Tax News

Network Announcements

Featured publication: Taxpayer's playlist

Matti Eräsaari & Anna-Riikka Kaupinnen, April 21, 2021 

Anna-Riikka Kauppinen and Matti Eräsaari wrote a short piece about the unconventional PR methods employed by Finland’s Tax Administration for the CaMP Anthropology blog.


They discuss the Tax Administration’s Spotify playlist, the Tax Whisperer, Tax Meditations, and other mediums deployed by the tax authority to legitimise itself through self-satire.


This may be a strategy that works particularly well in a country like Finland, where the tax authority already enjoys spectacularly high approval ratings. 

But it is also worth asking what makes such tactics necessary in the first place  and why now?


This may have to do with recent changes in the public accountability of Finnish taxes, the authors suggest: the tax authority’s decision to withhold previously public tax records from the national media. 

Featured publication: Tax, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology

Miranda Sheild Johansson, January 5, 2021 

Miranda Sheild Johansson from University College London has just published an article entry for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology on tax!


Sheild Johansson, Miranda. 2020. Tax. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology.

http://doi.org/10.29164/20tax


Tax


Abstract


Paying tax or avoiding tax is part of everyday life across the globe. But what kinds of payments are taxes, and how do fiscal systems shape society? Taxes are often conceived of as a nexus of state-citizen relations and an intrinsic part of a social contract where they are exchanged for political representation and a level of state protection.


But ethnographic evidence demonstrates that separating out taxes from other payments is not straightforward, and the motivations for paying tax, or collecting tax, are far from universal. 


In addition to shaping national and international economies, taxes construct social and political relations which cast citizens and communities in particular roles, such as ‘contributor’ and ‘wealth creator’, or ‘dependant’ and ‘scrounger’.


As such, taxes are political tools that are wielded in processes of governance. 


Yet fiscal systems are also crafted from the bottom up, through taxpayer action and taxpayer logics, and gain meanings from the broader historical and cultural contexts in which they exist. 

In recent years, and in the context of multiple financial, environmental, and health crises across the globe, discussions about how we might build better futures have put the spotlight on taxes as a tool for redistribution.


The logics that drive new tax policies and laws are embedded in specific concepts of tax justice and tax competition, as well as the relation between the sovereign state and the international community.


Tax is a locus of many important themes, both academic and political. Understanding tax is crucial to understanding our societies.



About the Encyclopedia


The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology (CEA) is a growing open-access teaching and learning resource. Its goal is to facilitate access to scholarship in Social Anthropology for experts and non-experts worldwide.


All entries are written and peer-reviewed by leading academics.


See CEA here:

https://www.anthroencyclopedia.com/

CfP: SASE 2021 panel: Fiscal relations in a post-Covid world

Lotta Björklund Larsen, Anna-Riikka Kauppinen, & Miranda Sheild Johansson, January 5, 2021

Do you have a work in progress piece on the anthropology of tax that you would like to present?


Here's your chance!


Lotta Björklund Larsen, Anna-Riikka Kauppinen, & Miranda Sheild Johansson will host a panel at the conference of SASE, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, 3-5 July, 2021.


Full papers will be expected to participate


The theme of SASE 2021:


After Covid? Critical Conjunctures and Contingent Pathways of Contemporary Capitalism.




Fiscal relations in a post-Covid world:

The hopes, potencies, and

discontents of tax


Abstract


The corona pandemic is both a health and economic crisis, among other things, with the World Bank predicting a 5.2% contraction of global GDP in 2020.


In response, fiscal rescue packages have been devised on local, national and international levels with the aim of mitigating the devastating socio-economic impacts.


These rescue packages involve large and often radical new tax proposals, with the OECD recommending a ‘gloves off’ approach where all options should be explored (2020).


Discussions around fiscal policies trigger both hopes and fears about alternative economic futures, fire up discussions about the rights and the capabilities of states to tax, and expose existing narratives about how fiscal flows shape the society and public at large.


Furthermore, current and future fiscal packages capitalize on dependencies between the state, private sector, and taxpayer citizens, generating new kinds of divisions, inequalities and benefactors.


We are in a moment where taxes are seen as a tool for managing the looming economic crisis, which raises questions about what taxes ‘do’, what they should do, and how. 


This mini-conference aims to bring together participants from a wide range of disciplines, involving a broad spectrum of methodological approaches and diverse geographical locations, for the study of fiscal relations in the face of pandemics, and beyond.



How to apply


General information about the event can be found here:

https://sase.org/event/2021-sase-conference/


The panel is "TH08"


To submit a paper, you must register with SASE, but this does not require you to join as a member. This action only signs you up to the website in order to submit your paper:

https://sase.org/join-sase/


The deadline to submit abstracts is January 16, 2021


The deadline for accepted participants to submit their full paper is June 1, 2021.

CfP: SIEF 2021 panel: Good Ends and Dubious Means

Soumhya Venkatesan and Oliver Owen, November 3, 2020

Do you have a work in progress piece on the anthropology of tax that you would like to present?


Here's your chance!


Soumhya Venkatesan and Oliver Owen will host a panel at the virtual conference of SIEF, the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore, 21-24 June, 2021.


There is space for approximately six researchers to present their work, for about 20 minutes each.

Good Ends and Dubious Means:

Rule Breaking and Justification


Abstract


The relationship between ends and means is one that has long occupied not only philosophers, but also anyone interested in bringing about a certain desired change or with a clear goal in sight. The goals may be large and long-term (e.g. reversing anthropogenic climate change) or much more circumscribed (get Brexit done by shutting down nay-sayers in the UK Parliament).


This panel explores the relationship between ends and means by focusing on rule-breaking. In other words, we ask how rule-breaking is justified as necessary to a project deemed important and worthy.


We invite papers that explore the evaluative and ends-oriented dimensions of rule breaking, whether these ends be focused on large-scale socio-political change, domestic cohesion and reproduction, or individual salvation or this-worldly well-being.


We are interested in individuals’ or groups’ relationships to rules, including the ways in which they posit hierarchies of rules. We are also interested in abstract understandings about rules – how they are placed in relation with abstract ideals such as freedom or sovereignty, and to concrete concerns such as wealth, family, employment, education, religious observance and so on.

We are also interested in rules that almost seem made to be broken, often found in the religious domain but also increasingly in those applying to migrants in some countries, which both prohibit them from working and also from any welfare support.


We hope to build a rich panel that, in exploring the above kinds of questions, opens up ethical aspects of rule-breaking including evaluations, justifications and aporia.



How to apply


Please visit the SIEF website and use their web portal to propose a paper. Do NOT send the abstracts directly to us, because we can only evaluate them and accept them from within their system.


The panel is "Res09" and can be found here:


https://www.siefhome.org/congresses/sief2021/panels#9654


The deadline is November 26, 2020. Please don't be late because the organizers cannot do anything after the deadline has passed.

Call for proposals: SIEF 2021 panel: Tax Matters

Robin Smith and Nicolette Makovicky, October 30, 2020

Do you have a work in progress piece on the anthropology of tax that you would like to present?


Here's your chance!


Robin Smith and Nicolette Makovicky will host a panel at the virtual conference of SIEF, the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore, 21-24 June, 2021.


Miranda Sheild Johansson (UCL) will chair, and Matti Eräsaari (Univ. of Helsinki) will be the discussant.


We have space for six researchers to present their work, for approximately 20 minutes each.

Tax Matters:

Are Rules Made to Be Broken?


Abstract


This panel investigates the ways that tax matters in society, focusing on the making and breaking of tax rules. We question the assumption that taxation is always just, and challenge contributors to examine how tax rules and their contestation may be produced and enacted beyond the state's realm.


Tax is an inextricable part of life. Tax matters to families, businesses, and states in that it reflects economic and social values. It highlights the inner workings of power, tensions between state and society, and the fault lines between different social, economic, and ethnic groups. Its paper documentation and digital processes create tax matter - the materialization of rules and the social contract.


This panel seeks contributions investigating the myriad ways that tax matters in society, focusing on the making and breaking of tax rules. We question the assumption that taxation is necessarily just, or that ‘breaking’ tax rules is necessarily about compliance. While rules guide taxation, they require citizen consent. People may break the rules of taxation regimes perceived as unjust.


‘Breaking the rules’ when it comes to tax can thus equally reference the state breaking the social contract from the citizen’s perspective.


Indeed, we challenge contributors to examine how tax rules – and their contestation – may be produced and enacted beyond the state’s realm.


Rules are an outcome of social practice, not just policy, and thus tax ‘rules’ are also about what a group of people deems the right way to do something.


Thus, we ask, how does making and breaking tax rules form part of everyday economic, social, or religious life? How are tax rules related to notions of common sense and public secrets? Can we say that ‘rules are made to be broken’ when it comes to tax?


How to apply


Please visit the SIEF website and use their web portal to propose a paper. Do NOT send the abstracts directly to us, because we can only evaluate them and accept them from within their system.


The panel is "Res05" and can be found here:


https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/sief2021/p/9594


The deadline is November 26, 2020. Please don't be late because the organizers cannot do anything after the deadline has passed.

Registration open: TARC 8th Annual Conference, 2020

Robin Smith, October 30, 2020 

The 8th Annual Conference of the Tax Administration Research Centre will take place, December 15-17, 2020, online.


From their website:

"The conference paper presentations will cover a broad range of topical issues in tax administration and policy including the analysis from different angles of VAT noncompliance (e.g. the role of Thresholds and Networks), the importance of nudging in improving tax compliance, the legal aspects of tax avoidance and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

The 8th Annual Conference of the Tax Administration Research Centre will take

As always in TARC Annual Conferences, these will be approached from different perspectives and through a multidisciplinary lens."


There will be a special focus on the impact of Covid-19 as well:


"Recent evidence suggests that in some countries, the pandemic has had a disproportionate and significant economic impact on sectors with high female employment, such as hospitality and personal care services.


There is also evidence that developing countries have been affected substantially and will continue to suffer economically. The Annual Conference will explore these issues in two roundtable discussions focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on gender, and the impact on tax and tax administration policies in Africa."

"This year’s Annual Conference will feature three outstanding keynote lectures delivered by prominent academics with significant contributions in their field and a policymaker with considerable experience in tax administration policy making. Professor James Alm is internationally renowned for his work on tax administration and the economics of taxation; Professor Judith Freedman has made a remarkable contribution to the field of taxation law and policy; and Frantisek Imrecze is Executive Secretary at the Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations."


Find more on their website, including links to the conference program and registration on Eventbrite.

Featured publication: Thick claims and thin rights

Robin Smith, October 13, 2020 

Tom Goodfellow and Oliver Owen have just published an article on taxation:


Thick claims and thin rights: Taxation and the construction of analogue property rights in Lagos, Economy & Society 49(3), 406-432.


Abstract

The importance of tenure security for development and wellbeing is often reduced to questions about how titles can guarantee rights, overlooking the contested and layered nature of property rights themselves.


We use the case of Lagos to analyse property rights as ‘analogue’ rather than ‘digital’ in nature – things that only exist by degree, where a dynamic urban situation renders the distinction between a right and a claim much less clear than conventional approaches suggest.


We argue that property taxation plays important and unanticipated roles in efforts to realize property rights.

To fully understand attempts to construct rights it is necessary to analyse the range of payments, documents, social relations and other strategic moves that people make to thicken property claims in contexts of ‘radical insecurity’.


Related to this, they also published an article in The Conversation in their Arts & Culture section:


Insecurity underpins property rights in Lagos – no matter what class you are

July 29, 2020


Please use the buttons below to read their articles!

Featured publication: The fiscal life of pandemics

Robin Smith, September 16, 2020 

Miranda Sheild Johansson and Anna-Riikka Kauppinen have just published a timely piece on Allegra Lab on the fiscal life of pandemics.


As the corona virus sweeps the world, governments have scrambled to put together fiscal rescue packages. Unprecedented tax cuts, furlough schemes, bailout loans and grants have been rolled out in many countries, all with the aim of mitigating the economic impact of lockdowns.


Important questions arise from the pandemic and the fiscal upheaval it has created: Who can tax whom? Should the EU become a tax collecting institution?

How is an economy stimulated in an equitable fashion? Should VAT cuts be kept by businesses or passed on to customers?


The current fiscal activities and debates shine a light on enduring debates around tax. In this historical moment, where the previously unthinkable has become reality, there is also opportunity to consider alternative fiscal futures.

Special issue: Governing through Taxation

Robin Smith, July 22, 2020 

There's a journal special issue on fiscal practices in African countries to announce!


Oliver Owen edited the journal special issue, Governing through Taxation, for Politique Africaine, Vol. 151, No. 3, 2018.


Table of Contents


Introduction: Tax and Fiscal Practice: Interrogating the Meaning and Use of Formality

By Oliver Owen


Bypass: Informal exceptions to urban land taxation in M'Bour and Kisumu

By James Christopher Mizes and Liza Rose Cirolia


Marginal Taxation Made to Measure: The Political Economy of Natron in Borkou, Chad

By Julien Brachet and Judith Scheele

Gender and the Formal and Informal Systems of Local Public Finance in Sierra Leone

By Vanessa van den Boogaard


Negotiating the Social Service Tax: Contested Revenue Generation in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, South Sudan

By Martina Santschi


'Going legit': Taxation, Trust, and Attention in Agrarian Rural Nigeria

By Oliver Owen

Special issue announcement

Robin Smith, June  28, 2020


Nicolette Makovicky & Robin Smith are pleased to announce the publication 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.

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



***



Adding to this story in October 2020, we have learned from the publisher that this special issue is "among our most popular recent content", with them adding that this is "such a testament to your work, and the authors' as well". Apparently, online views of our special issue is off the charts!



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, April 16, 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.

Collaborations in progress

Robin Smith, April 16, 2020

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

See our Researcher 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.


An Anthropology of Tax co-edited book volume (under discussions with an academic press) by Johanna Mugler, Miranda Sheild Johansson, and Robin Smith. It will include approximately twelve members from our tax research network!


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!


Stay tuned for details!


Some of us are part of a discussion forum to be published in an anthropology journal later this year. Check this site for details!


Various constellations of researchers are still putting in applications to academic conferences for the year to come. Any calls for papers will be announced here on the site!


If you have tax research news to share of your own, contact me and it can go up on this space!


Happy collaborating!