Technologies of truth in the anthropology of conflict: AES/APLA Presidential Address, 2013

Sally Engle Merry, Susan Bibler Coutin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Science and technology studies can help to unveil invisible modes of power that are embedded in the ways conflicts are known, debated, and resolved. Legal forms of adjudication, reporting systems used by international commissions, and data gathering on the part of governmental and nongovernmental agencies shape how conflicts are fought out on the ground and in policy arenas. Assumptions about evidence, categorization, adjudication, and measurement privilege certain forms of suffering over others, even as they omit phenomena that defy categorization. Using two examples-a global survey of violence against women and a U.S. government initiative to defer the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants-we bring insights from science and technology studies to bear on sociolegal phenomena. In so doing, we highlight tensions between measurement and invention, visibility and invisibility, and objectivity and discretion that are intrinsic to new forms of governance. We thus examine what measurement initiates and precludes, the reactive and proactive nature of technologies, and how new practices reproduce established techniques.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalAmerican Ethnologist
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 2014


    • Gender violence
    • Governmentality
    • Human rights
    • Immigration
    • Knowledge production
    • Legal anthropology
    • Science and technology studies

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology


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