Accepted paper:

Meetings, meetings: paradox and contradiction in contemporary political life


Simone Abram (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Political bureaucracy is ordered through state and civic meetings. This paper considers dominant ritual models and their specific elaboration, through a focus on the relation between meeting-as-event and ongoing developments through original ethnography.

Paper long abstract:

Meetings are the apotheosis of contemporary bureaucratic life, containing paradoxes and contradictions that are at the heart of modernity. In particular, political meetings (both state and civic) are ritual performances in which explicit rules are enacted through tacit knowledge, where ritual correctness is met with manipulative political game-playing, and formal transparency is intertwined with relational and informational secrecy.

This paper brings together the linguistic philosophy of the Speech Act and performative ontologies, with reflections on anthropological concepts of ritual. It explores how Brunsson's tripartite division between speech, decision and action is reproduced through complaints about meetings (e.g. as decoy activity), while meetings are deployed to achieve sometimes subversive outcomes. Situating meetings in a political and social timeline, it is possible to highlight the integration of relations among actors present and not present at particular meetings, and the simultaneous separation of meetings from ongoing political processes. Through a focus on learning about meetings, the paper shows how meetings order political and bureaucratic life, and vice versa, and explores the materiality and embodiment of meeting practices .

Considering political meetings (state and civic) from anthropological accounts (such as Richards and Kuper 1971) and original ethnographic records from England and Norway, the paper will explore how dominant a global model of bureaucratic meeting forms is elaborated locally.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge