Anthropology 

of tax network

ethnographic explorations of fiscal relationships



a hub for researchers of tax to keep up to date on

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Special issue announcement

Robin Smith, June  2020


Nicolette Makovicky & Robin Smith are pleased to announce the pubication of their journal special issue



Beyond the Social Contract

An Anthropology of Tax



In: Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 64, No. 2





This special issue de-centers tax as an analytic device for making sense of the relationship between the state and citizens, exploring the limits of social contract thinking.


The contributors document ways in which tax acts as a vehicle for discussions about the nature of citizenship, personal freedom, and the constitution of moral and economic value. They also highlight how taxation may be influenced by the existence of spaces of fiscal sovereignty outside or alongside the state in the form of alternative religious and economic communities.

Article contributions by



Nicolette Makovicky

Miranda Sheild Johansson

Anna-Riikka Kauppinen

Vinzenz Bäumer Escobar

Robin Smith

Dora-Olivia Vicol

Matti Eräsaari

Soumhya Venkatesan



Table of Contents


Introduction: Tax Beyond the Social Contract

By Nicolette Makovicky & Robin Smith

 

Taxes for Independence: Rejecting a Fiscal Model of Reciprocity in Peri-Urban Bolivia

By Miranda Sheild Johansson

 

God’s Delivery State: Taxes, Tithes, and a Rightful Return in Urban Ghana

By Anna-Riikka Kauppinen

 

The Fiscal Commons: Tax Evasion, the State, and Commoning in a Catalonian Cooperative

By Vinzenz Bäumer Escobar

 

Contesting the Social Contract: Tax Reform and Economic Governance in Istria, Croatia

By Robin Smith

 

Into and Out of Citizenship, through Personal Tax Payments: Romanian Migrants’ Leveraging of British Self-Employment

By Dora-Olivia Vicol

 

The Worth of the While: Time and Taxes in a Finnish Timebank

By Matti Eräsaari

 

Afterword: Putting Together the Anthropology of Tax and the Anthropology of Ethics

By Soumhya Venkatesan



Excerpt from the Introduction:


"What brings the contributions to this special issue together is a focus on how citizens interpret and respond to state efforts to instill fiscal discipline.


Our authors problematize state-society relations through the prism of taxes, each one placing varying emphasis on issues of citizenship, ethics, and redistributive justice.


They additionally introduce entirely new considerations to the study of taxes: issues of cultural memory, gender, migration, and religion, and questions of value, commensurability, and form.


Overturning the notion that nothing is certain “except death and taxes”, they show how people often desire to pay tax in order to assert their rights to citizenship and property, but struggle to do so.


Tracing ongoing debates about the state’s role in the production of public and private goods, they demonstrate how tax as a cultural form is ethically and materially entangled with notions of economic agency and moral personhood.


They show how taxes form part of a much wider conceptual universe of transfers and exchanges including tithes and membership dues, and problematize who and what is taxable, raising questions of commensurability and value.


They show how citizens contest the ways in which practices of taxation establish equivalences between labor, money, and time, and attempt to establish alternative hierarchies of value which may be seen to challenge the fiscal monopoly of the state."



We hope you enjoy the read!

Stockholm tax conference, 2019

Robin Smith, June  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, and 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.


Our network's tax research collaboration in progress

Robin Smith, June  2020

Our anthropology of tax research network includes researchers who have published extensively on taxation's role in society.


See our People page for member profiles that includes links to their full publications lists and faculty profiles.

See our Resources page for some of their publications in our ongoing bibliography. This list includes both tax related anthropological and wider social science works.


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


Beyond the Social Contract: An Anthropology of Tax. A journal special issue of Social Analysis co-edited by Nicolette Makovicky and Robin Smith, due to be published in the summer of 2020.


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

An Anthropology of Tax. An edited book volume with a contract under consideration. Co-edited by Johanna Mugler, Miranda Sheild Johansson, and Robin Smith. It will include approximately twelve members from our tax research network. This was an outgrowth of brainstorming at the Stockholm Tax Conference.


Wenner-Gren Foundation funding for a tax workshop to take place in the UK in 2021. This funding was awarded to Miranda Sheild Johansson and Soumhya Venkatesan, who are coordinating this event.


There are at least two other journal special issues centering on tax's role in society to be published in the next 18 months organized by and including members of our tax group, and some of us are part of a discussion forum to be published in an anthropology journal later this year. Check this site for details!