Novices in bureaucratic regimes

Learning to be a claimant in the United Kingdom

in Focaal
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  • 1 University of Manchester michelle.obeid@manchester.ac.uk
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Abstract

This article tracks the learning experiences of a refugee mother in negotiating her housing rights during her first months of settlement in the United Kingdom. New migrants often experience bureaucracy as “novices” in unfamiliar legal and bureaucratic regimes. By contrast to common depictions of bureaucracies as predominant sites of disenchantment and frustration, I attend ethnographically to the ways in which novice claimants come to trust and value bureaucratic encounters as productive spaces that reveal to them the vocabulary of legitimacy as they learn to inhabit official categories and forge bureaucratic personhoods. I suggest an understanding of migrants’ previous knowledge of non-Western bureaucratic regimes shapes their experiences of ambiguity in bureaucracy.

Contributor Notes

Michelle Obeid is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has conducted ethnographic research in Lebanon and the United Kingdom. Her research has focused on themes related to postwar sociality, livelihoods, kinship and gender, and the processes of migration and emplacement among new immigrants. Email: Michelle.obeid@manchester.ac.uk

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1740-9825

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

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