The Seductions of Quantification: The Politics of Measuring Human Rights and Gender Violence

Sally Engle Merry , Silver Professor of Anthropology at New York University will come to speak about the politics of measuring human rights and gender violence.

This is a free lecture but registration is required in advance. There will be a drinks reception after the lecture.

 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, but with globalization, the scope of governance through quantification is growing even more.  Using examples from the measurement of gender violence and human rights compliance, this talk argues that despite the value of quantitative data and indicators, they are produced within particular political contexts and cultural frameworks and categories.  Indicators promise to provide objective information as the basis for governance, but my ethnographic examination of the production and use of indicators shows that they should be understood as political and cultural artifacts as well

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). 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.