Indicators as a Technology of Governance and Knowledge Production: Local Quantification Practices in International Aid

Dolunay Ugur, Yale University

Global governance heavily employs quantitative data about social phenomena, like statistics, indicators, and metrics. Such data are generally seen as objective, even scientific, but we know little about social formation of these numerical representations that form the basis for policy making and public awareness. There is a growing literature on the role of indicators in global governance, with an emphasis on indicator creation processes in the global North, and how, in turn, knowledge created by indicators are used in global governance. However, less attention has been paid to quantitative data formation practices in international aid organizations, which are responsible for designing and implementing programs according to the needs of the crisis affected populations, and collecting data to report against indicators. Drawing on ethnographic observations from 2017 to 2020 on international aid provided to Syrian refugees in southeastern Turkey, where most of the refugees and INGOs are located, I examine social processes of numerical data formation at the local level. Using ethnographic observations in a US-based INGO, document analysis, and interviews with 60 aid workers from all other INGOs in the region, I identify three distinct sets of local quantification practices: first, interpretation on what to report for a certain indicator while applying for funding (before the implementation) and reporting back to the donors (after the implementation); second, data collection practices and the specific ways in which they affect data formation; and third, conversion among different levels of indicators such as global, regional and international. In doing so, I foreground indicators as a technology through which power is exercised and knowledge is produced.

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 Presented in Session 162. Logics of Rescue and the Illogics of Refugee Policies