Global Initiatives Grant Report – Tax, Society, and People – Using anthropology to teach young people about tax

In August 2022 Nicolette Makovicky and Lotta Bjorklund-Larsen received a Global Initiatives Grant to build capacity in anthropology through, "Tax, Society, and People – Using anthropology to teach young people about tax." Below is their report.

Taxpayer education has increasingly been on the agenda of governments and policymakers over the past decade (OECD 2015). Across the globe, governments are beginning to recognize it as a crucial tool for fostering civic engagement and understanding societal dynamics, as well as a way to educate young people into compliant taxpayers. Despite this, the focus of taxpayer education is all too often focused solely on teaching citizens – young and old – about the technicalities of national tax systems. This focus reinforces the existing idea that taxation is a matter of technocratic government and a subject which cannot be understood without specific economic and political expertise. At the same time, taxpayer education has the potential to help citizens better understand the practical and social implications of taxation and tax reforms. More importantly, it can be used as a way to help people to inspire debated about broader questions civic rights, economic justice, and political representation.

The aim of the GIG-funded Tax, Society and People project has been to draw on current anthropological research to challenge the way young people are being taught about tax. The project’s vision is ambitious yet profound: to develop educational materials for young teens that transcend traditional economic or legal frameworks, shedding light on the societal and cultural implications of taxes. Spearheaded by members of the Anthropology of Tax network (, in collaboration with the citizenship education charity Young Citizens (, the project has produced a comprehensive set of teaching materials aimed at schoolchildren from the ages of 11 to 16. Over six lessons using various learning tools (class discussion, group work, mind maps, presentations etc.) pupils are introduced to the concept of tax and its role in society, explore different types of taxes and taxpayers, and examine issues compliance and of tax justice. They also discuss the historical role of taxes in different economic and political systems and their transformative effects on societies over time, including colonial interventions. Our aim with this material is to give young people the conceptual tools and language for understanding tax as part of citizen-state relations, as well as the way it figures in contemporary debates of the work, wealth, and ownership; notions of a just share, and the balance between responsibility for the extended self and others in society.

The Tax, Society, and People programme is inspired by our ethnographic work on how taxpayers from different parts of the world imagine and understand taxation, as well as anthropological approaches to the study of tax. For example, in the first lesson we introduce pupils to the role tax plays in society using the classical anthropological concepts of sharing, reciprocity, redistribution, and extraction. In every lesson, vignettes and real-life scenarios are used to introduce readers to the elements and functions of taxation, as well as setting the scene for debates about the rights, duties, and choices of taxpayers and the state institutions who collect and use taxes. The teaching material is supplemented with a set of ethnographic vignettes drawn straight from the research of the contributors, offering a glimpse into the diversity of tax cultures and systems around the world. Speaking to multiple lessons, these stories can be used together with – or instead of – the existing material in the lesson plan. By incorporating real-life narratives from the field, we challenge conventional understandings of taxation and fostering critical thinking.

Developed together with the educational charity Young Citizens, the Tax, Society, and People is currently designed to sit within the United Kingdom curriculum. Our next step will be to translate the material and adjust it to citizenship education in other countries across the globe, including those in which members of the Anthropology of Tax network have been working.

Ultimately, we seek to amplify the voice of anthropologists and anthropological knowledge in the shaping both of education about and policy on tax. The strength of anthropology lies in its holistic perspective and ability to draw on examples from diverse cultural contexts worldwide. By reframing taxation as more than a bureaucratic necessity, anthropology opens doors to exploring broader societal issues and challenging existing paradigms. We want to share this view amongst both educators, policymakers, and the public at large, spreading the message that issues of tax and taxation do not need to be confined to the traditional disciplines of law or economics, nor left to the political sphere.