Accepted paper:

Flexible transparency: ways of seeing in Kenyan health management


Hannah Brown (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws upon Berger’s (1972) notion of Ways of Seeing to explore different how kinds of gaze created through technologies of visibility allowed Kenyan health managers to resolve some of the organisational limitations of new forms of flexible management.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws upon recent ethnographic fieldwork with District-level health managers in Western Kenya. Among this group, new managerial interventions oriented to 'flexibility' and 'transparency' were increasingly transforming everyday labour but without displacing older bureaucratic modes of organising. Drawing upon Berger's notion of Ways of Seeing, the paper examines practices oriented towards providing greater 'transparency' within the context of a range of practices that one might more usefully term organisational 'technologies of visibility'. What seemed to be occurring in this context was not the displacement of bureaucratic forms of visibility with those of 'transparency' in a new regime of flexibility, but rather the 'flexible' use of different techniques of visibility, which included practices oriented to both bureaucratic and more flexible forms of organising. This range of techniques of visibility created different kinds of potential gaze upon the organisation in ways which resolved the limitations of forms of new managerial interventions and marked out the utility of other ways of seeing in the consolidation of power and organisational control. I build up this argument with ethnographic description relating to three organisational practises which employed techniques of visibility; the practise of displaying data on health outcomes and achievements to other health workers and service users; appeals to transparency within anti-corruption measures; and the use of visitors' books as organisational records.

panel P102
The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies