I am teaching a new course next spring – I call it ‘Ruling the world by numbers’. The subtitle is ‘Knowledge and politics in international development’. Here’s the syllabus.
The idea is that I will be writing a book on the same title while teaching the course. Gaute Simensen, who just joined our department, and who is writing a PhD on a similar theme will be helping me with the course.
Do you want to know how the IMF collects statistics from Low Income Countries? Do you wonder what kind of quality checks there are, and what rules determine what data gets published and what does not?
Well, so did the IMF Board. They requested the IMF Independent Evaluation Office to conduct an evaluation. Because they did not know the answers to those questions. The Evaluation Office asked me to write a background paper. The short answer is that the system they have in place is not working. Read my full paper here – and the whole evaluation here: Behind the Scenes with Data at the IMF. Pleased to see that Lagarde supported the recommendations that the papers put forward. A bit puzzled to read the statement from the same director that seems to indicate that the evaluation emphasized the excellence of the IMF, when she in the same letter recognizes that the incentives of IMF staff in the system of data management is currently misaligned.
International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences is calling for applications for PhD positions. The positions are fully funded, and are enumerated as full time job according to Norwegian regulations. Full details of all the positions here.
One of the positions calls for proposals on the politics of numbers. Candidates can have masters degree in any background. The full description of this position (and instructions on how to apply) is found here. Here’s an excerpt:
The use of numbers, performance indicators and benchmarks have grown exponentially over the last two decades, particularly in the field of international politics and development. Indicators are now firmly established as a distinct mode of global governance. The process of numbering involves translating complex phenomena into numerical values. The procedure converts what might otherwise be highly contentious normative agendas into numbers that appear technocratic and objective. The politics of numbers has implications for global governance, and particularly so for making norms, rules and regulations in the fields of International Environment and Development Studies. We are seeking a PhD proposal with a foundation in an International Relations and/or International Political Economy perspective that studies topics of importance in International Environment and Development Studies.
When starting to work on your proposal you might want to take some inspiration from some of the recent literature. I have made some short summaries here and here. If you are considering to apply and you have questions, you are of course very welcome to contact me.
In Cambridge? You are in luck. I will be giving a talk at the Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism. I am really looking forward to it. Free to attend.
On Sunday 13 December I was speaking about my book at the CBC Sunday Edition. Listen to the recording here.
A few weeks back I was on the Economic Rockstar Podcast – listen to the episode here.
I am really looking forward to the annual African Studies meetings in San Diego.
(The preliminary program is here: The State and the Study of Africa, November 19-22, 2015. San Diego, California).
I will be giving two papers. I give one paper on Friday morning in “State Building, States, and State Transformation in Africa: Legacies, Impacts, Consequences and Solutions” (Friday, Nov 20, 8:30-10:15am, V-P-2) and then a second paper at the ASA Roundtable on Methods Saturday November 21 8:30-10:15. I will be speaking on studying Africa by numbers.
I will also be giving an informal presentation of my book. Join me at the University of Chicago Press booth (#305) on Saturday, 4 PM for some wine and a chat about “Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong“.
There is a rise of indicators. The so called data revolution is finding its feet, so I do not expect it to let up anytime soon. The Economist provided one overview in their report on ‘How to lie with indices‘.
As one would expect there is now a ballooning literature to match the rise of indicators. The early and leading contributions in this literature emerged from Law and Anthropology (sometimes cross-disciplinary work), but now International Relations and Political Science is following. Economics is as far as I can tell still on the sidelines. Anthropology and ‘Constructivism’ within International Relations has a natural comparative advantage in approaching data as social products. On the other hand, economists, statisticians and political scientists of the positivist mold, have a mountain to climb.
I hope there will be a gradual shift in all disciplines towards approaching indicators critically as ‘products’ rather than the mainstream approach of being uncritical consumers of indicators. All these indicators are entering the realm of ‘as if’ governance.
We all know, I hope, that the Freedom House actually does not measure ‘democracy’; that the Consumer Price Index does not actually measure ‘inflation’; nor does Transparency International actually measure ‘corruption’. We just pretend ‘as if’ they do. We are in deep trouble if we forget that we are making decisions or doing analytic research ‘as if’ these things could actually be counted.
Despite the many publications I think there are still many holes in our knowledge. There is a further need for empirical research on the lines of ‘political ethnography of indicators’. Particularly is there a gap in theory and empirical studies on the line of causality from ‘data’ to ‘decisions’. There is also a surprising gap on knowledge of what makes a good indicator, and what does not. Here’s a sample of books coming in 2015 and 2016.
- The Quiet Power of Indicators: Measuring Governance, Corruption, and Rule of Law Sally Engle Merry, Kevin Davis, Benedict Kingsbury, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- Governance by Indicators: Global Power through Classification and Rankings, Kevin Davis, Angelina Fisher, Benedict Kingsbury, and Sally Engle Merry, eds. Oxford University Press 2012, paperback 2015.
- Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance, Alexander Cooley and Jack Snyder, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- On Governance: What It Is, What It Measures and Its Policy Uses, Robert I. Rotberg, ed. CIGI, 2015.
- A World of Indicators Richard Rottenburg, Sally Engle Merry, Johanna Mugler, and Songi Park, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- The MDGs, Capabilities and Human Rights: The power of numbers to shape agendas, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Alicia Ely Yamin, eds. Routledge 2015.
- The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Violence against Women, and Human Trafficking, Sally Engle Merry, University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2016.
Posted in Data revolution, Poor Numbers, Reading List
Tagged Alexander Cooley, Anthropology, Benedict Kingsbury, Economists, Indicators, International Relations, Jack Snyder, Kevin Davis, Political Science, Robert I. Rotberg, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Sally Engle Merry, SDGs