the basis of objective quantitative data.
The use of statistics in governance was fundamental to the emergence of the modern nation-state. With globalization, the scope of governance through quantification is growing even more.
The expansion in quantification parallels the growth of bureaucracy; it is clear that bureaucracy runs on numbers. Using examples from efforts to measure violence against women developed by the United Nations to assess the phenomenon globally.
This talk shows how bureaucracy and quantification complement each other. They work with a shared approach to knowledge production based on conceptions of objectivity, rationality, and specificity.
At the same time, the dependence of bureaucratic activity on quantification means that its work is shaped by the underlying cultural and interpretive work of quantification and its capacity to render the complex social world commensurable through classification and categorization.
The talk concludes by asking, based on this analysis, what are the prospects that bureaucracies can resist the current trend toward nationalistic, charismatic leadership?
About the speaker
Sally Engle Merry is Silver Professor of Anthropology at New York University.
She is also a Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law, and past president of the American Ethnological Society.
Her recent books include Colonizing Hawai‘i (Princeton, 2000), Human Rights and Gender Violence (Chicago, 2006), Gender Violence: A Cultural Perspective (Blackwell, 2009) and The Practice of Human Rights, (co-edited with Mark Goodale; Cambridge, 2007).
Her most recent book, The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016) examines indicators as a technology of knowledge used for human rights monitoring and global governance.
She has co-edited two books on quantification, The Quiet Power of Indicators, with Kevin Davis and Benedict Kingsbury (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and A World of Indicators, with Richard Rottenburg, Song-Joon Park, and Johanna Mugler (Cambridge University Press 2015), 2015. She is the author or editor of fifteen books and special journal issues.
She received the Hurst Prize for Colonizing Hawai‘i in 2002, the Kalven Prize for scholarly contributions to sociolegal scholarship in 2007, and the J.I. Staley Prize for Human Rights and Gender Violence in 2010.
In 2013 she received an honorary degree from McGill School of Law and was the focus of an Author Colloquium at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZIF) at the University of Bielefeld, Germany. She is an Honorary Professor at Australian National University.