UCL Anthropology


Sociality of Tax

The project ‘The Sociality of Tax: A Multiperspective Study of Fiscal Relations (SocTax)’ is funded through a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship (PI: Miranda Sheild Johansson) (Grant Ref: MR/V022261/1). The project runs from March 2022 to March 2026.

This project aims to understand the sociality of tax. Taking an innovative approach it investigates fiscal regimes in an anthropological fashion, exploring the types of social relations that paying and not paying tax produce, rather than focusing on fiscal compliance and or the macro and microeconomics of tax. It does this comparatively and cross-culturally: spanning multiple fieldsites, including neighbourhoods, workplaces, community groups, political interest groups and tax offices, and three fiscal systems—Bolivia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Crucially, the project will study tax systems as they are practiced within different cultural and historical contexts, as opposed to analyzing them as abstract economic models. This actor-centered perspective focused on sociality aims to re-shape academic and popular understandings of what taxes are and do.

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1) To achieve evidence-based understanding of how paying and not paying tax shapes sociality: relations of belonging, exclusion, equality, care and reciprocity.

2) To radically expand fiscal studies by employing an anthropologically-grounded approach for the study of tax as a producer of sociality. The focus will be placed both on how social relations are influenced and created through tax policy and practice, and how popular fiscal perceptions and activities in turn shape these same fiscal structures and policy. This will contribute to wider understandings of how policy and society interact and co-constitute each other.

3) To created a new field of study—‘the anthropology of tax’, and further develop established anthropological concerns with state-society relations, policy, bureaucracy, citizenship, money and debt.

4) To intervene in public and policy debates around taxes, redistribution, inequality, social exclusion, the digital economy, and financial welfare, and contribute with crucial knowledge of the social effects of fiscal systems.

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Miranda Sheild Johansson

Miranda Johansson profile image

Miranda is the PI of the project. She is working across all three sites, Bolivia, the UK, and Sweden. Miranda has worked in highland Bolivia since 2007 and has been working on taxes in the region since 2017. Her work on the anthropology of tax include: indigenous perspectives on tax, decolonising tax, statecraft in Latin America, the relationship between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ money flows, fiscal exchange logics, and the social contract. Miranda’s Leverhulme project, ‘Becoming a Tax Payer: Fiscal Expansion and Economic Subjectivities in Bolivia’, explored the experiences of recent rural-to-urban migrants in highland Bolivia as they encounter and make sense of expanding national tax structures into which they are being incorporated. Her earlier work has focused on agricultural labour and the value of transformation in the Bolivian Andes.

Charles Dolph

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Charles is a cultural anthropologist with research foci on agrarian dynamics, taxation, contraband, and money and value in the Southern Cone and Andes of South America. His doctoral thesis, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, examined the cultural politics of the U.S. dollar in Argentina in light of the country's agrarian transformation and experience with a global soy boom. After defending his thesis, titled 'The Cultural Battle Against the Dollar: Struggles over Hoarding and Democracy in the Twilight of Argentina's Soy Boom' at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center in 2022, he joined UCL as part of the UKRI-funded 'Sociality of tax' project led by Miranda Sheild Johansson. For this comparative project of fiscal systems and relations across Sweden, the U.K., and Bolivia, he has conducted ethnographic research in Bolivia on a new wealth tax introduced in the country as well as on contraband economies and financialization in the Bolivia-Argentina borderlands.

Max Zahnd

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Maximilien (Max) Zahnd is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex. In 2023, he joined UCL and the UKRI-funded “Sociality of Tax” (SocTax) project—led by Miranda Sheild Johansson—as a postdoctoral research fellow. His research explores the relationship between tax, Indigenous sovereignty, and settler colonialism in North America. Using contemporary and historical case studies in Alaska, he examines the ways tax can help colonization unfold and how Native communities use tax to fight back against settler colonialism. His work has been published in Law & Social Inquiry, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and Society and Space.

Within the remit of the “Sociality of Tax” project, Max looks at the geography of local tax laws and policies in British-occupied Martinique during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Max is also interested in the relationship between tax, space, and culture in the UK countryside.


Project activities 

Fieldwork/archival work

Miranda Sheild Johansson: In Cochabamba, Bolivia January to May 2024; Stockholm, Sweden January – December 2023; UK January- December 2024

Charles Dolph: La Paz and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, January to June 2023; UK, January – December 2024.

Max Zahnd: Archival research in Martinique (Archives Départementales, Fort-de-France) and Kew (London) (UK National Archives), Summer and Autumn 2023. FW UK January – December 2024. 


Founding the EASA Anthropology of Tax Network, 2022. Miranda Sheild Johansson co-founder and convenor. Charles Dolph and Max Zahnd - members.

Max Zahnd: Co-convenor of the “Empire, Colonialism and Law” stream for the Socio-Legal Studies Association’s annual meetings (2024, 2025, and 2026)

Max Zahnd: Member of the UArctic Thematic Network on Critical Arctic studies (CAS)

Active members of the Anthropology of Tax Network

Workshops and conference panels

(Co-Organiser with Soumhya Venkatesan) ‘The Anthropology of Tax’, 3-day workshop funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation  ($19,920). Bringing together fourteen anthropologists from around the globe working on tax. Buxton, Manchester, April 2022

‘La Socialidad de los Impuestos: Un Estudio Multiperspectivo de las Relaciones Fiscales’. CIDES-UMSA Postgraduate Institute of Development Studies. Bringing together Bolivian and Peruviuan scholars working on state society relations to discuss the sociality of tax. La Paz, Bolivia, 17 Abril 2023

AAA Panel: Tax transformations: Fiscal technologies of transfer, categorization, and conversion. American Anthropological Association meeting 2023.
Chair: Horacio Ortiz, Associate Professor at East China Normal University, Researcher at CNRS
Discussant: Justin Richland, Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, UC Irvine
Remote Yet Colonized: Rurality, Indigeneity, and the Evolving Functions of the Alaska Net Income Tax, 1949 – 1980, Maximilien Zahnd

Tax Units as World-Making (Fiji), Matti Eräsaari
Charitable Purpose as a Political, Regulatory Frame in India, Erica Bornstein
Fiscal grievances: taxes, education, and race in the forging of Bolivian regionalism,
Charles Dolph

Tax Arbitrage and Planetary Justice: Political Visions of State Territory in Guinean Mining Agreement Negotiations
. Gustav Kalm

Shaping care and debt through taxes: The individualisation of fiscal subjectivity in Sweden.
Miranda Sheild Johansson

Max Zahnd: Presented “Remote Yet Colonized: Rurality, Indigeneity, and the Evolving Functions of the Alaska Net Income Tax, 1949 – 1980 at the Annual Tax Research Network Conference (University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK) and at the Annual Conference of the Socio-Legal Studies Association, Ulster University, Derry/Londonderry, UK

Max Zahnd: Presented “How Can Tribal Taxation Complicate the US Supreme Court’s Understanding of Indigeneity, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Settler Colonialism?” at the workshop “Judicial Constructions of Historical Consciousness: Legal Politics of Identity and Hate in the Postcolony” (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK) (invited) (workshop organized by Sandhya Fuchs and Tobias Kelly)


Miranda Sheild Johansson. (Invited)‘Complying in the ‘right’ way: Competing fiscal rationales in highland Bolivia and the problem of ‘compliance’ in tax studies. ‘'Entrepreneurship and Prosperity in Extreme Contexts' Soundbites and Director's Seminar series 06/10/2022, Institute of Global Prosperity

Miranda Sheild Johansson (Invited) ‘Land management in peri-urban Bolivia’. Workshop: Promises and Pitfalls of Collective Property for Sustainable Urban Development, The Bartlett & Development Planning Unit (DPU), UCL 16/08/2022:

Miranda Sheild Johansson (Invited) ‘The problems with simplification: Perspectives on digitalisation and presumptive taxation regimes amongst low-income groups in Bolivia’. Taxpayer Rights 7th International Conference, Harvard Law School, 20/05/2022

Charles Dolph (Invited) ‘Malestar fiscal’: La socialidad del impuesto en Bolivia.’ Higher University of San Andrés, Faculty of Law, 15/05/23

Max Zahnd: “Fighting Back with Taxes: Indigenous Peoples, Counter-Mapping, and the Promises of Decolonial Taxation,” Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands) (invited) 


Dolph, Charles. 2023. “¿Estamos Saliendo Adelante? Assessing Bolivia’s Macroeconomic Stability.” North American Congress on Latin America. March 16, 2023.

Sheild Johansson, M. (2023) ‘‘Complying in the ‘right’ way: Competing fiscal rationales in highland Bolivia and the problem of ‘compliance’ in tax studies.’ Compliance: cultures and networks of submission. Editors W. Rollason & Eric Hirsch. Berghahn Press (Legal Anthropology series).

Sheild Johansson, Miranda; (2023) Taxes for Independence: Rejecting a Fiscal Model of Reciprocity in Peri-urban Bolivia. In: Makovicky, Nicolette and Smith, Robin, (eds.) Beyond the Social Contract: An Anthropology of Tax. (pp. 18-37). Berghahn Books: New York, NY, USA.

Shield Johansson, M (2022). 'From "Beasts of Burden" to "Backbone of Society": The Fiscal Forging of a Bolivian Middle Class. 'Special Issue: Engineering the new middle classes: State institutions and the aspirations of citizenship (Eds M. Bolt & J. Schubert). Critique of Anthropology, 42(4),381-399.

Burnyeat, G., & Sheild Johansson, M. (2022). ‘An anthropology of the social contract: The political power of an idea’. Critique of Anthropology, 42(3), 221–237.

Zahnd, Maximilien. 2023. “An Alaska Tax Story: Tribal Sovereignty, Settler Colonialism, and the Indigenous Tax Space.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 41(5): 784–804.

Zahnd, Maximilien. 2023. “Not ‘Civilized’ Enough to Be Taxed: Indigeneity, Citizenship, and the 1919 Alaska School Tax.” Law & Social Inquiry 48(3): 937–970.

Zahnd, Maximilien. 2023. “Praise the Gardeners, Dun the Hunters: Alaska Natives, Taxation, and Settler Colonialism.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 65(4): 932–959.