Professor Penny Harvey
IAS Fellow at Josephine Butler College, Durham University (October - December 2015)
Penny Harvey is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has carried out ethnographic research in Peru, Spain and the UK and published widely on politics and power, on language, information and communications technologies, and on knowledge practices with a particular focus on engineering practice and technical expertise. Although her own research is grounded in anthropological theory and methods, Professor Harvey has always been committed to interdisciplinarity. She worked for six years at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Liverpool, before moving to Manchester in 1991. For the past ten years she has worked in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), latterly as the Convening Director.
Within CRESC Professor Harvey convened an interdisciplinary research group working on the social dimensions of infrastructural development. Building on research collaborations with a wide range of partners: from engineers, planners, and policy makers who are devising methods of bringing about and accounting for infrastructural change; to activists and artists who are reimagining society through alternative renderings of infrastructural relations, this group developed methodological and theoretical approaches that established the significance of material relations for engaging the socially transformative effects of projects of infrastructural change. Professor Harvey’s own work within this group has focused on roads, waste and sanitation, and on information systems, and the promise and limitations of ‘big data’ for public sector service provision.
Her key publications include Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (with Hannah Knox), Cornell University Press, 2015. Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion (edited with Hannah Knox and CRESC colleagues) Routledge, 2013. Roads and Anthropology: Ethnography, Infrastructures, (Im)mobility (edited with Dimitris Dalakoglou), Routledge: 2014. Technologized Images, Technologized Bodies: anthropological approaches to a new politics of vision, edited with J. Edwards and P. Wade. Berghahn Books (2010).
Professor Harvey’s other key contribution has been her on-going work on the anthropology of the state. Her most recent research project, “Experimental States”, is a collaborative ethnographic study of expert knowledge and regional government in Cusco, Peru. The research looks at contemporary (neoliberal) state form, focusing on two main issues: firstly how government experiments with, and constructs moral legitimacy in relation to new forms of regulatory authority and technical expertise; and secondly how the normative imaginaries of nature, resources, territory and law that inform cultural understandings of the nation state are articulated with respect to newly formed instances of the state, in this case the regional government of Cusco.
Since 2012 Professor Harvey has been Professor II at the University of Oslo, and she has also previously held a similar position at the University of Bergen (2004-2006). With Professor Tony Bennett (University of Western Sydney) and Professor Kevin Hetherington (Open University) she is editor of the Routledge book series, Culture, Economy and the Social. She has twice served as Chair of the Anthropology Review Panel for the Danish Council for Independent Research, and she was also a member of the review committee for Cultural Anthropology in the Netherlands in 2013.
While at the IAS, Professor Harvey will be finalizing the monograph on decentralization and regional government in Peru which she is co-writing with Professor Deborah Poole (Johns Hopkins University). She is also working with Casper Bruun Jensen and Atsuro Morita on a large edited collection on Infrastructures and Complexity. She is looking forward to working closely with colleagues in Durham, at the IAS, in Anthropology and in Geography to develop a new comparative study of infrastructures and changing state forms.
Evidence of the Public Good: sceptical reasoning and public infrastructure projects in contemporary Peru
Drawing on ethnographic research on processes of decentralization and infrastructural development in the Peruvian Andes, the lecture explores how divergent evidential forms, modes of reasoning and analytical procedures are managed to produce adequate grounds for action in the name of the public good. Public works are surrounded with a high degree of affective force in rural Peru, associated with a sense of longing and haunted by expectations of abandonment and exclusion. Engineers and local government officials have to provide proof of ‘value’ in registers that can both elicit funding from external sources (national and/or international), and satisfy local expectations. Expert knowledge is central to the lived politics of the contemporary, decentralizing state, and infrastructural systems increasingly appear as the political currency through which to secure new collective futures. In these spaces of material transformation the engineer is required to adopt modes of reasoning that involve an ironic doubling as technical expertise is recognised as the necessary but nevertheless insufficient means of bringing the future into being.