Statistics, Reform and Technologies of Government in Turkey


MENAS Colloquium Series
Friday, April 4, 2014
3:00pm in Marshall 490

Main colloquium page

Video of talk

Turkey’s application to enter the EU has required the country to learn new things about itself. It is required to learn them in specific frameworks, using specific concepts and methodologies, and these are subsumed in EU entry negotiations under the rubric of statistics. Having collected these statistics, it is required to share them with its population and the EU, at specific timed intervals. And—crucially—it continually reforms its institutions and practices in light of the new statistical knowledge. This paper argues that the relationship between statistics and social forms is not solely one of “description.” To the extent that statistics do not merely study or represent the objects they are purported to be about, but are intimately involved in intervening in/on those objects (e.g. social, economic, or ecological processes) and in fact in remaking them through ‘reform’ and/or ‘development,’ they have a performative nature. In this sense statistics are less a methodology and more a technology--a technology of governance. The paper draws on fieldwork in Turkey with statisticians, technicians and agricultural experts working on the design and implementation of EU-inspired reforms to develop new apparatuses for the collection of data on agriculture in the country.

Brian Silverstein is a cultural anthropologist and Associate Professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, with a PhD in anthropology from UC Berkeley. He is the author of the book Islam and Modernity in Turkey (2011), and articles in journals including Comparative Studies in Society and History and Cultural Anthropology. His research has been funded by a US Department of Education Fulbright-Hays fellowship, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Currently he is conducting research on Turkey’s European Union integration reforms, particularly the politics of statistics. An elected member of the board of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, he is the inaugural director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Arizona.

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