EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies

Location A-303
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Thomas Bierschenk (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Mainz) email
Giorgio Blundo (EHESS/IRD) email
Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (LASDEL) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel analyses the 'real' workings of states and public bureaucracies in different empirical settings, and aims at establishing bureaucracies and public services as productive objects of anthropological enquiry. The panel will focus on the daily functioning of state Services.

Long Abstract

This panel analyses the 'real' workings of states and public bureaucracies in different empirical settings, and aims at establishing bureaucracies and public services as productive objects of anthropological enquiry. The panel will focus on the daily functioning of state services, exploring the mundane practices of state-making from three key, inter-related points of entry: first, the ethnography of public servants (bureaucratic cultures and practical norms, operational routines in offices, career patterns and modes of appointment etc.); second, the delivery of public services and goods (how bureaucrats themselves perceive and deliver the goods and services for which their departments have responsibility and how they construct their everyday relationships with service users); and third, the accumulation of public administration reforms (how the different bureaucratic corps react to the 'good governance' discourse and new public management policies; the consequences of these reforms for the daily working of state bureaucracies and for the civil servants' identities and modes of accountability; the space that exists for bottom-up micro-reforms that build on local innovations or informal arrangements).

The Panel will take place in three slots, under the titles: 1. Reform; 2. Ethnogrpaphies of bureaucracies; 3. Bureaucratic encounters

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Welfare to work \ work for welfare: constructing welfare ideology through alternative practice

Author: Noa Leuchter (Ben-Gurion University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I examine the complex involvement of state bureaucracy employees in the implementation of a welfare reform, and show how their active acts of “salvage” of clients from a new welfare-to-work program constituted an alternative meaning of welfare as ideology and practice.

Long Abstract

State Bureaucracies have long been established as important domains, where the state comes to be understood through apparently mundane administrative practices. In my research, based on long term fieldwork in an Israeli social security branch, I explore the contradictory logics of this bureaucracy as a site which brings together ideologies of national sentiments, social welfare, and neo-liberal privatization schemes.

In this paper, I examine the complex involvement of social security employees in the implementation of a newly mandated welfare reform. The Israeli welfare-to-work 'work-first' program (commonly known as 'Wisconsin plan') was initiated as a policy experiment which focused on labor market reintegration of the long term unemployed, but was heavily scrutinized both because of its attempts to condition welfare support as well as because its operation was entrusted to private for-profit companies.

By following the execution of this program, I will show that in many cases, social security employees chose to divert clients away from this program, in contradiction with official policy and their job requirements. These acts of "salvage", as they would refer to them, were based on active decision making on their part as well as by complicity with varying attempts of client to commit fraud.

I claim that any understanding of policy should take into account that decisions made by street-level bureaucrats are influenced by formal classifications, local values, and personal affiliations, thus involving the arbitrariness of state bureaucracy and the creativity of human agents, and constituted an alternative meaning of welfare as ideology and practice.

Bureaucratic stakes of the delivery of free health care to 'the poor': quandaries and social productiveness of the introduction of a system of medical coverage in Morocco

Author: Irene Capelli (University of Torino)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the establishment of a system of medical coverage for the disenfranchised in Morocco: ethnographic fieldwork in urban public health settings opens up a reflection on the mobilisations and contestations of bureaucracies in the delivery of health care as a service.

Long Abstract

Building on fieldwork in Morocco, this contribution aims to discuss the recent introduction of a system of medical coverage for 'the poor' and 'the socially vulnerable' and its extension at the national scale (in 2012): this process has been investigated through ethnographic methods across a variety of public and charitable (State-sponsored) health services in urban contexts. The daily dynamics embedded in the early stages of implementation of this system - or 'regime' - of medical coverage have been explored both from the perspectives of potential 'beneficiaries' and from those of the personnel in charge of its operational aspects. The latter will be the focus of this paper, in which attention will be brought to the flou, the 'bureaucratic voids' or the 'looseness' of bureaucracies ascribed by the actors to the initial phases of delivery of services (health care) within the new system. The goal of delivering health care free of charge - or according to partial exemption of medical fees - to targets identified as deserving is perceived by some as inadequate, hardly achievable or even detrimental to 'vulnerable' populations, precisely because of the reform's 'bureaucratic flaws' and its distance from daily challenges and local resources. Others - among bureaucrats or health professionals - deem this system a (potential) measure to counter inequalities, informal arrangements and transactions at the core of current strategies of access to public health care. Hence, questioning diverse insights, stakes and tensions enables to ground bureaucratic architectures in their everyday social productiveness.

Flexible transparency: ways of seeing in Kenyan health management

Author: Hannah Brown (Durham University)  email

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.

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.

Bureaucratic practices and subjectivization in the naturalisation process: a political anthropology of the "Bureau des Naturalisations" in France

Author: Sarah Mazouz (Centre Marc Bloch)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this communication aims at analyzing French naturalization. By describing how Bureaucrats conceive the grant of citizenship as a process, which tests applicants and selects them, it puts into question applicants’ agency and lived experience of administrative ordeals.

Long Abstract

By combining observations held in a prefecture and interviews with street-level bureaucrats and recently naturalized citizens, my communication aims at analyzing the naturalization process in France.

Drawing on a political anthropology of State, I examine both institutions and subjects. First, I will describe the moral economy of naturalization in contemporary France, and the way it has been modelled by immigration issues. Political contexts have determined how citizenship and nationality have been problematized, and this communication will primarily explain how values, norms and feelings that circulate between bureaucrats and applicants have been historically and socially framed. I will then examine how bureaucrats in charge of naturalization put into practice Nationality and Immigration policies. This bottom-up approach reveals how public administration reforms impact bureaucrats' professional practices. Moreover, it shows how the wide level of discretion granted to these bureaucrats determines policies, and frames applicants' reactions and (future) naturalized citizens' behaviour. Thus, this communication will examine implicit and explicit values and forms of categorization to question relations of power, with particular attention to the encompassing classifications and assumptions embodied in street-level bureaucrats' ideas and practices. Finally, I aim at questioning how bureaucratic processes - which are both administrative and moral - impact bureaucrats' and naturalized citizens' subjectivities, in order to put into question the relation between administrative control and produced modes of subjectivization.

Struggles over formal and cultural hierarchy among Eurocrats in Brussels after the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007

Author: Pawel Lewicki (Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder))  email

Short Abstract

Based on my field research in EU Brussels, I depict how after the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007 class and cultural boundaries are established among Eurocrats.

Long Abstract

Brussels is "the capital of Europe" and the EU administration is an amalgam of the EU member state's nationalities. Within this cultural assemblage and among the EU-Commission's civil servants there is a constant struggle over formal hierarchy and this struggle is often played out in symbolical and cultural terms. Under the notion of "modernity" an overlapping representations of nationalities and local class criteria are established that both have impact on prestige and career prospects in the EU-bureaucracy. Based on my field research among Eurocrats in Brussels, I depict the establishment of cultural and class divisions between "old" and "new" Europe (old and new member states of the EU particularly after the Enlargement 2004 and 2007) in mutual assessments of bodily hexis and lifestyles of actors in what I call the EU-space in Brussels. Simultaneously I show how the "modern" boundary between professional/public and private life is constantly blurred and different capitals are applied in order to gain both prestige and power and to enforce national and economical interests.

Public administration reform and façade-ministries in Togo

Author: Nora Brandecker (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)  email

Short Abstract

In 2006, Togo began to implement a huge public administration reform. This paper deals with the implications of this reform for the everyday functioning of the Togolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I argue that the reforms reproduce the already existing logic of this typical “façade-ministry”.

Long Abstract

In Togo, like in other West African countries, there are three different types of ministries: façade ministries, basic-needs-ministries and skeleton- ministries. Façade-ministries (e.g. the ministries of security, defense and foreign affairs) are those with a highly delicate field of responsibility, where only a very small group of high ranked bureaucrats is involved in defining and implementing policy in close collaboration with the presidency and where the rest of the staff is to a large extent excluded from all activities. Basic-needs-ministries are ministries in charge of satisfying certain basic needs of the population like access to water, health and primary education. Skeleton-ministries are in charge of domains considered by the government as less important like the promotion of women, sports, research. Each of the three types of ministries operates according to particular logics, formal and informal rules and has particular functions for the state. Career patterns, operational routines, bureaucratic cultures, the functioning of hierarchies, as well as the public servants' relation to "the state" differ from one type of ministry to the other.

In this paper I argue that civil service reforms reproduce the already existing structures and dynamics of these ministries and the differences between them. I will support this argument by analyzing consequences of the public administration reform started in 2006 for the everyday functioning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Togo, a prime example of a façade-ministry.

Permanence, precariousness, and the everyday worlds of bureaucrats in post-liberalisation India

Author: Nayanika Mathur (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

This paper dwells on a newly-emergent conflict visible between permanent and temporary state officials involved in the implementation of a public works legislation in India. It traces this conflict to the neoliberal turn taken by the Indian state in the aftermath of economic liberalisation in 1991.

Long Abstract

This paper describes an un-commented upon but profound change in the post-liberalisation Indian state's bureaucratic apparatus. It argues that the rural development bureaucracy is being adversely impacted by the new recruitment practices, emerging from the global good governance agenda and involving a cut-back of what the World Bank describes as 'India's bloated bureaucracy'. On the basis of 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork state bureaucrats, I describe a new conflict slowly becoming visible among permanent government employees and a new category of semi-state employees: 'young professionals.' These people are paid their salaries by the government but are employed on a time-bound, contractual basis by a private sector recruitment agency. All these functionaries are involved in the execution of an ambitious public works legislation in India but profess very different relationships to the state. The permanent government employees conceive of themselves as having a direct, intimate relationship with the state. They describe in a range of metaphors that express a loyalty to an imagined state. The young professionals, in contrast, find themselves in a temporally restricted, tenuous, and distant relationship to the state. The time-boundedness of their contracts, the complicated work cultures of government offices, and the seeming lack of direct ties to the state places them in a condition of precariousness. Government offices in rural India are, I argue, becoming sites of new forms of conflict as functionaries argue out what the labour of the state is and how it should be undertaken.

Ethnography of the "humanitarian bureaucracy" of the Early Warning Department in Ethiopia

Author: Francois Enten (GRET)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation describes the combined practices of governmental and humanitarian agents to assess food aid needs in Ethiopia. In a historical continuity of extroversion of aid by the State, it shows how practical norms overhaul humanitarian standards according to informal rules of local bureaucracy.

Long Abstract

The presentation refers to an ethnography of the bureaucratic practices of calculation of international food aid in Ethiopia. It is based on empirical surveys conducted between 2002 and 2004 on ethiopian teams responsible for assessing food security. Composed of staff of the Early Warning Department and humanitarian organizations, the teams co-produce practical norms that lead to a mixed "bureaucratic-humanitarian" register. Structured by an institutional routine, they must bring data consistent with the requirements of international donors. The figures are empirically produced and iteratively negociated at each hierarchical level. All in all, the humanitarian standards are melted into the informal register of the functionning of the bureaucracy, that is partially merged with the ruling party and underpinned by the issue of control of humanitarian aid.

First, we remind how, in a context of chronic food crises, the Ethiopian State remains dependent on international aid while having a strong capital of negociation with international donors. Then, by placing us in the historical continuity of the formation of the modern Ethiopian State, we explain how the strategies of extroversion of external aid include a "mise en scène" of technical standards. Finally, we detail the routine and practical norms of the exercice of the teams confined in a bureaucratic space : the centrality of the written report and numbers, the empiricism of assessment methods and formatting of « adequate » figure, and, the tactics of negotiation and adjustement of the data with the internal hierarchy and the " kadres" of the ruling party.

Reframing bureaucracy through a familialist perspective: the public women's shelters in Turkey

Author: Berna Ekal (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic data in public women’s shelters in contemporary Turkey, this paper investigates the everyday relationships of employees to the residents of shelters. It argues that in the functioning of shelters, the bureaucratic relationships are reframed through a familialist perspective.

Long Abstract

Women's shelters are usually run by NGO's and funded by public authorities ever since the problematization of violence against women by the feminist movements all around the world. However, in Turkey, partly because of the unwillingness of authorities to allocate funding to autonomous shelters, partly as feminists' claim that they should not be treated as social workers of the state, the establishing and running of women's shelters came to be considered as the duty of public authorities (i.e. municipalities and social services of the central state). Hence, apart from one NGO shelter, it has been the public authorities that run all the women's shelters in the country.

Drawing on ethnographic data in public women's shelters, this paper puts forward that on the one hand, as a consequence of the establishment of women's shelters as public institutions, women come to consider themselves as taken care of by the state. In this sense, the state, an abstract category, becomes concrete through everyday practices, as the literature on anthropology of the state also argues. On the other hand, the paper shows that for the employees as well, the family terms can be used as a legitimization for controlling and disciplining women in the institutions. Therefore this paper investigates the everyday relationships of employees (or in other terms, street-level bureaucrats) to the residents of shelters to show how bureaucratic relationships are reframed through a familialist perspective and how the state becomes concrete through these relations.

Bureaucratic encounters in German immigration offices

Author: Anna Louban (University of Konstanz)  email

Short Abstract

Immigration to a western country is a highly bureaucratic act. Based on a seven month long ethnographic fieldwork in the largest immigration office in Germany this paper presents the socio-cultural practices prevailing in this context.

Long Abstract

Immigration to a western country is a highly bureaucratic act. In fact, entering a 'new' state for residency purposes sets off an avalanche of administrative actions to be performed by the immigrants as well as by the civil servants working in immigration authorities.

The paper inquires on daily interactions in the largest immigration office in Germany. It focuses on bureaucratic and non-bureaucratic practices approached by the involved subjects in everyday encounters of immigrants and civil servants. Immigrants have to successfully pass three different kinds of encounters in order to ensure their legal status. (a) The encounter with porters who are positioned next to the only entrance of the authority's terrain. (b) The registration clerks greet immigrants and process their requests in a bureaucratic manner based on the priority of the matter (c) the clerks who are responsible for making the decision whether the person sitting in front of them will be allowed to stay in Germany or not.

Based on a seven month long ethnographic fieldwork in 2012 and 2013 during the opening hours of the largest immigration office in Germany this paper presents the socio-cultural practices prevailing in this context. This micro approach reveals different facets of interaction between those who work for the state and those who seek legal recognition from this state. This approach allows to develop an alternative notion of bureaucracy based on empirical research and therefore contribute on an analytical level to the anthropology of bureaucracy.

Daily suspicion and bureaucratic work of civil servants in charge of the fight against marriages of convenience in Brussels

Author: Maïté Maskens (Université Libre de Bruxelles)  email

Short Abstract

Exploring the ‘practical norms’ utilized by state agents to evaluate a marriage between a non-EU citizen and a Belgian citizen in Brussels comes down to unveil the implicit and unarticulated hierarchies at stake when distinguishing real from sham marriage migration in civil registrar offices.

Long Abstract

During the four last decades, legal ways to migrate into the so-called fortress Europe have narrowed. From the perspective of most European states, marriage is perceived as the "last loophole" in migration control policies (Wray 2006). In Belgium, since 1999, the municipal councilor in charge of marriage celebrations has been invested with a new power: he or she can postpone or refuse to celebrate a wedding if a marriage of convenience is suspected. The empirical basis of this work is a full-time, two month fieldwork project in two civil registrar's offices in Brussels. The main focus of the participant observation is the practical application of administrative suspicion through the description of about fifteen two-hour interviews with suspected partners. In this paper, I propose to focus on romantic love as a strategic concept - a moral and influential category - organizing the confrontation of marriage migrants and state employees. To objectify implicit criterions of evaluation I proceeded to analyze what disappears between the original interaction and the official document produced by state agents. As David Graeber noted (2012), bureaucratic work is a work of reduction so it's not surprising that these interactions are reduced to a few pages of more or less co-constructed narratives. What are the main interventions that will transform these interactions into an official produced document and what is the key role played by romantic love in these transformations are the main questions raised by the observation of this unprecedented encounter between personal affective relations and state authorities.

Kinship, documents, bureaucratic norms, and the meaning of evidence in the South Sudanese citizenship office

Author: Ferenc David Marko (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper seeks to concentrate on the questions of evidence in the South Sudanese citizenship office. Through a thick description of the bureaucratic process and the negotiations of citizenship, I ask what constitutes an evidence of belonging, and how do bureaucrats decide in various cases?

Long Abstract

Selecting and documenting the citizens in the newest country of the world is a gargantuan task. The paper, building on a yearlong ethnographic fieldwork carried out in and around the South Sudanese central citizenship office, seeks to concentrate on the questions of evidence. Due to the lack of reliable documentary evidence (birth certificates, former ID cards, passports) verification is done through witnesses, chiefs' letters, and oral life stories.

The citizenship-applicant has to arrive with a witness, fill the application form - or pay a fixer to fill it for her - tell her story for the bureaucrat, in particular cases bring a letter from her "traditional" chief, or submit a - genuine or forged - school certificate or referendum registration card. The bureaucrat makes his decision after reviewing every element in this "bazaar of evidence".

The main questions of the paper grow out from the ethnography of this bureaucratic process. What constitutes an evidence of belonging, and when and how do bureaucrats approve an applicant's claim for citizenship? When is a witness - who has to be "next-of-kin" according to the nationality law - accepted as a relative by the office, and when do applicants dispute these definitions of kinship? What is the role of ethnicity in the process and inside the bureaucracy?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.