New encyclopedia article: Taxation in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology
New encyclopedia article: Taxation (In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Oxford University Press)
Research Fellow at TARC (Tax Administration Research Centre) Lotta Björklund Larsen, University of Exeter Business School
Associate Professor Karen Boll, Department of Organization (IOA), Copenhagen Business School (CBS)
Taxation is the collection by a revenue authority of levies, fees, or charges from residents, businesses, or other legal entities deemed taxable pursuant to laws and regulations. Taxation affects most people in the world within the confines of a nation, state, or region. Some people claim taxation is theft by the state, others claim that it is a moral action and duty, and a third view is that taxes are expenses that citizens incur in order to make claims on the state. Taxation is thus an area of contestation.
Taxpayers pay taxes on what they produce or transport, on their salaries and other income, and on their consumption. Taxation not only has a fiscal purpose, but can be used for resource allocation within society, for income redistribution, and for leveling economic stability to address issues of unemployment, prices, and economic growth. Research on taxation has been conducted in most social sciences. Legal scholars discuss changes to the law, economists emphasize taxation’s economic impact within the constraints of models, the accounting discipline addresses the organization and measurement of taxation, and behavioral economists and psychologists aim to predict human behavior in taxation experiments. While this research has extended the knowledge of fiscal practices, taxation has long been in dire need of a critical perspective on its human consequences, its social impact, and how it is culturally shaped. An emerging anthropology of taxation can address these issues.
The anthropology of taxation opens a host of interconnected issues at the nexus of states, markets, and citizenship. It focuses on money, work, and ownership; notions of fairness and honesty or avoidance and evasion; the politics of regulation and redistribution; and the balance between taking responsibility for oneself and for others, to name a few. Ethnographic studies of taxation can depict how various stakeholders in the tax arena shape and are shaped by taxation. And they can illustrate how subjects of taxation—residents, businesses, communities, and societies—through their view on and practices of taxation, negotiate their relation to the state and to other beneficiaries. Turning our attention to the collecting side, taxation provides a multifaceted arena for issues such as policymaking, governance, and digitalization. The role that tax advisers play, often advising taxpayers on curtailing tax, also suggests a complicated relation with society. Anthropologists can untangle and illustrate the relations taxation create between various stakeholders through notions of social contract, governance, fiscal citizenship, reciprocity, and redistribution.
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