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Accepted Paper:

Engaged data: measurement as description and intervention  
Aneil Tripathy (University of Bologna) Elizabeth Ferry (Brandeis University) David Wood (Harvard Kennedy School)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropologists often critique data use as a move towards quantification that reframes political problems as technical, enabled by the complicity of data practitioners. In contrast, we argue that practitioners are aware of the political nature of data used to create (perform) particular worlds.

Paper long abstract:

The use of metrics to drive policy and environmental interventions is often the stated intention of policymakers, financiers, and engineers working on governance and sustainability. Anthropologists often argue that quantification and measurement reframe political problems as technical problems and that flattens complex realities. This critique misrecognizes the intentions of many practitioners, who are aware of data’s political nature and pragmatically use measurement precisely for its potential to change the environments that they measure. Indeed, they treat metrics very much in the same way as do scholars working within performative and material semiotic frameworks. In this paper, we analyze this intention by putting anthropological theory into conversation with the uses of data and measurement in impact investing and climate finance.

We hope to add to discussions on measurement within anthropology by exploring the ways anthropologists have imagined the perspectives and motivations of those who measure. Drawing from the work of Julia Elyachar on the tandem and often entangled uses of social science artifacts and technologies by academics and practitioners, the authors (including one academic, one practitioner in impact investing and one hybrid academic/practitioner in climate finance) consider the question posed in the panel abstract: “How do different actors engage with the opportunities and constraints of audit cultures?” from a slightly different angle: “How do we best understand the terms of engagement of different actors, including ourselves, to the opportunities and constraints of audit culture?”

Panel Pol03a
Beyond 'audit cultures'? New critical approaches to accountability, responsibility, and metrics I
  Session 1 Monday 21 June, 2021, -