Sally Engle Merry: The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/jols.12067
Publication Date01 Dec 2017
AuthorKatie Cruz
THE SEDUCTI ONS OF QUANTI FICATION: M EASURING HU MAN
RIGHTS, GENDER VIOLENCE, AND SEX TRAFFICKING by SALLY
ENGLE MERRY
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2016, 272 pp., £52.50 (hardcover)
£19.00 (paperback))
`THE POLITICS OF INDICATOR PRODUCTION'
Sally Engle Merry's The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human
Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking is an ethnographic account of,
and theoretical reflection upon, the production, distribution, and effects of
three global indicators: domestic violence, trafficking, and human rights.
Merry's core focus is on the processes whereby indicators are `shaped by
inequalities in power and expertise' (p. 5); `the ways in which indicators are
subtly and even unconsciously shaped by the assumptions, motivations, and
concerns of those who carry them out' (p. 20). Global indicators that seek to
measure complex phenomena therefore embody the interests of their
creators, but they also `shape society and politics' (p. 30). Merry argues
that indicator production can be collaborative or unilaterally imposed, result
in simple or complex conceptualizations of phenomena, and proscribe hier-
archical or holistic, punitive or enabling remedies to that which is considered
a problem. On one level, for Merry, these indicators are not inherently good
or bad, right or wrong; on another, she privileges those that combine
quantitative and qualitative data. Merry's book can thus be read as a caution,
or a warning, that `stripped-down narratives and stripped-down numbers can
provide the basis for popular moralistic accounts that conceal and distort the
dynamics of power and obstruct public debate' (p. 22).
Merry charts the rise of global governance and measurement and the
broader history of quantitative measures, first for colonial expansion and
more recently for nation building and population management (pp. 34±43). It
is a history of recent trends in measurement, audit, and evaluation (with
which academics will be all too familiar) whose origins Merry locates in the
1990s, when the measurement of social phenomena (as opposed to economic
phenomena, which have been measured since at least the mid-twentieth
century) `boomed' (p. 3).
To arrive at these conclusions, Merry maps particular forms of knowledge
± the creation and dissemination of indicators for domestic violence, traffick-
ing, and human rights ± and, following Michel Foucault, their inextricable
link with `power relations' or regimes of social constraint. Generally, these
include the processes, practices, networks, and actors involved in deciding
what global issues are politically important and measurable (hence solvable
and fundable) and the relative weight of local knowledges and established
`expertise' (pp. 28±9). Furthermore, indicators are not merely an embodiment
of power regimes; they also engage persons, organizations, and nations in
726
ß2017 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2017 Cardiff University Law School

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT