Accepted paper:

'The SRF is dead in the water": an ethnographic analysis of bureaucratic techniques for the regeneration of urban reality in London


Gillian Evans (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the inevitable ‘coming together’ - in the study of modern bureaucratic practice - of anthropology and actor network theory. The shared preoccupation with ethnographies of the modern Western world begs the question of what is distinctive about the anthropological contribution.

Paper long abstract:

Inspired by Born's (2004) ethnography of the transformation of the BBC, which investigates the tension between a commitment to public service and neoliberal market-based reform, and drawing on Latour's (2010) recent ethnography of the making of law in France, which focuses on the material practices at the heart of bureaucratic procedure and action, this paper gives an ethnographic analysis of meetings held, in 2009/10 by the Communications Team of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. This is the organisation tasked with planning and delivering an Olympic legacy for London from the 2012 Games and responsible, in part, for the regeneration of post-industrial East London. Taking the bureaucratic meeting as the space par excellence for the management of the processes through which particular kinds of possibilities of action come together, or die away, the paper investigates 'the meeting' as a highly specific kind of stabilisation technique - a tool for the government of reality in an inherently unstable environment. The paper is timely, because post-2008, the repercussions of the financial crisis are still being felt, not least in debates about the relationship between economy and society (Carrier 2012; Graeber 2013; Hart 2008), which are reminiscent of discussions of earlier decades (Mauss 1925; Polanyi 1944; Weber 1922) and that remind us to be vigilant about what it is, in our modern liberal democracies, that we require of government vis-a-vis the regulation of international capital. The time is ripe, therefore, for ethnographic interrogation of the bureaucratic practices constituting statecraft in a post-financial crisis world.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge