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SSI0010.1177/0539018414556178Social Science InformationZincke

Theory and methods/Thorie et mthodes

Poverty as epistemic object

of government: State
cognitive equipment and
social science operations

Social Science Information

2015, Vol. 54(1) 91114
The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0539018414556178

Claudio Ramos Zincke

Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Santiago, Chile

This article studies the interrelation of the epistemic dimension of the State with the
operation of social science embedded in institutional spaces of government and its effects
on the process of production of social-science knowledge, conditioning its decisions. The
reported study is based on the process of poverty measurement as conducted by the
Chilean government. In this process, poverty appears as an object created and used not
only as a scientific object of academic inquiry, but simultaneously as an epistemic object of
government constituted by the State, and used for regulatory interventions. The research
developed shows that there are many points of ambiguity in the decisions required for the
construction of poverty, in which purely scientific or technical criteria are insufficient for
decision-making and are supplemented by tactical or strategic criteria of government.
cognitive device, epistemic object, experts, governmentality, performativity, social
science, State
Larticle tudie linterrelation entre la dimension pistmique de lEtat et lopration de
la science sociale quand elle est ancre dans les espaces institutionnels du gouvernement,
et, en particulier les effets de cette interrelation sur le processus de production de la
connaissance en science sociale. Ltude est base sur le dveloppement dun processus
de mesure de la pauvret par le gouvernement chilien. La pauvret y apparat comme
un objet constitu et utilis non seulement en tant quobjet scientifique pour des tudes
acadmiques mais en mme temps en tant quobjet pistmique du gouvernement
constitu par lEtat et utilis pour des interventions de rgulation. La recherche montre
quil existe de nombreuses ambiguts dans les dcisions requises pour la construction

Corresponding author:
Claudio Ramos Zincke, Department of Sociology, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Cienfuegos 46, Santiago, Chile.
Email: cramos@uc.cl

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Social Science Information 54(1)

de la pauvret en tant quobjet, les critres purement scientifiques ou techniques

tant insuffisants pour la prise de dcision et complts par des critres tactiques ou
stratgiques du gouvernement.
appareil cognitif, Etat, experts, gouvernementalit, objet pistmique, performativit,
science sociale

This study of the process of poverty measurement in Chile contributes to the discussion
of two interrelated subjects: the epistemic and performative dimension of the State; and
the operation of social science when embedded in institutional spaces of government. In
particular, it studies the effects that such an interrelation has on the process of production
of social-science knowledge.
My direct object of study is poverty as it appears within the State as a cognitive object
that orients the design of practices and programs of intervention as well as decisionmaking processes, in different areas and levels of the public system. In the Chilean case,
this corresponds to poverty measured through the Socioeconomic Characterization
Survey (Casen), which has been applied since 1985 and has been a central reference for
every Chilean government since the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet.
For more than 20 years, the poverty measured by this instrument has focused the
national debate and become the basis for multiple decisions. The data generated on poverty have been considered a reliable expression of reality to use for discussion and decision-making about the social situation of the country. This has occurred not only within
the State administration but also in the public sphere, where the results of Casen repeatedly appear as an indisputable record of the poverty situation in Chile.
This epistemic object poverty measured by Casen is formed fundamentally in a
producing network articulated within the State and in which social science takes part, in
a very central way, through the participation of a group of experts. The aim of the empirical research reported here is to describe some distinctive aspects of this particular socialscience activity which takes place in that network, and to explore the derivations.
In the modern State, one axis of its constitution and action is given by its cognitive
equipment, which has the relevant peculiarity of being provided largely by social science. The operation of this complex equipment is further characterized by its performative power, by its ability to constitute social reality. These features of the State have been
theorized by Pierre Bourdieu (1989, 1991, 2012), although he did not explore the specific devices involved and their close collaboration with the social sciences, which is our
focus here. Regarding this issue, Desrosires (2008a, 2008b) has made a significant contribution by studying the role of statistical procedures and statistical reason, which are
interconnected with the evolution of the State. Michel Foucaults (2000, 2006, 2007)
notion of governmentality, in turn, provides us with guidelines that give additional clues
to the understanding of such operations.
Prominent matters on which these cognitive devices of government operate are the
various phenomena considered as social problems crime, substance abuse, domestic

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Ramos Zincke

violence, etc. poverty being one that has an older tradition as a government object.
Studying the operation of these cognitive devices on poverty production, as a cognitive
object, provides insights for a better understanding of the epistemic dimension of the
State. The configuration and peculiar form of modern State action are made possible by
this epistemic dimension, which is added to the States legal and administrative power.
My central question concerns the derivations that this merging of social science with
governmentality produce both in the operation of social science and in the content of its
products. Second is the question of how this epistemic dimension of the State operates.
In the pages that follow, my route is: (1) synthesize some ideas of Bourdieu, Desrosires
and Foucault on State action, government of conducts and performativity, which provide
a theoretical orientation for this work; (2) present our object of study the measurement
of poverty in Chile and the procedure followed in our investigation; (3) describe key
aspects of the production of poverty as an object of government, and identify points of
ambiguity or arbitrariness in which the impact of government concerns on the cognitive
and practical configuration of poverty is clearly manifested; and (4) highlight some conclusions about the relevance of this for the understanding and study of the connection
between social science and the State.

Poverty and the epistemic dimension of the State:

Theoretical elements
An extremely important aspect of the epistemic dimension of the State is its cognitiveperformative potentiality, its special ability to institute social reality. This way of considering the State is deployed in Bourdieus work Sur lEtat, published posthumously in
2012, which extends and integrates what appears in some of his other works (Bourdieu,
1989, 1991). The State, says Bourdieu (2012: 291), is constituent of social order.
Remarkably, for instance, it configures and ratifies the temporal ordering of our lives: the
calendar and the hour distribution bear its stamp. The State produces and canonizes classifications; produces and sustains identities. Diverse administrative practices, associated
with statistical procedures, engender realities like epistemic poverty that resist the
tests challenging them, providing a common reference for public and institutional debate
and decision-making (Desrosires, 2008a). The State makes society legible so that it
can be acted on (Scott, 1998). Desrosires has shown the joint evolution between the
State and statistical technology descriptive statistics and probability calculus. Such
statistical operations and arguments have been associated with practices organizing society from the beginning, with an inescapable tension between the scientific rhetoric of
truth and the rhetoric of political decision. The interaction of these logics, with its associated tensions, Desrosires (2008a: 117) says, is a field of research for a political sociology of science. Such is the focus of this article, centered on the derivations of those
tensions for the social-scientific work involved.
The stability of ontological trust in the State is based in large part on the fact that the
State, along with being a fundamental agent in the constitution of our shared reality,
molds us as percipient subjects: it incorporates in us the experience of that world as evident. This is what Bourdieu (2012: 292) calls doxic experience of the world, doxa
being the belief that is not perceived as belief. These capabilities developed by the network of elements appearing as the State, with its historical accumulation of power,
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enable the point of view of the State to appear not to be a point of view. It becomes the
point of view of the points of view (Bourdieu, 2012: 53), one that prevails in the struggle
between points of view in the social world. The way in which individuals become aware
of and discuss social problems such as poverty is largely defined from that point of
view. This role of the State varies in intensity with the society and the historical period.
In the case of France, a fundamental object of study for Bourdieu, and Chile, which is
ours, the State has been and remains very central in society. On the other hand, the decisive role played by mass media cannot be overlooked; it provides a much more varied
doxa than the State, but also propagates its social constructions.
Michel Foucault (2006, 2007) contributes additional elements to the study of such a
cognitive-performative dimension of the State. In his final seminars, with his approach to
governmentality, he subordinates the disciplinary component, which previously was central in his work, to the modern regulatory mechanisms for conducting conducts. Foucault
called governmentality a form of power that rests on individuals freedom of action, on
their autonomy, and which seeks to regulate their action at a distance, in a probabilistic
manner, influencing them in a cognitive-performative way, changing their perceived reality
and leaving them free to do whatever they decide, acting only on their environment (Cohen,
2011: 47; Foucault, 2006). The governmentalization of the State, in modern society,
changes its operations. It changes the very constitution of the State. Its epistemic dimension
develops enormously. Social sciences become a constitutive and constituent part of the
State, become part of its equipment. A significant part of this equipment is the State system
of measurement and statistical construction, which has, consequently, a dual character of
scientific tool and government tool that marks it constituently. In spite of this, the usual
approach is to consider such dimensions separately, without recognizing their interconnection (Desrosires, 2008a). This equipment is the basis of a government by instruments
(Lascoumes & Le Gales, 2004), a government by numbers (Desrosires, 2008b), and a
governance by indicators (Davis et al., 2012; Hammer, 2011). In modern times, this epistemic role of the State, in connection with science, is crucial for the configuration of society
(Carroll, 2006; Wagner, 2003). Such State action makes a valuable contribution to the selfdescription, self-understanding and self-monitoring of society (Wagner, 2012).
Governmentality relies on some core operations: (1) The constitution of objects of
government to regulate diffuse problems of violence, crime, poverty and the like requires
shaping them as clearly identifiable and monitorable targets. This involves building wellarticulated theoretical and methodological constructs, convincingly connected with experiential elements recognizable as part of the problems addressed. (2) With such objects
already identified it becomes possible to develop intervention programs targeting them.
(3) In order to justify and legitimize such intervention programs, narratives are elaborated
to depict causalities or responsibilities and mechanisms whose operation is assumed.
These narrative accounts, mainly based on the social sciences, are used for framing intervention actions and providing motivation and guidance for them.
Poverty is one of the objects that, early on, were typically configured as objects of
State intervention. Governmentality requires giving precise shapes to varied and scattered empirical elements related to the common idea of poverty. That is what the State
measurement of poverty has tried to do, at least since the end of the 19th century
(Desrosires, 2011). In the case of the measurement of poverty through Casen, its

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Ramos Zincke

outcomes related to governmentality affect various levels of the State administration. Its
most direct recipients are upper-level State officials responsible for the design of policies
and programs and the evaluation of their results, for whom such data are crucial in their
work and decisions. This poverty, configured and measured as an object and translated
into data, serves them as a common focus and facilitates their coordination around this
matter. Thus, this epistemic poverty serves to guide and coordinate the activities of a
large number of State agents.
The State process of poverty measurement is carried out under the positivist notion of
assuming the pre-existence of the measured reality. In contrast to this realistic approach,
we use the notion that has been developed by authors like Bruno Latour, in several of his
works, and Annemarie Mol (2002), conceiving the objects as a result of multiple operations that constitute them. In this approach, as opposed to the notion of well-defined and
self-contained objects, these objects are seen as enacted from outside, as inescapably
intertwined with networks of agents (or actants), both human and nonhuman.
Latour has made a variety of studies of the associations and networks of human and
material elements that shape objects; these appear simultaneously as an assemblage and
as the center of an assembly (a gathering) of convened and participant agents that together
configure the objects (Latour, 2000, 2001, 2004a, 2004b, 2005; Latour & Woolgar,
1986). In the case of poverty, economists, sociologists, State authorities and various
other human participants help to shape its reality as an object of government, jointly with
various technical artifacts. In the process, many empirical elements of the households are
selected, mobilized and articulated, in the form of written or digital inscriptions, and,
through the mechanisms designed and their human spokespersons, they may, at any time,
object to what is said about them.
In this perspective, poverty measured by Casen, that peculiar poverty which guides
State decisions and which is positioned in the medial public sphere, is an assemblage of
selected elements, carried out in the framework of governmentality. As such, it does not
exist prior to the process of its measurement and scientific construction (Latour, 2001).
However, this poverty, despite its artifactual condition, is fully factual, fully real. The
operations that constitute it are real and its product operates in the social reality and has
real effects. It is a very real and operational assemblage or assembly, as has been extensively argued by Latour (2001, 2010) regarding these hybrids, or factishes as he calls
them. It is a constructed and conventional, but at the same time solidly real, poverty.

Empirical research on the measurement of poverty in Chile

In Chile the measurement of poverty has been a matter for government attention only
since the 1970s, with the onset of neoliberal transformations. Before 1974 there were no
official measures of poverty. Between 1940 and 1970 the social policies and services
were in widespread benefit; for example, there were subsidies to the prices of basic products and to generalized free primary education; therefore, it was not necessary to identify
the neediest groups. The coverage of those policies varied according to the resources
available to the State and according to the pressure various social groups were capable of
bringing to bear (Denis et al., 2010). With the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet
(19731990) came a significant reduction in social spending, and the government

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adopted the policy of subsidizing social segments that presented critical needs, which led
it to focus on the neediest, understood primarily as the poorest. This compelled the government to seek to identify those sectors that constituted the target population. The main
tools for this purpose would be the Map of Extreme Poverty (1974), based on census
data, and the CAS, a card for socio-economic classification (1980), applied locally. In
1985 a more sophisticated instrument was added, the Survey of Socioeconomic
Characterization (Casen), administered to a large national probabilistic sample.
Despite being one of the countries that extensively applied neoliberal policies early on
(Harvey, 2007). Chile is a country where State intervention in society has been and still is
fundamental. On the other hand, a strong positive value is attached by the State to the application of scientific and technical knowledge to government affairs. In fact, the participation of
experts in relevant roles in government activities has occurred historically from the beginning
of the 20th century, under both authoritarian and democratic governments (Silva, 2010).
The period in which the Casen measurement of poverty was made 19902012
corresponds primarily to the governments of the Concertacin para la Democracia (coalition of center-left parties) until 2009. They have made significant use of social-scientific
knowledge (economics, political science, sociology, etc.) to a remarkable extent (Aguilera
& Fuentes, 2011; Grate, 2012; Joignant 2011, 2012), and this has been a feature of all
governments of the Concertacin (Silva, 2010: 193).
The empirical research for this paper is based on both primary and secondary sources.
We obtained and reviewed all the documentation used for the Casen measurement process manuals, instructions, questionnaires, bidding conditions, minutes, memos, internal evaluations, etc. and interviewed experts and personnel directly responsible for the
design and management of the survey, from the State, university departments and the
Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), including some
participants in the beginning of Casen. We conducted 22 interviews and reviewed more
than 70 documents related to the process. A controversy generated in 2012, during our
research, provided us with additional information, coming especially from four forums
that we recorded and analyzed, from acts of a parliamentary committee investigating the
matter, and from more than 200 press articles.

Scientific production of poverty as an object of government

in Chile
The first Casen survey was conducted in 1985, but it was not intended to measure poverty. As stated by the then director of Odeplan (Office of National Planning), the State
organism in charge of the survey, the Casen, under the military regime, was developed
and used, in its 1985 and 1987 versions, as a measuring instrument of the redistributive
effect of social spending, to see if State spending was reaching those it was intended to
reach, that is to say, the low-income population (interview, 20 May 2013; cf. also Haindl
& Weber, 1986; Haindl et al., 1989). In none of the published reports of these first measurements did a description of the poverty situation appear, not even in their table of
contents. Poverty as an epistemic object of government had not yet been formed.1 The
focus of these works and the use of the survey was to guide the targeting of social spending. This is a central idea that the military government assumed and the Concertacin
Government would continue, with only rhetorical adjustments.
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Measuring poverty using Casen officially began in 1990, under the first government
of the Concertacin. This was done in a network coordinated by Odeplan and integrated
by a university academic center of the Department of Economics, University of Chile,
and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a United Nations
organism, which acquired a key role in the calculations. In 1990, after some discussion,
the procedure, according to the appreciation of the participants, was absolutely validated; it was completely legitimized as a method for measuring poverty in Chile (interview with expert in charge at the time, 1 July 2013). In fact, from then until 2010 there
would be no significant controversy in the field, only some specific criticisms that did
not gain momentum and dissolved spontaneously. Throughout this period, there was not
even, as noted by the same expert, any questioning by the government, demanding
changes in the methodological procedure or in the definition of the poverty line, or for
adjustments of income, or other matters. That year sealed the procedure that would be
followed for the next 20 years.
This unquestioned procedure appears as a clear manifestation of an expert type of
management, apparently oblivious to political interests or other kind of external interests. Those involved would not hesitate to endorse what Zelizer (2005) calls the model
of separate worlds: we are here in the field of science, which does not mix with the
world of politics, despite its proximity. That was the vision that measurement agents
proclaimed; that was what the participant experts emphasized. In contrast, my review of
the measurement process and my analysis of what happened in those 20 years differ
markedly from that perception and appreciation. The analysis allowed us to identify
numerous moments of decision in the process of constructing epistemic poverty that the
scientific and technical reasons are not enough to resolve, and in which the resolution
derives ultimately, in a contingent way, from the interweaving of the technical procedure
with the concerns of government, so that normative or strategic government considerations are incorporated in the decision. I have called points of arbitrariness these decision
points in which scientific or technical criteria are not sufficient to make a decision.
Table 1 lists 11 such particularly crucial and problematic points. For each one, an
estimate of the effects the decision would have on the measurement of poverty is registered, based on the range of possible alternatives that, reasonably, could also have been
I briefly review these main points of arbitrariness, delving deeper into some of them to
exemplify with greater detail what happens. In each, I consider the interplay between technical scientific criteria and criteria arising from the use of this measurement for government
purposes. To this, I add an estimate of the effects on poverty data provoked by what was
decided in each case. For reasons of space, I have left two points undeveloped.

Concept of poverty
The choice of one or another concept of poverty is a fundamental decision that affects the
measurement. The concepts of poverty refer to the levels of minimum acceptable wellbeing, or to capabilities the lack of which limit or prevent proper integration and
participation in society (Altimir, 1979; Feres & Mancero, 2001; Haughton & Khandker,
2009; Sen, 2000). There is a range of conceptions that guide this measurement throughout the world. The concept of monetary poverty followed by Chile considers poverty to
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Table 1. Main points of arbitrariness and estimated effects of the decisions made in them.
Point of arbitrariness

Effect the decision has on poverty

Deciding between the use of onedimensional poverty (according to income,

housing conditions or other attributes) or
multidimensional or relative poverty.

The choice between one or another

definition leads to substantially
different rates of poverty (between
1.5% and 60.9%).

Updating or not the calculation of the Basic

Food Basket (BFB) using the new household
budget surveys (1997, 2007). Nothing
technically prevented the use of the new
budget surveys.

Not having used the new household

budget surveys from 19961997
and 20062007 has the effect of a
significant drop in poverty figures
(approx. 20 percentage points),
because of different thresholds.

Considering or not considering changes in

budget of rural families in comparison with
urban sectors.

No expenditure data obtained in

rural areas impedes updating rural
lines of poverty and indigence and
increases the rate of rural poverty.

Updating or not the Orshansky coefficient

considering observed data on expenses.

Not updating the Orshansky

coefficient since 1990 significantly
decreases the poverty rate (lower
poverty line).

Adjust differentially or not the non-food

component using their own non-food
Consumer Price Index (CPI) vs using the
food CPI for all types of goods.

Using the CPI of non-food

goods (ECLAC decision) causes
significantly lower poverty (in 2011,
down from 14.4% to 10.4% with this
differentiated adjustment).

To include or not compensation or State

benefits that are indirect or non- monetary
(free food, education, health, etc.) in the
income calculation. Feasibility: difficulty for
some monetary translations, but it could be
done for others.

The non-inclusion of a monetary

translation of such goods and
services, and indirect transfers,
makes poverty higher.

The use or not of equivalence scales,

considering the effect of economies of scale
and household composition. Feasibility:
Technically it can be done (for example with
the OECD model).

Equivalence scales are not used.

Their use would reduce the poverty

Period of application of the sample.

Substantial proportion of the sample in
January or not.

A larger sample in January involves

capturing more revenue stream due
to higher revenues in December.
This makes the poverty figure drop.

Incorporation or not of more questions

in the questionnaire specifying sources of

More detailed questions improve

measurement quality, increase
declared income and reduce poverty
by some percentage points.

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Ramos Zincke
Table 1. (Continued)
Point of arbitrariness

Effect the decision has on poverty


Use or not of calculations for imputing

response to those who declare themselves
employed and do not declare income.

Those calculations correct underdeclaration, increase revenue, and

reduce poverty. Different imputation
methods produce significant


Revenue adjustment through comparison

with national accounts. It rests in various
assumptions on national accounts.

The adjustment significantly

increases income and reduces
poverty. Different national accounts
series produce variations in results.

be the lack of sufficient income to purchase basic goods and services. Multidimensional
concepts pay attention not only to the economic dimension but also to other aspects such
as employment, adequate housing, access to basic services, protection from aggression
against persons and property, and living in conditions of dignity and freedom from
humiliation (Alkire, 2007; Feres & Villatoro, 2012). There are also relative concepts, as
used by the European Union (which defines poverty as an income level below 60% of the
median), and subjective concepts, based on assessments by the subjects themselves of
their level of satisfaction.
Poverty rates vary enormously as a consequence of the concept chosen. To illustrate this
point, when comparing calculations for 2006, poverty in Chile would be 13.7% according to
Casen, 25.5% according to the measure of relative poverty in the EU, and 60.9% according
to a multidimensional poverty measure. If what is measured is extreme poverty, the World
Bank measure yields a rate of 1.5%; a measure of basic housing needs gives 1.9%; the same
measure, excluding household equipment, 3.5%; the Casen measure gives 3.2%; and a
multidimensional measure, 9.9% (Denis et al., 2010; Mideplan, 2009).
The choice of one or another conception of poverty has been associated with the
options for intervention on the problem of poverty. In fact, the original 1985 Casen was
constructed to achieve a more effective targeting of government social spending and only
later came to be used to measure poverty (interviews with the economist in charge of the
project, 26 April 2013, and the director of Odeplan at that time, 20 May 2013). Poverty
defined in terms of income generates accurate and easily attainable targets for monetary
intervention. It is a poverty for which easy and rapid improvements through policies
based on various monetary subsidies can be achieved. Indeed, delivery of these subsidies
has become customary since the early 1990s, and their distribution, especially just before
measurement of poverty, has had a significant impact on it. There is an elective affinity
between such interventions and a monetary definition of poverty, which has contributed
to tilt the preference toward it. For the last survey, I counted 13 different subsidies (support for the newborn, social protection bonus, social allowance, winter bonus, and so on)
that had been included in the calculation of income.

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Updating the basic food basket

The poverty line is determined on the basis of a food basket that satisfies basic energy and
nutritional needs. Such a basket is associated with the consumption patterns of the population and with characteristics of the food supply, aspects that change over time. The basic
food basket used by Casen has been the Fourth Household Budget Survey, conducted by
the National Bureau of Statistics (INE) in 19871988 in Santiago, with a sample of 5076
households. From 1990 to 2012, the calculation of the poverty line was based only on that
19871988 survey, although in this period there have been two new surveys of family
budgets the fifth, made in 19961997, with a sample also from Santiago (8358 households), and the sixth, made in 20062007, with an urban sample of 10,026 households
(Alonzo & Mancero, 2011: 8; Schkolnick, n.d.). Therefore, the original basket has not been
updated in 20 years. One after another, governments have refused to make the update,
despite its having been recommended by the ECLAC experts in charge, according to whom
there was no impediment to making such calculations (interview 17 July 2013). Other
experts, in advisory committees, have also subscribed to this recommendation. From the
perspective of government authorities, the drawback is that it would have driven up the
poverty rate by a considerable amount. It is politically inconvenient to announce such
unexpected increases in poverty and difficult to explain them to the population.
One researcher made the calculation of poverty by taking data from the Fifth Family
Budget Survey, 19961997. He found that, with this calculation, the poverty and indigence
rates are doubled (see Table 2). In 2006, the total magnitude of poverty, with the update of
the basket, could have reached the high figure of 29.0%, but it was left at 13.7%, without the
update, due to concern on the part of the authorities about the negative effect this result
would have on the public, given that, with respect to the previous measurement communicated three years before (18.7%), poverty had so greatly increased. In the face of this risk,
the authorities of various governments have chosen to do nothing and not to alter the
method of calculation. It is a not to do that certainly makes a big difference.

The Orshansky coefficient

In the Casen, the basic food basket is used for the calculation specifically of extreme poverty
or indigence; the poverty line, meanwhile, is calculated by multiplying the level of income
corresponding to the line of indigence by 2. This 2 is the value of the Orshansky coefficient.
Table 2. Poverty and indigence according to the Casen, with the original and revised food
basket (in %).

Casen measurement with

original basic food basket
Casen measurement with
revised BFB

2000 (%)

2003 (%)

2006 (%)

Total poverty




Total poverty




Source: Mideplan (2007); Larran (2008: 117).

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Ramos Zincke

In institutional documents and public communication, this coefficient is used and presented
as if it were almost a universal constant, and in the last 20 years it has been subjected neither
to public scrutiny nor to discussion. The origin of the coefficient has been completely
obscured, and experts, who know its meaning well, have not questioned it.
Despite the presentation of the Orshansky coefficient as a constant to be applied without
hesitation, this coefficient is the outcome of an empirical calculation. It is the inverse of the
ratio between food expenditure and total expenditure, for the reference population (Haughton
& Khandker, 2009), which in the Chilean case has corresponded to the second income quintile. Since this ratio comes from a calculation using empirical data on household expenditure, if these data change over time, the ratio should vary too. The figures from household
budget surveys show that the proportion between food expenditure and total expenditure has
shown a steady decline, in such a way that now the coefficient, according to one of the
experts interviewed (1 July 2013), could be near 2.9, which would increase the rate of poverty significantly. In spite of this, the experts and authorities that have handled the calculations have kept the value of this coefficient equal to 2, and this figure has been consistently
applied, invoking the power, difficult for laymen to challenge, of scientific formulas. If the
coefficient had been updated, the rate of poverty would be greater, which creates a serious
reluctance to update it. Experts who know both the variation in this empirical feature and its
inconvenient effect of increasing poverty have chosen not to rock the boat, and the increase
has passed unnoticed over the years.

Differential adjustment for food and non-food components

The indigence or extreme poverty threshold is determined according to the basic food basket; the poverty line, meanwhile, includes the non-food component as well. The determination of which non-food goods or services to include as basic is highly controversial. A
solution adopted in Chile has been simply to estimate their plausible proportion, without
specifying them, which is the function that fulfills the Orshansky coefficient. Year on year,
the income needed to acquire the basic food basket is adjusted according to changes in food
prices. The non-food component is adjusted, through the use of the coefficient, in the same
proportion. This was not a matter for discussion during the 1990s and much of the 2000s,
until, in 2007 and 2008, food prices underwent a considerable increase in Latin America,
which was not accompanied by a similar increase in the prices of the rest of goods and services. In the case of Chile, between 2006 and 2009, while the consumer price index (CPI)
for food rose by 32.4%, the rest of the goods made just 6.4%. Between 2009 and 2011, the
variations were 13.1 % and 2.9%, respectively (ECLAC, 2012a: 4). In response to this, in
2009 ECLAC decided to differentiate the adjustment of the non-food component, applying
to it the variation of the specific CPI for these particular goods and not the variation relating
to foods. The effect was that, while the indigence line was not affected, poverty was reduced
by 3.6 percentage points in 2009 and by 4.0 points in 2011, in comparison to the results of
the Casen, which continued to apply the previous form of adjustment (ECLAC, 2012a).
The incoming right-wing government of Sebastian Piera, which had to define the
final calculations of the 2009 Casen, decided to maintain the adjustment of all goods
according to the CPI for food and not to subscribe to ECLACs differentiated way of
calculating. In support of this decision, the government cited the technical reason of

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maintaining comparability. Nevertheless, technically it was possible to preserve comparability, adjusting the non-food component for previous years. In fact, ECLAC had
already prepared the corresponding calculations to do this (interview 17 July 2013).
However, the underlying political reason was that preserving the calculation method
meant that the preceding center-left-wing government of Michele Bachelet ended with a
rise in poverty of 1.4 percentage points, whereas the ECLAC calculation would have
lowered poverty by 2.2 points. The variations were numerically small and barely statistically significant, but they were very significant in political communication, and as such
were used by the government and the pro-government political leaders to proclaim the
failure of the Bachelet government in the battle against poverty. A main critic of this
decision at that time, and subsequently, was Andrs Velasco, President Bachelets
Minister of Finance, who proved to be very aware of the political effects of these statistics. According to Velasco (2012: 20), the whole [political] debate Chile has had in the
last three years would be different if the ECLAC calculation had been followed, a calculation that, according to him and other economists, was the correct one. The countercriticism, exposed by former Mideplan Minister of the Piera government, Felipe Kast
(2012), was that such an adjustment would have involved reducing poverty by bureaucratic definitions: 3.6% of poor people would cease to be poor for purely administrative
reasons. Behind both claims to the technical correctness of the supported decisions
appears a concern for the political resonance of the alternatives at stake. In such a way,
concerns about sociopolitical contingency infiltrate measurement decisions.

Inclusion of non-monetary government benefits

In the Casen calculation of household incomes, subsidies or social benefits in kind, such
as lunches, breakfasts and other foods delivered by the supplementary feeding programs
of the National Board of Student Aid and Scholarships (JUNAEB), are not included
(Ihnen, 1988; Larrain, 2008: 145). In addition, there is public-sector spending, differentially distributed, in education and health, which can be considered an indirect monetary
transfer, but that is also excluded (Henoch & Troncoso, 2013). Technically, though, such
free goods and services could be assigned a monetary value (Beccaria et al., 1997: 91;
Citro & Michaels, 1995).
The decision to exclude these non-monetary benefits stems from the origins of the
survey and was one of the issues initially discussed. The declared reasons for exclusion
were pragmatic. For instance, it is difficult to assign value to the health service, which is
used only sporadically. Education, meanwhile, to the extent that it is a general benefit,
contributes little to the differentiation between poor and non-poor: its contribution to
income covers a very wide range of the population (interview 26 April 2013).
The inclusion of these benefits in the calculations would increase households incomes
and reduce poverty. Nevertheless, insofar as they were not included from the start, their
absence has not been questioned, even though it has effects on policies. Deciding not to
include State benefits that are not direct monetary subsidies reinforces the importance of
using monetary measures to reduce poverty; the other benefits, of more complex application, will therefore not be privileged when fighting poverty. This is an indirect effect of
a methodological decision. This exclusion is associated, from the beginning, with the
preference given to the use of direct monetary subsidies to reduce (monetary) poverty.
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Equivalence scales
The size and composition of households influences their food requirements. In larger households, there are economies of scale, and having children involves a smaller cost. In this
regard, the international literature on poverty measurement recommends using equivalence
scales (Alonzo & Mancero, 2011). To calculate such equivalence scales, Engel curves and
demand equations are used, applying various methods like Rothbarths or PraisHoutthakkers (Alonzo & Mancero, 2011). The results obtained by the different methods,
however, are markedly different, due to conceptual and analytical differences, and there is
no consensus on what is the most appropriate method (Haughton & Khandker, 2009: 28).
The application of equivalence scales would leave out of poverty many households
whose average per capita income is only slightly below the poverty line, by the mere fact
of having more members or including children. This, therefore, could bring down poverty by several percentage points (see Haughton & Khandker, 2009: 88).
If, technically, there are different procedures available and the introduction of equivalence scales is recommended by the experts, why then are they not applied in Chile? The
exclusion of equivalence scales at the beginning, in 1990, becomes a reason for not
including them later, since it would make retrospective adjustments necessary in order to
maintain comparability, and these are difficult to explain to the public. Moreover, the
presentation of results referring to equivalent adults does not have the clarity and concreteness desirable for communicating with a wide audience. Instead of a pristine statement such as 140,000 Chileans have moved out of poverty, the expression would now
be 140,000 adult equivalents . No politician or government authority would feel
comfortable appealing to these abstract statistical entities. These practical reasons affect
a substantive decision that contributes to shaping poverty.

Incorporation of new questions in the questionnaire

The determination of household income is technically complex. It is necessary to cover
a great variety of situations that generate income and different income types. Over the
years, the accumulated experience of repeatedly administering the questionnaire would
help to specify new questions or review and adjust the existing ones. However, if these
changes are very significant, they affect the comparability of the measurements over
time. This creates a tension between two technical objectives: to achieve more reliability
and validity vs. to maintain longitudinal comparability.
In the 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009 surveys, several changes were made in the questionnaire, the most important being those to the 2006 Casen. Along with several other
modifications, such as moving toward the center of the questionnaire the questions on
income which, until 2003, were located near the end, the most important change was the
addition of 20 new direct questions associated with different revenue streams collected
by the survey (OS-MDS, 2012: 22). In fact, the specific sources of income, as ECLAC
registers them, without considering subsidies, grew from 30 in 2003 to 54 in 2006
(ECLAC, 2012b: 71). Thus, direct questions about matters such as pay for overtime,
annual and monthly bonuses, food stamps, gratuities, benefits in kind (food, drink,
clothing, childcare or nursery services, etc.) were added.

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If we review the results of applying the definitive questionnaire to the total sample of
the 2006 survey, according to ECLAC records, the income from private bonuses and
benefits rises from CL$ 18,068 million in 2003 to CL$ 95,720 million in 2006. On the
other hand, the income in kind from the main occupation rises from CL$ 9,451 million in
2003 to CL$ 31,247 million in 2006. The total increase attributable to new questions,
then, would be CL$ 99,447 million,2 an increase of around 300%, discounting the effect
of inflation, and which in turn is reflected in an increase in the aggregate figures of remunerations received by the respective wage-earners.
Before administering that 2006 survey, it was pretested, looking for possible effects of
the changes made in the questionnaire. There were no statistically significant differences in
the amount of income registered between the old questionnaire and the new (OS-MDS,
2012: 26). However, in the opinion of some experts involved, the majority of the new questions are applicable to relatively small fractions of the population, and therefore the pretest,
with a small sample of about 1200 cases, is not sufficient to detect, with statistical significance, such effects, even if they exist (Casas-Cordero, in forum 31 October 2012).
In 2006, there were no political bets placed on the Casen results. The comparison
would have been between two governments of the Concertacins parties (Ricardo
Lagos and Michelle Bachelets governments) and it was not crucial whether the poverty
figure rose or not by a few tenths. The situation meant that the new income questions
added were not a contentious matter, and there were no disputes.
In contrast, in 2012 the comparison was between politically opposed governments.
So, one of the high points of the controversy surrounding the 2012 Casen occurred as a
result of the inclusion of a new question in the questionnaire, and its effects on income.
In the 2011 version of the Casen, the MDS (Ministry of Social Development) added a
new question, y11, which asks about labor income received for work, activities or business done by unemployed or inactive people and non-formal family workers, that is, by
people to whom questions on labor income are not applied since they are not considered
employed in the reference week. The definition of employed or unemployed refers to the
previous week (reference week), but earnings are consulted regarding activities in the
previous month. This gap allows an unemployed person (last week of the month M) to
have labor earnings the previous month (M1). That is the reason for including y11 given
by the MDS in a memo to ECLAC.3 A central argument was that question y11 responded
to the need to better identify the labor earnings of the unemployed and inactive, which,
until the 2009 Casen, had been recorded, although in a nonspecific manner, in the residual question other income (y17d in the previous survey). Therefore, the MDS concludes, including y11 is an improvement of the questionnaire that does not include any
new revenue streams (cf. OS-MDS, 2012), i.e. it improves reliability and maintains comparability with previous measurements.
The ECLAC expert in charge of Casen initially excluded this question from the calculations, but after insistence from State authorities and having received a detailed written argument, allegedly supported by evidence from the survey experience, provided by
experts from the Ministry of Social Development, the expert finally accepted its inclusion (Hernando, 2012). In the document with its final decision, ECLAC says: whereas
it is difficult to resolve with crystal clarity which is the alternative [include this variable
or not in the aggregate household income in 2011] that best meets the purposes of

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maintaining the comparability of income measurements between the two years, and
while there is no doubt that y11 represents a type of labor income in fact received by
people in the reference month, it was finally decided to include it as part of the total
household income in the last year (ECLAC, 2012b: 26, 27).
Nevertheless, while accepting the arguments of MDS, ECLAC makes it clear that the
point is debatable (it is difficult to resolve with crystal clarity) and in a footnote adds
information that provides a new reason to have doubts. It goes on to say that the variable
other income, which in the 2009 survey had reported revenues of CL$ 2152 million
with 69,934 recipients, recorded in the 2011 Casen CL$ 1477 million and 28,602 beneficiaries. That is, it has decreased, as expected, since in this second survey many of these
incomes and recipients are incorporated in y11. But, y11, which should benefit from this
migration, reported revenues of CL$ 24,861 million and 205,503 recipients, and this is a
much bigger growth than expected: 37 times the amount of revenue and five times the
number of recipients. ECLAC mentions this and registers it, but does not make an argument of it.
Had question y11 been excluded, as initially proposed by ECLAC, the poverty rate
would have been 15.0%, instead of 14.4%, which was the rate finally announced. That
15.0% would have meant that there was no difference from the 2009 figure (15.1%).
Indigence, meanwhile, would have been 3.2%, instead of 2.8%, which is not statistically
significant compared with the 3.7% of 2009. That is, y11 was important to the discourse
proclaiming the victory over poverty announced by government, showing numbers that
would warrant the decline in poverty and indigence. The convenience of the changes for
the government was obvious enough to many following the debate on Casen and was a
reason for the fierce controversy generated around the inclusion of question y11.
The claim that these revenues were already being measured in the previous survey
question under other income is plausible and is supported by some of the information
provided. On the other hand, it is evident that the inclusion of y11 generates an income
report far superior to the old question on other income, which affects comparability.
Nonetheless, that is not attributable to the fact that this stream of income was not previously covered it was, although in other ways, but to a cognitive effect of memory
activation.4 This, however, is a different problem. If the existence of cognitive effects is
argued, this judgment criterion should also be applied to the previous surveys, and this
would lead to a review of several of them, particularly the 2006 Casen. This uncharted
problem made it advisable, for the experts who raised criticisms, not to follow that path.5
We then come to the following premises: (1) The inclusion of y11 involves a clear
improvement in the quality of the measurement of income. (2) Empirical evidence plausibly supports that these revenues were previously registered. (3) Inclusion of the question causes a marked increase in income, thus affecting comparability, but this time for
reasons never used before to excluding a Casen question.
What to decide, technically, in this case? Again we see that the technical criterion is
not sufficient in itself to decide; it is not enough to incline the decision toward including
or excluding the question. Paradoxically, excluding y11 because of the increase of
income that it causes, affecting comparability, would imply applying the reason of cognitive effects, which is a new consideration and, if allowed, would create another, even
more serious, problem of comparability.

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How to decide under these conditions? The arguments and data can be orchestrated in
ways supporting both inclusion and exclusion. All the players also say about themselves
that they are acting technically. An expert and authority of ECLAC, when questioned by
a parliamentary committee on the inclusion of y11, categorically stated that the agency
adopted a procedure that was absolutely technical and with the best reading on the information available.6 Even so, these experts are forced to recognize, as one of them says,
that there is a zone of ambiguity. Ultimately, one is forced, with all the available information, to wager.7 The decision made in the area of ambiguity, however, is unavoidably
tainted by the preferences and interests of the agents involved. All the participant experts
knew the effects of one decision or another on the results of the measurement and none
of them acted under the veil of ignorance. None, moreover, was an isolated decisionmaker; they all were members of teams, located institutionally, connected with authorities, groups and organizations, with preferences or political sympathies. This applies to
MDS as well as ECLAC experts, and to all external, expert or non-expert, critics. These
networks push the decision, albeit imperceptibly, in one direction or another.

Imputation of income answers

From the beginning of the Casen, the Chilean government commissioned ECLAC to do
the work of evaluation and correction of measurement errors in the reporting of income
collected by the survey. In this regard, a first task performed by ECLAC is the correction
for non-response. The non-response is particularly high, in all countries, with respect to
self-employment. For the calculation of income in the USA, about 25% is obtained by
attribution and not by direct answer (Feres & Villatoro, 2012: 49). In addition, higher
non-response rates occur at the extremes of the distribution, making it a major problem
in measuring poverty. In the 2011 Casen, 5.4% of the employed people did not report
income. Thus, on the basis of their calculations, ECLAC imputed income to 349,312
employed persons, with an average income of CL$ 430,666 (ECLAC, 2012b: 80). It is
certainly a significant amount to be attributed, considering that for that year the poverty
line was CL$ 72,098. Why, then, are those who do not respond not simply excluded from
the calculations? The reason given is that non-respondents have a different distribution
from the rest of the sample, and to extract them would impose making sample adjustments and modifications in the expansion factors (ECLAC, 2012b: 35).
The imputation of income is made considering the attributes of each income recipient
who does not report it, and attributing to them the same level of income reported by people
with similar characteristics. The characteristics considered are seven: occupational category,
region, condition of head of household, sex, educational level, branch of economic activity
and occupation (ECLAC, 2012b: 35). The procedure, called conditional means method,
consists of imputing the missing income according to the values found in similar subsamples formed according to the simultaneous crossing of those seven variables.
As is predictable, this imputation increases the income of the surveyed sample and
reduces poverty. In 2009, growth rates generated by these ECLAC calculations were
5.4% in total income, 8.1% in salaried employee income, and 11.5% in self-employed
income; in 2011, the respective rates were 2.2%, 6.0% and 7.3% (ECLAC, 2012b). There
are, however, other methods of imputation, in addition to the conditional means method,

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and all give different results. A study using data from Argentina in 2007 showed that,
comparing the results from diverse methods, the rate of indigence varied between 10.3%
and 12.8% (Medina & Galvan, 2007); that is, the mere choice of imputation method
increased or decreased poverty by 2.5 percentage points. The experts who participate and
who are part of the government have clear notions about the effects of the choice of
methods on poverty figures. Nevertheless, the extent to which this choice impinges on
decisions made is something that remains obscure.

Adjusting income comparing with national accounts

Once the imputation of missing income is completed, ECLAC checks the degree of error
in the total income registered. For this, a pattern of comparison is needed that conveys
the true value of the income distribution. The pattern used for comparison is the income
registered in the national accounts provided by the Central Bank of Chile. Put simply, the
adjustment method consists in adding income to or subtracting income from each category of income, according to the discrepancies observed between the survey and the
respective national account, when comparing the global amount registered in each
As a product of the ECLAC processing, the resulting average income from the salaries of
employees, that in the 2011 Casen is CL$ 369,641 and rises to CL$ 375,300 after correcting
for missing responses, finally, after adjustment according to national accounts, reaches
CL$ 410,578. The increase, however, is particularly marked in the income from selfemployment, which rises from CL$ 279,072 in the answers of respondents to CL$ 286,793
in the correction for no declaration and, finally, to CL$ 589,073, with the adjustment based
on national accounts, representing a 111.1% increase over the original figure.
Such an adjustment is made on the assumption that the national accounts are a reliable
record of all the income received in the country and its distribution among the different
streams considered. This, however, is merely an auxiliary hypothesis and is highly debatable. A particularly important aspect is that the referent constituted by the national
accounts is much less univocal than it looks. In fact, for this comparison process, ECLAC
experts must not only establish homologations between different income categories of
the survey, on the one hand, and national accounts, on the other, but also between different series of existing national accounts. These accounts have undergone several methodological changes since the beginning of the Casen. In 2002 there was a change from
base 1986 to base 1996, which had another structure. In 2007 a new series with base
2003 was established. In 2012, the same occurred with another new series using base
2008. These successive changes affect both the definitions of the different income variables and the respective amounts. These changes, says ECLAC (2012b: 7), create obvious difficulties for reconciling the concepts and categories, not only between national
accounts and the Casen but also between national accounts series made with different
base years and methodological characteristics. The problem, according to ECLAC
experts, would have been especially marked since the change enforced from 2002, which
added new categories and removed other classifications. As a result, by 2008, differences
between the results of the current series and the earlier were significant. For example,
GDP in the 2008 version is 5.2% higher, and the level of final consumption expenditure

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of households is higher by 8.2% (ECLAC, 2012b: 12). Also, mixed income generated
by households for 2008 increased approximately 65% in the new base with respect to the
estimate in the previous series, and the wages of employees fell 2.9% (ECLAC, 2012b:
13). That is, these different values for the same year are due solely to the fact that the
calculations are based on national accounts built with different methodologies. While
national accounts are taken and treated as an expression of true value, no doubt this is
a slippery and elusive truth.
It follows from the above that full adoption of the new national accounts series would
involve having to change the poverty calculations from previous years in order to remain
comparable. What ECLAC has done, however, is what their experts call a simple fitting
of the four series of national accounts, maintaining the original base to protect historical
comparability (ECLAC, 2012b: 57). This involves translating the variations in income of
the new series to the categories and procedures of the old series, and using these categories for the present-year calculation of poverty. This is an operation of sophisticated scientific plumbing, with many risks of mismatching and error, although they do not appear
to get reported.
The alternative to these fittings and adjustments, which cloud the process and make
it very difficult to follow and replicate, would have been, with each new series, to
recalculate poverty backwards. This would have been methodologically precise and
clear. Nevertheless, what is methodologically clear for experts, introduces confusion
when presented in the public sphere. For example, in 1998, having presented the figure
of poverty at 21.7% as a fact of reality extracted by a rigorous scientific procedure and
characterized by its objectivity, how would the government explain to the public, through
the press and television, after a few years, that this number must be adjusted by several
percentage points, and another few years later, that it is necessary to adjust the figures yet
again? It would give the audience the uncomfortable impression that the State authorities
were moving poverty data at will, contradicting the common idea of scientific rigor and
the realist (positivist) conception accompanying all these processes of State measurement. It would reveal a poverty that did not correspond to its perception in the public and
governmental spheres.
Adding further complexity to the process, the adjustment factors actually employed,
based on national accounts, have been the object of adjustments, as stated in the
ECLAC report. Special treatment, for example, has been given to the category of mixed
income, because it shows an excessive increase [20.3%], in the context of the evidence
on the growth of national product and employment in the period (ECLAC, 2012b: 54).
Therefore, the report concludes, ECLAC has chosen to apply a special, essentially conservative approach, which is, in the case of self-employed and employers earnings, to
maintain the adjustment coefficient calculated in 2009, thus giving preeminence, in these
categories, to the variation shown by the data from the survey itself (ECLAC, 2012b: 56).
Without this adjustment to the adjustment factor, the coefficient would be markedly higher
than that applied in 2009.
This reveals that the benchmark (the national accounts) has some serious reliability
problems, even for the ECLAC experts who have championed its use, making it necessary to correct the adjustment using a conservative interpretation which assumes that
the rate of increase derived from the calculations is excessive. This adjustment of the
adjustment is not based on new calculations but on an interpretation. The adjustment of
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survey income to national accounts is thus subjected to an economic hermeneutics that

allows for some of the calculation results to be ignored. That is to say, the gap between
the survey and national accounts determines the adjustment until the experts decide that
it does not determine it.
These details highlight the blurred margins of technical decisions. There is no doubt
that technical criteria structure the whole process, but continually there are decisions for
which the technical or scientific reason does not provide sufficient criteria. What drives
the decision to adjust income, on one occasion, according to the national accounts and,
the next time, using a conservative estimate? The reason is that the expert in charge
knows economics, and there are figures that do not fit with his knowledge about the
economic reality of the country. But, how does he define the precise numbers of the
adjustment, how does he choose how conservative to be with them? Another expert in
the same situation could reach a very different decision. This is the result, as one of the
experts interviewed says, of the experts common sense; a hazy sense, whose operation
can be infiltrated by economic prejudice, political interests, fears, or whatever, which
usually occurs unreflectively and without much awareness.
In any case, the main problem with the ECLAC procedure for income adjustment is
not the chain of debatable conventions adopted, but the lack of transparency in the operations, which has been maintained for many years. During the 2012 controversy, there
was agreement to indicate that the ECLAC process appeared to be a black box for the
different actors involved. Even the undersecretary of MDS noted that the process of correction and adjustment carried out by ECLAC is a somehow blind process for the ministry as well; there are things that we are not able to replicate.8

The present analysis shows poverty, as an epistemic object, taking shape at the intersection of the criteria and procedures of science with the concerns and tactical and strategic
criteria of governmentality. Such a combination enhances the social-scientific work,
allowing the assemblage of a large operational data production, and invigorates the performative power of the resulting construction. The very complexity of the measurement
operation makes it resource intensive. Each measurement using Casen in recent years has
involved budgets of over three million dollars, a figure that exceeds by far what any
research center in the country could fund. The foundation in the State and the relevance
of this measurement for governmentality also assures the circulation of this construct
within the State institutional space and the public sphere.
On the other hand, the framework of governmentality leads to the fact that, at the various points of ambiguity, where technical or scientific criteria are insufficient for deciding
the concerns and interests of government are employed to prioritize and decide. We have
shown some cases where this happens and their effects on the poverty results. From the
wide range of alternatives justifiable in technical or scientific terms, the strategic or
instrumental criteria of governmentality induce selection of those most suitable for its
purposes, according to the interpretation made by State officials or according to the
anticipation of such convenience made by the experts themselves. By this means, the
tactical and strategic criteria of governmentality enter into the cognitive process of science and hybridize the decision criteria that constitute or enact poverty. The scientific
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construction of poverty is thereby tinged by the criteria of governmentality. The resulting

poverty is fully marked by the contingencies of that process, which can cause a wide
range of variation in the cognitive configuration of poverty and thus in the ensuing
We have seen, for example, how the technical argument about the necessity to maintain comparability of the measurement through time is not sufficient for the decision.
There are sound reasons for updating the basic food basket and the Orshansky coefficient, and yet this has not been done, markedly affecting comparability, without being
impugned. Any alteration of the questionnaire affects comparability, however many
modifications have been made since 1990, but only once has this been questioned. That
is, the application of the comparability argument follows a course that is not explained
solely for technical or scientific reasons.
Thus, the poverty that takes shape is a peculiar artifactual social reality engendered in
that union between science and governmentality. This is how social science works in
association with governmentality. Its constructions achieve wide circulation and acquire
great visibility and performative force, but the cost is that the technical and scientific
uncertainty points are consistently resolved under the pragmatic criteria of government,
whether these are of a tactical or a strategic character.
The way in which poverty is produced, as a cognitive object within the State, is articulated with the aim of designing and implementing forms of social intervention. The entire
complex equipment for measuring poverty is a major cognitive instrument of government.
It is a governmental instrument of observation for monitoring social reality, guiding intervention and giving a public account of what has been achieved. It is a piece of cognitive
equipment that simultaneously has performative power, shaping social reality. It is part,
together with a family of similar instruments, of the increasingly sophisticated epistemic and
performative dimension of the State, based on social-scientific knowledge. These measuring
devices become obligatory passage points (Callon, 1986) for public action, and the networks that give form to State action must inevitably pass through them.
This construction of poverty involves important normative dilemmas. At stake is what
is meant by wellbeing of the population and how to define the respective acceptability
thresholds. In the way in which Casen was constituted, this normative debate of large
political projection took place behind closed doors, between experts and government
officials. Never, in 20 years, was it a matter of open debate that allowed a wider representation commensurate with the political relevance of the matter. The presence of
experts, with their high qualifications and experience as well as the technical complexities of the measurement were used, and still are used, to display and frame the measurement as a technical matter, to be addressed by experts, thereby closing it to any further
and wider discussion. In this way, social science is used to close the normative debate on
this epistemic construction, concealing its relevance and political content. Achieving this
effect of closure requires keeping invisible the points of ambiguity or arbitrariness,
whose normative aspects, then, are not resolved according to due process with adequate
political representation. The present article has sought to shed light on precisely these
points of ambiguity and the way in which they are decided.

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Ramos Zincke

A first version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social
Studies of Science, in San Diego, California, 912 October 2013. I am grateful for the collaboration of Fernando Valenzuela, co-researcher in the project, and the valuable participation of
Francisco Salinas and Alba Vsquez in the fieldwork.

This work was supported by the National Council of Science and Technology of Chile under
Fondecyt grant number 1121124.






I use the term epistemic object following Knorr-Cetina (2001). These objects, among which
we can include black holes, leptons, intelligence and educational quality, are worked and
shaped by science and become the matter of continuous inquiry. They are subject to constant
scrutiny and are always in a state of incompleteness. They have what Knorr-Cetina (2001:
182) calls an unfolding ontology, a reality that is always unfolding under new inquiry. We
add to this notion, in the case of poverty, a performative dimension outside the realm of science, a capacity to shape social reality by guiding human action.
Some US$ 200 million, corresponding to just over 9 million beneficiaries (ECLAC, 2012b).
Memo of 14 July 2012, Inclusin de la variable y11 en clculos de pobreza, prepared
by Carolina Casas-Cordero, Andrs Hernando and Alfredo Martn, Ministry of Social
The formats used for the questions, their order, the presence of particular verbal framings,
and other questionnaire features have effects on the cognitive process leading to the respondents answers. Variations in these aspects lead to different responses. This is a matter already
widely researched and tested (see Schuman & Presser, 1996; Sudman et al., 1996; Tourangeau
et al., 2000).
In fact, only an expert from the Ministry of Social Development, Carolina Casas-Cordero,
has referred to this cognitive explanation, at a forum held with specialists following the controversy (Forum Casen 2011: Dos miradas, at the Centro de Estudios Pblicos, 31 October
2012), without anyone responding to this point or commenting on the consequences of such
an explanation.
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Author biography
Claudio Ramos Zincke is a Professor in the Sociology Department at the University Alberto
Hurtado, Santiago, Chile. His current research focuses on the processes of social measurement that
occur inside the State, and on the construction and diffusion of sociological narratives, together
with the performative consequences of both processes. Recent publications include: El Ensamblaje
de ciencia social y sociedad. Conocimiento cientfico, gobierno de las conductas y produccin de
lo social (Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2012); Estructuras de comunicacin en el campo de las ciencias sociales: Un anlisis de redes, Redes: Revista hispana para el
anlisis de redes sociales (2012); Investigacin cientfica y performatividad social: El caso del
PNUD en Chile, in: Arizta, T (ed.) Produciendo lo social (Santiago de Chile: Ediciones
Universidad Diego Portales, 219252, 2012); and Local and global communications in Chilean
social science: Inequality and relative autonomy; Current Sociology 62(5): 704722 (2014).

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