Inter-Institutional Data & Quantification Conference: Call for papers




Global Institutions and Technologies in the Governance of Illicit Activity:
Measurement, Data, Indicators and Quantification

When: November 17-18, 2014

Where: NYU School of Law, New York

Call for Papers


On November 17-18, 2014, the Institute for International Law and Justice at New York University School of Law and David M. Malone, Rector of the United Nations University, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, will convene a conference to examine how power-knowledge dynamics within global institutional governance are being transformed by new practices and cultures of measurement, data, indicators, and other quantified information. The central focus will be on governance of illicit activity (corruption, money laundering, human trafficking, illegal logging, narcotics, dangerous fake pharmaceuticals, etc). Proposals for papers are invited from scholars and practitioners on either relevant new general theoretical frameworks (e.g. with regard to indicators and quantification, or data and information in inter-institutional governance dynamics) or with regard to data, measurement and information issues in relation to any of these illicit activities. (We do not plan to focus on national security, anti-terrorism, etc, as these issues are extensively addressed elsewhere). Lines of inquiry include (among others):


  • How and by whom is data collected and disseminated? How are choices about methods of measurement and quantification made and by whom? What is the role of technology? What is not being measured? What and who is left out?
  • What is the dynamic between different actors aiming to measure the same phenomenon, such as rule of law? Under what conditions is there competition, complementarity, coordination, parallel operation, mutual learning, or revision? Who are the “winners” and “losers” in this dynamic? What are the effects of this interaction? Does it produce, for example, experimentation, harmonization and standardization, diffusion of norms or knowledge, the emergence of networks, the destabilization of power centers, or other effects?
  • What role do data and indicators play as tools or languages of institutional interaction? When, if ever, do data and indicators lead to the creation, re-imagination, or breakup of networks or ecosystems of governance? Under what conditions do they participate in interdisciplinary governance?
  • How do data and indicators interact with other forms of knowledge production? For example, how is quantified knowledge joined with“templating,” best practices models, promulgation of standards, visual representations, and narratives?

Special attention will be given to the analysis of the above questions in the context of monitoring and enforcement of illegal activities such as human trafficking, illegal logging, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, money laundering and anti-corruption, etc. Efforts to combat such illicit activities typically involve overlapping sets of regimes and institutions, often poorly coordinated, embodying conflicting purposes and values, directly competing, or simply fundamentally different. For example, human trafficking is dealt with through law enforcement, labor rights, human rights, migration regulation, and anti-slavery projects, with complex interactions involving international organizations (e.g., OHCHR, UNODC, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, the International Labour Organization, Interpol, etc.), national enforcement agencies (e.g., FBI, Department of Justice, local police), nonprofit organizations, funders, and private actors (e.g., Google, Palantir). In all of this, data, indicators, and framing play a central part: who is counted in quantifications of victims of human trafficking (e.g. are mistreated migrant laborers to be counted, or exclusively sex trafficking victims?; can a person in abusive conditions who has never moved be counted as a trafficking victim?), should indicators be labelled ‘trafficking’ or ‘modern slavery’, which countries are making adequate law enforcement efforts and which not, etc. These are all general phenomena arising in many areas of global governance.


Illicit activities merit particular consideration not only because of the importance of the issues at stake, but because of some unique features requiring special attention. Data is hard to collect and hence hard to evaluate. Many participants naturally maximize secrecy, evading tracking and monitoring and systematic study. Those who can quantify some aspects of illicit activity may conceal the resulting data; law enforcement officials keep some information secret for investigative and enforcement purposes, groups assisting victims may need to keep the identity (or even the existence) of the victims secret for protection; one institution may mistrust another. Yet, even in contexts where information is impervious to public scrutiny, the power-knowledge effects of (accurate or inaccurate) data may be great. Examining how the data is produced, analyzed and used and how data producers, users and other actors interact in the context of monitoring and enforcing illegal and illicit activities opens up new perspectives on the roles of quantification and of multi-institutional dynamics in governance. Bringing together experts on these issues and experts on several different kinds of illicit activity allows for comparative study of governance, data and measurement in domains that are characterized by different degrees of transparency and different institutional dynamics. Policy and practical innovation, and cross-issue linkage, may also be facilitated.



Paper Proposals


Submissions of proposals from junior and senior scholars and experienced practitioners are invited on any of the themes outlined above. Submissions may present innovative theoretical ideas and frameworks, or focus on data in the context of illicit activities as rich case studies or as illustrative/tests of broader theories.

Abstracts of 150-500 words (as full and specific as possible, including a proposed title and details of the argument or empirical work), or draft papers if already available, should be sent (in .pdf or .doc format) to by July 30, 2014. Please provide contact details and a link to an author bio. All authors will be informed of the selection decisions quickly thereafter. Selection will be based on relevance to the theme, innovative materials or perspectives, and the overall blend and coherence of the conference. Authors invited who choose to take part will be asked to send final pre-conference draft papers by October 25, 2014, for circulation to conference commentators etc. The IILJ hopes to be able to assist with modest travel funding where needed.

This conference builds on work of NYU Law faculty on governance and on activities such as trafficking and corruption, and on two ongoing projects of the Institute for International Law and Justice: Inter-Institutional Relations in Global Law and Governance, and Indicators as a Technology of Global Governance. The generous support of the National Science Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. For more information and relevant readings on both of these projects, please see