, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 229–246 | Cite as

Intervals of confidence: Uncertain accounts of global hunger

  • Emily Yates-Doerr
Original Article


Global health policy experts tend to organize hunger through scales of ‘the individual’, ‘the community’ and ‘the global’. This organization configures hunger as a discrete, measurable object to be scaled up or down with mathematical certainty. This article offers a counter to this approach, using ethnographic cases to illustrate how the calculated referent of ‘hunger’ does not hold stable. In the highlands of Guatemala, where obesity has become a matter of concern, many people treated hunger as a sensation connected to family and history. For doctors working in the region, hunger was determined through body mass indices and global risk statistics. For global health experts it was different still, operating as an indicator derived from agricultural and population data. I draw these different, yet connected, versions of hunger together to explore dilemmas of scaling an object that is not solid but is made and unmade variously. This allows me to illustrate that global hunger is not a summation of hunger in the world, but its own version of hunger. I further suggest that ‘multi-object ethnography’, which allows for the persistence of uncertainty, can help to develop policy responses to hunger(s) that will, in some cases, be more appropriate and effective than scale-based evaluation.


scaling uncertainty obesity global health metrics and evaluation multi-object ethnography 



This research was enabled by research grants from the Wenner Gren Foundation, Fulbright Hays, and the ERC Advanced Grant, AdG09 Nr. 249397. The author is grateful to all those who shared their stories with her. Thanks are also due to Emily Martin, Tom Abercrombie, Sally Merry and Renato Rosaldo, Annemarie Mol and the Eating Bodies team, Tjitske Holtrop, Emily McDonald, Janelle Taylor, Rachel Chapman, Mercedes Duff and Andrew Roper. This article has benefited from the feedback from participants at the Bergen retreat sponsored by the University of Amsterdam (2012) and the Cascadia Seminar for Medical Anthropology (2013), as well as from early commentary from Marilyn Strathern and the careful attention of two anonymous reviewers. Rayna Rapp, to whom the author owes the title, deserves particular recognition.


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Yates-Doerr
    • 1
  1. 1.Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR), University of AmsterdamThe Netherlands

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