Epistemic values: bureaucratic objectivity at the IAEA



Date and Time

February 16, 2017 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Encina Hall, 2nd floor

Abstract: This talk examines ideologies of knowledge and expertise in the global governance of nuclear technology through an ethnographic study of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards. It considers how changes in the way that the IAEA carries out international nuclear safeguards have become the subject of increasing controversy in the last 15 years. This controversy provides fertile ground for understanding the role of knowledge and the functioning of bureaucracy in international governance. I will show that the critiques addressed against the new safeguards system reveal not only political alignments and struggles for power, but also uncover global and regional assumptions about how a technical bureaucracy is supposed to produce knowledge. In closing, I will propose how nuclear safeguards might be adapted to a changing security environment without threatening the IAEA's expert authority or politically discriminating against states.

About the Speaker: Anna M. Weichselbraun is a Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC. She received her PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago in August 2016. Anna's dissertation, based on 24 months of ethnographic fieldwork and multi-archival research, investigates how nuclear safeguards inspectors, bureaucrats, and diplomats at the IAEA negotiate the international and institutional boundaries of politics and technology in their working lives. She asks how organizational products such as bureaucratic procedures, technical inspection reports, policy papers, and official diplomatic statements contribute to the logical ordering of technocratic expertise within the IAEA. She is especially interested in how individuals at international organizations communicate across different epistemic paradigms, and how particular types of knowledge become recognized as authoritative and legitimate. In addition to revising her dissertation into a book manuscript, she is also conducting preliminary research on networks of nonproliferation experts and their spheres of influence.

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