De-judicialization, Outsourced Review and All-Too-Flexible Bureaucracies in South African Land Restitution

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

This article takes as its starting point a peculiar land claim within the ongoing South African land restitution process – more specifically, the legal and administrative technicalities that allowed for the implosion of the accompanying court case in the Land Claims Court – to open up a space for reflection on the ambiguous nature of state bureaucracies as ambiguity-reducing machines. Tracing the specificities of bureaucratic attempts at foreclosing ambiguities and insufficiencies in state practice, I show how a reorientation towards the new public goods of 'service delivery', 'transparency' and 'accountability' brought about a pronounced regime of performance indicators and de-judicialized bureaucratic flexibility. Demonstrating how these attempts to reduce ambiguities created new zones of ambiguity and unaccountability of their own, I argue for a post-Weberian analysis of the path-dependent realities of 'bureaucratic authority' to help us understand the seemingly arbitrary structural violence that state bureaucracies often enact.

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