Julie Billaud (Sussex), ‘Auditing the world: Reflections on the transformation of “compliance” monitoring techniques in International Organizations’ (12 April 2018)

Thursday, 12 April 2018, from 2pm to 4pm, Language Centre (Fabianinkatu 26), lecture room 403.

Since the turn of the century, the regulatory regimes of human rights (HR) and humanitarian law (IHL) have moved away from legal discourses based on a broad vision of justice to incorporate quantitative instruments aimed at strengthening ‘compliance’. Focusing on the ubiquitous presence of audit in international organizations, this lecture investigates the link between the utopian ideals embodied by global administrations and their concrete implementation in everyday bureaucratic work. Adopting an anthropological perspective informed by a genealogical method, the objective is to analyze the effects of audit as a standard for ensuring accountability. By comparing mechanisms designed to monitor international law at the UN Human Rights Council and at the International Committee of the Red Cross, the lecture identifies elements of continuity and rupture in principles and practices between monitoring mechanisms used in the recent past and in the present. It asks: What is driving the spread of audit in international organizations? Which actors, using which regimes of values, legal technologies and knowledge practices, intervene in the field of international monitoring to produce ‘compliance’? Answering these questions will generate a better understanding of key transformations in the transnational legal orders of IHL and HR: 1) the increased translation of the ‘global public good’ in quantitative terms, 2) a shift from a regulatory regime based on external supervision to one based on States’ self-regulation via ‘transparent’ self-accounting. I argue that the study of the deployment of audit in the utopian field of ‘world justice’ will provide insights of public relevance to understand the rationalization efforts that characterize modern institutions.


Julie Billaud is a legal anthropologist researching Afghanistan, European Islam, gender, international governance and human rights. She is the author of Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) as well as numerous articles. She is currently Research Associate at the University of Sussex Rights and Justice Center. She is also the co-founder of allegralaboratory.net.

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