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Of Minds and Methods: The Global Governance of Public Opinion in the Middle East, Past and Present
Date(s) - 21/01/2021
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm





Chair: Dr Amanda Chisholm

Speaker: Kiran Phull

How are we to account for the productive power of global public opinion research, as something that plays a part in both the creation of populations and the conditions for the possibility of their governance? This paper tackles the question by critically examining the production of data and knowledge on Middle Eastern publics, starting in the early twentieth century. Drawing attention to the connections between colonial administration, political patronage, and the history and development of American social science, I consider how scientific opinion polling is intimately bound up in the structuring of global social knowledge as a political project.

Public opinion polls and surveys are often regarded with a mixture of skepticism and detachment. My approach is to treat scientific opinion research as a ‘regime of calculation’ which renders the human mind—people’s thoughts, beliefs, fears, hopes, impressions and rationalisations—visible and measurable, and as intellectual territory to be occupied. Using different historical examples, this paper traces instances where Western surveys and polls, as a novel social scientific method, were employed in the service of modernisation, democratisation, intervention, and at times, as a means of denying the right to political self-determination. The implications of this approach persist to this day.



Dr Kiran Phull is a Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of War Studies. Her research focuses on the politics of global knowledge production and the rise of scientific opinion polling. She takes a critical and interdisciplinary approach to the study of public opinion, and is interested in how epistemic technologies (like polls, surveys, and data) create and shape the conditions for governing social and political life.

Before joining King’s College London, Kiran was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the London School of Economics, taking part in the teaching and design of LSE100, an interdisciplinary social science training programme for undergraduates. She received her PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics in 2019, where she explored the history of scientific inquiry into Middle Eastern publics. Her empirical work takes place in sites like social science institutes and universities, international private polling firms, and state departments. Her doctoral research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Kiran also has experience in the private sector, working in quantitative methods and data analysis. She provides consultation on data analytics, survey research methods, and data visualisation in policy and higher education circles.

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