The seminar series is organised by Anette Nyqvist and Asta Vonderau. The list is continuously being updated.


January 13, 14.00–16.00, B600
NB Tuesday! This is a joint seminar together with the CEIFO seminar series on transnational migration.
Charles Westin, Professor emeritus, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Antiziganism i statlig tjänst – Socialstyrelsens behandling av romer och resande under 1900-talet

The seminar will be held in Swedish. Find out more about the seminar.


January 19, 13.00–14.30, B600
Mark Graham, Head of Department, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Beyond the Sexual Subject: Queer Dimensions of Infrastructure

One of the starting points for this paper is Foucault’s work on the sexual subject. As is well known, Foucault wanted us to avoid demands to conform to and become a sexual type or species ensnared in the disciplinary matrix of sexuality. His advice was taken up and developed by queer theory and queer anthropology’s variant of it in their respective attempts (not always successful) to move beyond a focus on sexual minorities and identities. In this paper, I too want to explore subjectification, or, rather, to inquire into an anthropology that is ‘subjectless’. In doing so I want to extend the reach of a queer anthropology beyond identities and sexual minorities. I start with an overview of what a queer anthropology can do (based largely on my recent book Anthropological Explorations in Queer Theory). I then go on to present an example from Sydney, Australia, through a consideration of the queer dimensions of infrastructure. The infrastructures I have in mind date from the beginning of ‘settler society’, i.e. British colonial expansion in Australia at the very end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.


January 26, 13.00–14.30, B600
Ruben Andersson, postdoctoral research fellow, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics and associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

The danger zone: Risk and fear in the new landscape of international intervention

In May 2014, a vehicle carrying two aid workers is blown up in northern Mali; a week later, a suicide bomber rams his way into a peacekeeping camp, killing four soldiers. Since then, attacks have escalated. In Mali – like in Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan – these are the new rules of the game in the world’s most insecure zones, where no one is any longer safe. This complex security environment is the topic of my paper and new project, whose starting point is a rather under-theorised phenomenon: that is, how rampant insecurity and extreme risk aversion have led to a re-mapping of international intervention as staff are ‘bunkered’, subcontracted or remotely managed. Yet this fear of engagement is accompanied by an increasing Western concern with remote and impoverished regions as senders of refugees, havens for terrorists or channels for contraband and drugs. The geopolitical map is paradoxically being ‘re-blanked’ in precisely the areas where Western governments are most politically invested. Drawing on recent fieldwork in Mali, I will sketch some features of this new landscape of international intervention and the fear that underpins it. I will conclude by reflecting on the extent to which the relationship between the West and its poor ‘backyards’ is being reconfigured around concerns with threats and risk, and on the wider sociopolitical consequences of this shift.


February 2, 13.00–14.30, B600
Mats Utas, Associated Professor, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University

Ebola and the people resisting it

Nobody seemed to be aware of the fact that several strains of Ebola virus have been present in the Mano River Region (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia) at least since the 1980s. As Ebola spread like a wildfire in the region during the summer of 2014 experts of too many trades focused on how it got there, and where it risked going, instead of how to efficiently deal with it. The three Mano River states showed their tragically limited capacity to cater to the plague, the WHO inefficient and paralyzed and the rest of the world ignorant. Ordinary MRR citizens who had never heard of the existence of Ebola found information hard to believe and from the onset resisted actions of the governments, and the international community. When the world finally reacted it was more than six months into the epidemic. It was getting out of hand; risking a global crisis. In Sweden it was only when internationally renowned Hans Rosling appeared in media that things started happening. I have since been involved in efforts by using my cultural and long-term contextual knowledge to teach Swedish medical staff being employed in the region. In this seminar I will discuss the usefulness of anthropological knowledge in the Ebola crisis.


February 9, 13.00–14.30, B600
The seminar will be held in Swedish.
Jeff Werner, Professor, Department of Art History (Department of Culture and Aesthetics), Stockholm University

Svenskhetens vita fläck

De senaste åren har vi sett flera debatter om rasistiska stereotyper och bilden av den Andre. En viktig komponent har emellertid varit osynlig. Hur ser det svenska ”vi:et” ut som är så känsligt för hur andra avviker, med en främmande accent, mörk hudfärg, eller andra vanor, men som är så blint för sitt eget sätt att tala, se ut och vara? Hur formas det vita vi:et av den visuella kulturen? Hur har det vita vi:et förändrats över tid? Detta är frågor med påtaglig aktualitet i ett Sverige där frågor om svenskhet fått en alltmer framträdande roll under 2000-talet.

Förutom att diskutera kritiska vithetsperspektiv i relation till svenskhet (teori) diskuterar seminariet hur visuell kultur kan användas för att avläsa olika tiders föreställningar om svenskhet (metod).

Jeff Werner är professor i konstvetenskap vid Stockholms universitet och författare till boken Blonda och blåögda. Vithet, svenskhet och visuell kultur (Göteborgs konstmuseums skriftserie Skiascope nr 6, 2014).


February 16, 13.00–14.30, B600
Carolyn Hamilton, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Archives, Ancestors and the Contingency of Time

Who, in a postcolony, approaches the inherited materials of the past, with what purposes and what means? While some academic historians might trawl the archives in order to pursue debate over the causes of the violent upheavals of the so-called mfecane, the time of troubles that immediately preceded colonialism in south-east Africa, ritual specialists work with the spirits of both the mfecane's perpetrators and victims, in ongoing processes of the negotiation of traumatic pasts, and teenagers use the internet to explore their ancestral heritage. Subaltern archival silences resound while acts of archival redemption are performed as artworks. The spectres in the archive, just as surely as in the ancestor practices, stir up disorder and demand propitiation. The paper looks at the multiple ways in which the archive of documents, often positioned as a colonial and apartheid-era suspect, is drawn into dialogue with ancestral practices, each shaping the other in the making of South Africa's modernity. It goes to explicate the critique of the concept of archive that flows from the operations of archive in this setting.


February 23, 13.00–14.30, B600
This is a joint seminar together with the Media cluster.
Crystal Abidin, PhD Candidate, Anthropology & Sociology, Communications & Media Studies, University of Western Australia & Visiting Doctoral Fellow, Media Management and Transformation Center, Jönköping University

(En)gendering cuteness and pastiching East Asia: Singaporean web cute as The Doll, The Darling and The Dear

There has yet to be a definitive study of cute culture that is organically Singaporean. Drawing on existing work on East Asian cute culture and the regional popularity of commercial social media microcelebrities in Singapore, this presentation annotates three modes of agentic cute used to obscure the soft power that microcelebrity bloggers hold. Through the qualitative textual and visual analysis of content from three popular Singaporean commercial lifestyle blogs and their associated Instagram and Twitter feeds I examine how The Doll, The Darling, and The Dear are enacted as ‘cute femininities’. I argue that the subversive power of this performative cute is obscured by the corresponding sensual delight, romantic docility, and homosocial desire that the bloggers develop in tandem with their cute. By continually emphasizing stereotypical gendered relations with their male partners, and fan relations with their readers, these bloggers are able to position themselves as non­threatening and submissive, when they are in fact quietly subverting these hierarchies for personal gain.


March 2, 13.00–14.30, B600
Gunilla Bjerén, Professor emeritus, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

”Studying up”: From life history to History. Interpreting the lives of the Wolaita in Shashemene, Ethiopia

At their best life histories are fascinating documents. The main difficulty lies in what to do with them. (Barnouw 1963:198)

In 1973 I collected household survey data and migration histories from a random sample of households in the town of Shashemene in southern Ethiopia, reported in Migration to Shashemene. Ethnicity, gender, and occupation in urban Ethiopia.

In 2008, I returned to Shashemene to study the consequences of the monumental historical events in Ethiopia 1974-2008 for today’s inhabitants of the town. Other scholars who have studied rural communities with the same aim have started by from major events (the fall of the Emperor, land reform, Eritrean liberation war etc.) and traced the effects of macro-events in the local communities. I begin from the opposite starting point, in the analysis of life histories. My questions are: how are the narrators’ lives conditioned by historical events in the country? In which way? And which events?  In the final analysis I will move on from individual life stories, to a review of the town (survey data) and then the urban sector of the region (census data).

In this paper I will deal with aspect of studying “social change” through life event histories and life stories, using the accounts of two Wolaita women and one man. I will touch upon some helpful software.

I welcome a discussion of how to present life story material in a way the preserves the voice of the narrator while at the same time making the story comprehensible for someone who is not familiar with the cultural context. How much explanation? In footnotes or insertions? How long verbatim quotes or rewriting? Making the soundtrack available or not? Familiar issues, but different in each particular case.

The text will be available in a dropbox folder a week before the seminar. I will e-mail the link to the department members; others can contact me directly (


March 9, 13.00–14.30, B600
Paul Boyce, lecturer in Anthropology, University of Sussex, UK

Subject, Objects, and Secrets: Misrecognizing Same-Sex Sexualities in West Bengal as a Viewpoint for Anthropological Ignorance in Modernity

This paper explores the potential of ignorance as an ethnographic viewpoint on contemporary sexualities in West Bengal, India. Conceived across different scales of experience and analysis the paper positions same-sex desiring practices and intimacies (including those of the ethnographer) as salient to anthropological reflections on modernity in terms of an appreciation of misrecognition. The sexual is seen to be less about empirical identification, and more about what is obscured or secreted, either purposively or sub-consciously, by social actors. Whilst this prefigures a standpoint that works against essentialism, the paper seeks to avoid a ‘neurotic deconstruction’ of sexual subjectivities by stressing specific ethnographic reflections, enabling oblique but tangible appreciations of contemporary sexual life-worlds. This demands attention to the intimate as distributed across social relations. In turn, this raises wider questions about anthropological knowledge and the capacity to know the intimate lives of others, and indeed of oneself. West Bengal emerges as an especially salient ethnographic context, for being a place where modernity is so politically contested, and where the practice and praxis of same-sex sexualities may be especially evoked in terms of contested viewpoints on the past and the future.


March 16, 13.00–14.30, B600
Sebastian Mohr, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Aarhus University

Matter out of place – the material-semiotic dimensions of working with semen

Whether semen can be thought of as what Mary Douglas termed matter out of place depends on the context in which it is encountered. As part of sperm donation much of the legitimacy of working with semen relies on societal accept of interventions in reproduction, professional standard working procedures, and not least legislation. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at Danish and American sperm banks and interviews with Danish sperm donors, I look at how semen’s status as matter out of place is managed through material-semiotic pratices in semen laboratories. I take departure in affective encounters with semen by sperm donors and laboratory staff and look at how donors as well as laboratory staff handle these kinds of encounters. I argue that legitimazing laboratory work with semen samples involves the material-semiotic dimensions of semen and the management of semen’s potential to transgress personal and symbolic boundaries of purity.


March 23, 13.00–14.30, B600
Frida Hastrup, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Natural Resources in the Anthropocene. Producing Norwegian Apples

In this talk I will focus on practices of production in and around apple plantations in Norway, exploring what Norwegian apples are in a time of a globally integrated market of fresh natural goods and in an anthropocene era. Both of these conditions – the globalized nature of fresh resources and an intensified human imprint on the planet – seem to cause people to look around for new ways to live with what we might call their natural goods.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Western Norway in 2014, I explore how the practices related to the commercial production of Norwegian apples seem to imply both an increased focus on the unique quality of locally produced fruit and a renewed conversation about what counts as sustainable and profitable vis-à-vis global connections. Overall, my aim is to contribute to qualifying ethnographically what a globalized market of natural goods and anthropocene conditions for their production might be.


March 30, 13.00–14.30, B600
Gudrun Dahl, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Reflections on the future of Boran society in Northern Kenya

This paper discusses ongoing changes in Northern Kenya and what their implications can be for the continuation of traditional Borana forms of subsistence and social organization, particularly open-access to pasture and water and the lineage-based forms of resource control that have been so closely associated with livestock holdings. Aspects that will be problematized are the new infrastructural programs of rail/highway/pipe-line installments in northern Kenya, wild-life tourism, "community land-rights" and possibly extended irrigation from subterranean water findings and finally the exploitation of minerals.


April 13, 13.00–14.30, B600
Ayo Wahlberg, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Good quality – on the routinization of sperm banking in China

How should we account for the dramatic (yet by no means self-evident) rise and consolidation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) such as sperm banking in China? Two possible analytic routes stand out: One might venture to explain it in terms of a framework of globalization where such “technologies are rapidly globalizing to pronatalist developing societies, where children are highly desired, parenthood is culturally mandatory, and childlessness socially unacceptable” (Inhorn 2003); or one might explore processes of standardization which “aim[s] to render the world equivalent across cultures, time, and geography” (Timmermans and Epstein 2010). However, while global standards and flows have certainly played a crucial role in the consolidation of ART in China, in this paper I propose we can gain analytical traction from turning such approaches on their head by asking a ‘bottom up’ question of how do ARTs gain a foothold in a particular legal, cultural and socio-economic setting, which is to ask, how do they become routine? By routinization I do not so much refer to processes by which medical procedures come to be fixed in ‘proper’ patterns or sequences, rather I point to the mundane, everyday practices that sustain and enable ART, involving buildings, laboratory equipment, cleaners, nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians and the like. I also point to the socio-historical processes whereby certain forms of medical technology come to be (re-)produced and entrenched within particular juridical, medical, social, economic, cultural and institutional configurations. Taking the example of sperm banking in China, I suggest that tracking routes of routinisation can help us to account for the ‘difficult birth’ of ART in China. I show how sperm banking in China has been made up through acts of pioneering (moral and technological), political lobbying, procurement and maintenance of laboratory equipment, training and rostering of staff, development of Standard Operating Procedures, recruitment and screening of donors and the logistical administration of storage and distribution. It is through such mundane practices that the jingzi ku (sperm bank) has become a repository of life in China.

Ayo Wahlberg is Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His comparative research has focused on the different ways in which herbal medicine (in Vietnam and the United Kingdom), and more recently reproductive medicine (in China and Denmark), have been mobilized, normalized and routinized in the past few decades. 


April 20, 13.00–14.30, B600
Thomas Fillitz, Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna

Anthropology, Biennials, and the Concept of Global Art

Two major interrelated topics have determined my research foci in the last years: my ethnographic interest in the art biennial of Dakar, Dak’Art, and more theoretically, discourses on the concept of global art and problems related to it.

Based on the ethnography of Dak’Art, I shall deal in my contribution with two opposite conceptualisations of the world culture (Hannerz’ notion) of art biennials: on the one hand scholars consider art biennials as core format of a new art worlds-order with the spreading of that format from the mid-1980s on. On the other, art biennials are considered as another system of the dominant European/North American art world, as another hegemony that is defined as ‘biennialisation.’

I consider that discussion within the framework of the concept of global art which was elaborated by several art historians and theoricians. With this concept, they refer to the changes which can be witnessed nowadays, and which call for new approaches and concepts (such as the one of art world).

Scholars in the anthropology of art, however, have by and large not participated in these latter discussions. I argue that anthropological approaches are central to the concept of global art. This relates not only to present-day developments of methods of ethnographic field research (multi-sited ethnography resp. strategically single-sited ethnography, George Marcus 1994). Advocates of the concept of global art firstly rely on theories of an anthropology of contemporaneity (e.g. Marc Augé 1994), and secondly also claim the need to study contemporary art locally with its regional and global connections.


April 27, 13.00–14.30, B600
Final discussion (Slutseminarium)
Hege Høyer Leivestad, PhD student, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Lives on Wheels: Caravan Homes in Contemporary Europe

In public discourse the caravan has time and again been connected to stigmatised groups in society. Nevertheless, this vehicle-home hybrid has held a visible position in the leisure landscape of Western Europe in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. An increasing use of mobile dwellings, associated with new waves of lifestyle mobility, resonates with a common and strong association between such vehicle homes and a perceived freedom of mobility. But what happens when presumably mobile caravans are used for long-term and full-time “immobile” housing? Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted on leisure campsites in Spain and Sweden, as well as within the camping industry, this study depicts how the caravan’s hybrid material qualities both come to fit and challenge conventional working class domestic ideals. I thus tune in on what I identify as an emergence of a non-normative housing form in a Western European context, wherein materiality and mobility become interrelated through a temporal, spatial and social notion of potential mobility. Addressing how the caravan as a potentially mobile domestic form produces specific spatiotemporal imaginations and practices, I show how it furthermore comes to be incorporated into a multifaceted withdrawal to a “good life” in times of uncertainty.

Examiner: Johan Lindquist, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University


May 4, 13.00–14.30, B600
This is a joint seminar together with the Organisation cluster.
Stuart Kirsch, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan

Corporate Science

This presentation examines how corporations mobilize scientific authority to limit critique. Scientific research sponsored by the tobacco industry has been thoroughly discredited. Yet given the ethical responsibilities associated with research on human health and medicine, it is surprising to learn that recent studies of the pharmaceutical industry identify similar concerns. This suggests the need to consider whether the tobacco industry is really the outlier and exception rather than the pioneer and paradigm for corporate science. Many of the same strategies have been adopted by the mining industry. Mining companies strategically manage the politics of time to delay recognition of their environmental impacts. This includes attempts to naturalize their impacts through inappropriate comparisons. They make systematic measurement errors by ignoring background rates and presenting averages that conceal significant variation. They also make use of misleading demonstration effects. Drawing on the literature from organizational studies, I show how these strategies are institutionalized and legitimized. The examples discussed in this presentation suggest that the problems associated with corporate science may be intrinsic to contemporary capitalism rather than restricted to particular firms or industries. In conclusion, I argue that the strategic manipulation and deployment of science has become a central feature of the relationship between corporations and their critics. 


May 11, 13.00–14.30, B600
Karen O’Reilly, Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University

The British on the Costa del Sol, twenty years later

In 1993, I moved to Spain with my family for 15 months fieldwork with the British on the Costa del Sol. I have since lived in Spain, visited Spain for months at a time, bought and sold a house there, and, more recently, allowed my research and connections to be put on the back-burner. In April 2015, I am returning for a twenty year update. I have written in the past about community cohesion, ethnicity and integration, tourism and migration, ageing, children’s experiences, and the informal economy – all in relation to the British abroad. For example, I have described how British children in Spain are living with and internalizing the contradictions that mark their parents’ lives; the love of Spain and antipathy towards home that mark their lives, combined with the awareness they are not (nor ever could  be) fully integrated in Spain, and that there are more opportunities for them if they move back home or elsewhere in the world. I am now intrigued as to what I will find when I return; what is the situation for younger and poorer migrants since the financial crisis. This paper will thus explore the experiences of poorer and working-class migrant families, those who were affected by economic downturn but whose choices are restricted and constrained. Drawing insights from visual anthropology and from narrative, the paper will engage in ethnographic, visual story-telling, and will help us learn, again, from people who move abroad in search of a better life.


May 18, 13.00–14.30, B600
Rebekah Cupitt, PhD Candidate, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, Royal Institute of Technology

Being deaf at work - technology and the co-construction of identity in a state-funded organisation

This presentation relates instances of how SVT Teckenspråk employees co-create their identity and manufacture belonging in the organisation in relation to technological artefacts and mechanisms, organisational structures, constant states of change and reconfiguring intra-actions in the workplace. Technologically mediated communications in Swedish and Swedish sign language at Swedish television’s editorial for deaf programming (SVT Teckenspråk) provide a rich empirical base for examining how and why technology is used to express, construct and talk about what it means to be deaf and even not-deaf at SVT. Stories about changes within the organisation reveal how deaf identities and sense of belonging alter according to technology, time and place. They also provide insight into how 'being deaf' can be rhetorically tied to video meeting technology to express views on discrimination, equality and accessibility in the workplace. A focus on technology can also reveal underlying notions of deafness as a culture, not just a disability, and about being a minority at Swedish television.


May 25, 13.00–14.30, B600
Anna Harris, Postdoctoral Researcher, Technology and Society Studies Department, Maastricht University

Invisible moving matter: A fantastical anthropology of pneuma-tic infrastructure

Pneumatic tubes: George Jetson used them to get to work, Antoine Doinel to send a love letter, and the Ministry of Truth to deliver history needing rewriting. These hidden labyrinths of pipes which transport matter by compressed air or vacuum not only exist in the dreams of cartoonists, filmmakers and science fiction writers, but also engineers of the technological past, present and future. Once traversing the undergrounds of cities for postal delivery or depositing orders on the stock exchange, pneumatic tube networks are nowadays ever increasingly built into the walls, ceilings and basements of hospitals, banks and supermarkets. For despite digitisation, objects still need to be moved from one place to another. In fact, counter-intuitively, pneumatic tubes are more relevant today than ever before. In this seminar I will discuss my ethnographic work to date on this hidden yet ubiquitous infrastructure involved in the movement of matter. I will explore questions driving my research about this technology such as: Why do we still have pneumatic tubes? What are the practices that keep them alive? How do imaginary and actual tubes relate?


June 1, 13.00–14.30, B600
This is a joint seminar together with the Organisation cluster.
Janine R. Wedel, Professor, School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, George Mason University

Twenty-First Century Power Brokers: How Today’s Top Players Wield Influence and Reshape the Organizational Ecosystem

A new breed of influence elites and influence-wielding entities has emerged over the past several decades. These elites hold sway through informal, under-the-radar means, and use consulting firms, think tanks, grassroots organizations and other entities to influence policy, governing, and public opinion. They (as well as some of the entities they employ) are less stable, less visible, more diversified, and more global in reach than their forebears. The space they inhabit lies beyond formal authority, their influence based in large part on their position as intermediaries and in social networks that operate in and among organizations.

The new influence-wielding practices are systemic and widespread, found in nearly all arenas, from health care and energy to finance and foreign policy. While how far and wide the influence elites and entities reach is, of course, an empirical question, they are well documented in the United States and parts of Europe, with many operating on a global plane and with some developments that nurture the new breed touching nearly everywhere. Neither the players nor their practices fit the conventional concepts of influence wielding in contemporary democratic states and they are largely unaccountable by conventional means. Thus new concepts and approaches are needed to understand and study the new influencers and reconfiguring of the organizational ecosystem.

Janine R. Wedel is an anthropologist (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) and university professor in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University.  Her new book Unaccountable, published at the end of 2014, was named in Bloomberg’s survey of 2014 favorite reads.  Other publications include three award-winning and widely reviewed books ( Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (2009); Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe (2001); and The Private Poland (1986). Winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, Wedel is also a four-time Fulbright fellow and recipient of awards from the National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, German Marshall Fund, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and Ford Foundation, among many others. 

A public intellectual and featured columnist for The Huffington Post, Wedel also writes for outlets that include the New York Times, Financial Times, Foreign Policy, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal Europe, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Her speaking venues range from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Chicago, Berkeley, National Press Club, and the National Science Council to Oxford, Central European University (Budapest), Institute of Social Studies (the Hague), United Nations University (Helsinki), Freie Universität (Berlin), TEDx (Berlin), the Bruno Kreisky Institute (Vienna), Copenhagen Business School (Copenhagen), and the European Journalism Observatory (Lugano).  Media appearances include BBC, Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CNN, PBS’s Frontline, C-Span, and NPR.  Wedel is president of the Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP), affiliated with the American Anthropological Association. 


June 8, 13.00–14.30, B600
This is a joint seminar together with the Organisation cluster.
Afshin Mehrpouya, Assistant Professor, HEC Paris

Rita Samiolo, Lecturer, London School of Economics and Political Science

Knowledge in Transnational Governance: the Access to Medicine Index and the work of regulatory capitalism analysts

The past thirty years have seen a radical transformation of governance marked by the transfer of governing authority and accountability regimes from governmental and intergovernmental bodies to networks of private organizations, in a turn that has been described as “regulatory capitalism”. Private regulators mobilize quantitative knowledge forms and inscriptions such as rankings, ratings and league tables to create normative orders aimed at intervening in organizations by means of market pressures. This shift, we argue, is transforming governance into a performance management exercise, largely conducted by analysts working in private or semi-private organisations dispersed throughout the polity. The work of these “regulatory capitalism analysts” has received little academic attention so far. In this paper, through a detailed study of the analysis process involved in the production of the Access to Medicine Index, we aim to address this gap. The Index, whose outcome is a ranking of the largest global pharmaceutical companies, is expected to help address the social problem of medicines accessibility in the global south by means of stakeholder consultation, transparency and competition. This paper follows the mechanics of the performance measurement leading to the creation of the Index, and traces the epistemic values at play in the work of analysts involved in its production. The study shows how the goals of deliberation and stakeholder inclusion, the need to project scientificity, and the Index’s underlying ideal of governance through competition shape the epistemic values and practices leading to specific techniques of knowledge validation and different forms of self-discipline in the analysts’ work.