one police officer named “irregular” bureaucracies: nonrecording practices and modes of dealing with irregular migration in improvised ways. In a setting of “cultural intimacy” ( Herzfeld 1997 ), police officers confided in me as a fellow Greek what
Navigating through irregular bureaucracy
Ethnographic Engagement with Bureaucratic Violence
Erin R. Eldridge and Amanda J. Reinke
Defying commonly held perceptions, anthropological studies have revealed that bureaucracies are not simply mundane, stagnant administrative structures. They are, as Anya Bernstein and Elizabeth Mertz argue, interactive sociocultural worlds where
Repatriation as Ceremony
magic of bureaucracy that ultimately effects the repatriation. Repatriation is a series of performances, formal institutional and cultural rituals, that articulate and reinforce, as well as challenge, identities and relations of power. Museums, as
Remaking the Public Good
Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur
In this introductory article, we call for a new anthropology of bureaucracy focused on 'the public good'. We aim to recapture this concept from its classic setting within the discipline of economics. We argue that such a move is particularly important now because new public goods – of transparency, fiscal discipline and decentralization – are being pressed into the service of states and transnational organizations: it has therefore become critical to focus on their techniques, effects and affects through fine-grained ethnography that challenges the economization of the political. We demonstrate our approach through some ethnographic findings from different parts of India. These show how fiscal austerity leads to new limited social contracts and precarious intimacies with the post-liberalization Indian state. This relationship between new public goods and forms of precarious citizenship is then further illuminated by the six articles that follow in this special issue.
Agency and Personhood in the Argentine Supreme Court
A common assumption in Western legal cultures is that judicial law-making is materialised in practices that resemble the operation of a professional bureaucracy, practices that are also central to the construction of knowledge in other systems, such as accounting, audit, science, and even ethnography (Dauber 1995; Strathern 2000; Riles 2000, 2004, 2006; Maurer 2002; Yngvesson and Coutin 2006). This argument situates the judiciary as a formalistic organization that builds its ambition of universality on the procurement and dissemination of knowledge on a rational basis. Drawing on ethnographic research in the Argentine Supreme Court, this paper seeks to unpack this assumption through a detailed look at how the figures of legal bureaucrats, in particular law clerks, become visible through the documentary practices they perform within the judicial apparatus. As these practices unfold, they render visible these subjects in different forms, though not always accessible to outsiders. Persons are displayed through a bureaucratic circuit of files that simultaneously furthers and denies human agency while reinforcing the division of labour within the institution. This dynamic, I argue, can be understood in light of Marilyn Strathern’s (1988) insights about the forms of objectification and personification that operate in two “ethnographically conceived” social domains (Pottage 2001:113): a Euro-American commodity-driven economy, and Melanesia’s economy based on gift-exchange.
Official permissiveness and prohibition in India
interest in this issue. However, after he was transferred—officer-level officials are routinely transferred to new postings in India’s bureaucracy—junior police personnel that were interviewed felt it unlikely that the new station head would adopt this
This article examines the voter registration card and the social context of voter registrations in the Gambia, West Africa. Drawing on recent ethnographies of documents and using data on worries over foreigners’ efforts to fraudulently obtain voter registration cards, a public information campaign on the Gambian electoral process, international legal material on the Gambian democracy, and observations at voter registration stations, the article argues that the voter registration card delineates not only a national subject but also a generic political subject. This subject is characterized by a commitment to a bureaucratic process and an appreciation of the card as an official identification document inseparable from the person it identifies. The article also considers how the voter registration process allows Gambians to compare their experiences to citizens of other countries. In a political context of an authoritarian government and a weak rule of law, this comparison offers an ideal of a modern democratic state that both enables criticism of the Gambia’s present situation and confirms the centrality of a generic political subject to the realization of that ideal.
Amanda J. Reinke
Informal justice refers to those legal practices that are traditionally outside the purview of formal law and legal systems. Since the advent of widespread social critique in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, informal justice models have become increasingly popular and implemented in communities and within the legal system itself. The existence of informal justice mechanisms alongside and within formal justice systems in the US raises a number of questions for applied anthropologists interested in legal anthropology. In this article, I leverage four years of ethnographic fieldwork in the US to argue for the capacity of applied anthropologists to effectively work in grey juridical spaces that are beside and between the law, activism, and emerging bureaucratic regimes.
Amanda J. Reinke
Documents are part of interactive sociocultural worlds in which ethnographers can analyse topics such as power relations, social struggle, violence and secrecy. While they emerge from bureaucratic administration, apparently mundane and stagnant documents represent dynamic processes of decision-making, knowledge production and exclusion. I consider ethnographic research on documents and their production as one that offers significant insights into bureaucratic violence and the tensions between formality and informality in alternative dispute resolution in Virginia and the San Francisco Bay Area. This article discusses working with documents that are simultaneously bound by law and exist extra-legally. While documents are used to gain economic support, strengthen relationships between non-profit and government bodies, and evidence ‘success’, the processes have difficulties. The data demonstrate that bureaucratisation has resulted in cumbersome processes and expensive requirements that mirror the exclusion and power asymmetries of formal law itself.
Affective States—Entanglements, Suspensions, Suspicions
Mateusz Laszczkowski and Madeleine Reeves
The aim of this special issue is to bring a critical discussion of affect into debate with the anthropology of the state as a way of working toward a more coherent, ethnographically grounded exploration of affect in political life. We consider how the state becomes a 'social subject' in daily life, attending both to the subjective experience of state power and to the affective intensities through which the state is reproduced in the everyday. We argue that the state should be understood not as a 'fiction' to be deconstructed, but as constituted and sustained relationally through the claims, avoidances, and appeals that are made toward it and the emotional registers that these invoke. This article situates these arguments theoretically and introduces the subsequent ethnographic essays.