ethnographic explorations of fiscal relationships


of tax network

Stockholm tax conference, 2019

Robin Smith, March 23  2020

Lotta Björklund Larsen and Nicolette Makovicky organized the first in a series of workshops in Stockholm on Becoming taxpayers: Establishing the anthropology of tax. Members of our network met in October 2019 for four days to present our research and gain valuable feedback from one another.

The event was generously funded by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences) and Stockholm University.

The goals of the workshop were to strengthen the anthropology of tax as a field of study and bring an anthropological perspective into contemporary tax debates. We did so by having a series of engaging presentations by attendees and ample time for fruitful discussion over meals and collective brainstorming sessions, creating new friendships and exciting new collaborative projects to propel the network forward.

Lynne Oats, Nina E. Olson, and Janet Roitman were discussants. Presenters were: Vinzenz Bäumer Escobar, Lotta Björklund Larsen, Karen Boll, Nimmo Elmi, Matti Eräsaari, Anna-Riikka Kauppinen, Nicolette Makovicky, Johanna Mugler, Oliver Owen, Miranda Sheild Johansson, Robin Smith, Soumhya Venkatesan, and Kyle Willmott.

Presentations spurred wide-ranging discussions on tax in society. On our first day of meetings, we spoke about the ethics of debt and the Pentecostal ethic of taxation and indebtedness, and how taxes and tithes appear in both Christian and non-Christian traditions. We pondered why it is that people feel the need to explain why it is a right not to pay tax. A major point of focus was contrasting the colonial with the pre- and post-colonial modes of taxation, and the embedded values in each era.

Digitalization was an issue often raised in the context of the convoluted nature of ‘streamlining’ tax, how there was a need for ‘digital equity’, and how this interfaces with mobile money platforms in developing economies.

Citizenship came up in myriad contexts to problematize how tax quantifies the relationship between citizens and their state.

Janet Roitman raised a number of intriguing questions at the outset of her keynote. Taxation raises the question of the targets of economic regulation; how they are defined, how they are delimited. How does taxation relate to forms of valuation and value production?

We pondered the linkages between taxation and the right to audit. We discussed how elites tend not to pay tax and the ways they avoid becoming tax subjects. Drawing on our respective ethnographic research, we debated how the idea of the social contract varies across the world and the different ways it resonates in societies. Conversation turned to corruption and how this complicates peoples’ perceptions of the value of taxation, how taxation’s enforcers are viewed, and how these complicate social trust in institutions.

Tax research collaboration

Robin Smith, March 23  2020

Our group includes researchers who have published extensively on taxation's role in society. See our People page for member profiles that include links to their full publications lists and faculty profiles, and our Resources page for some of their publications.

Here is a list of some ongoing projects by our Network's members:

Nicolette Makovicky and Robin Smith are co-editing a journal special issue of Social Analysis entitled Beyond the Social Contract: An Anthropology of Tax.

Contributors include: Nicolette Makovicky, Miranda Sheild Johansson, Anna-Riikka Kauppinen, Vinzenz Bäumer Escobar, Robin Smith, Olivia Vicol, Matti Eräsaari, and Soumhya Venkatesan.

Johanna Mugler, Miranda Sheild Johansson, and Robin Smith are co-editing a book volume entitled, An Anthropology of Tax that will include approximately twelve members from our tax research network. This was an outgrowth of brainstorming at the Stockholm Tax Conference.

Miranda Sheild Johansson and Soumhya Venkatesan have been awarded funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for a tax workshop to take place in the UK in late 2020.

Members are also organizing and participating at least two other journal special issues centering on tax's role in society to be published in the next 18 months, and some of us are part of a discussion forum to be published in an anthropology journal later this year.