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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.

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Amanda J. Reinke


Alternative justice—conflict resolution outside formal law—seeks to alleviate pervasive social issues, such as the school-to-prison pipeline. Alternative justice practitioners increasingly seek to transform the legal system and the violence it perpetuates from within by implementing programs and processes in collaboration with formal law and legal actors. However, this collaborative approach requires practitioners to create bureaucratic processes and procedures such as memoranda of understanding, complex filing systems, and data tracking. Multisited ethnographic research in the United States (2014-2017) reveals that there is little consensus among these practitioners as to whether this bureaucratization will benefit or harm their work. The bureaucracy of processing case work, implementing standardized procedures, extending training requirements, and cost barriers are viewed positively insofar as they gain legitimacy for the field. Is bureaucratization necessary to achieve legitimacy, or does it restrict practitioners’ ability to fulfill client needs and the principles of their justice paradigm?

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Ethnographic Engagement with Bureaucratic Violence

Erin R. Eldridge and Amanda J. Reinke


Bureaucracies are dynamic and interactive sociocultural worlds that drive knowledge production, power inequalities and subsequent social struggle, and violence. The authors featured in this special section mobilize their ethnographic data to examine bureaucracies as animated spaces where violence, whether physical, structural, or symbolic, manifests in everyday bureaucratic practices and relationships. The articles span geographic contexts (e.g., United States, Canada, Chile, Eritrea) and topics (e.g., migration, extractive economies, law and sociolegal change, and settler colonialism) but are bound together in their investigation of the violence of the administration of decisions, care, and control through bureaucratic means.