Accepted paper:

Meeting as infrastructure in Western Kenya


Hannah Brown (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws upon fieldwork with Kenyan government health managers to explore the ways in which meetings enacted an organisational infrastructure shaped by intersections between the promotion of individual interests and an attachment to certain kinds of organisation form.

Paper long abstract:

Mid-level government health bureaucrats in Kenya with whom I carried out extended ethnographic fieldwork in 2011 spent the majority of their time in meetings of different kinds. In Kenya, meetings are associated with financial allowances and the prestige of formal employment. As occasions when it was possible to perform individual status, meetings were used by these health managers as opportunities to promote personal interests and concerns, whilst gaining access to valued material resources. At the same time, meetings were sites for the enactment of organisational identity and became expressions of managerial commitment to certain kinds of organisational form. The outcomes of meetings were sometimes important to participants, but the successful ordering of meetings as events which took place in relation to individual goals and organisational visions was often more important.

Taking inspiration from Simone's (2004) concept of 'people as infrastructure', and his insights into the ways that people's interdependent activities can form infrastructures of opportunity in contexts of limited resources, this paper develops an analysis of meetings as practices of organisational infrastructure. The paper focuses on three common forms of meetings that these health managers engaged in; team meetings, project meetings, and stakeholder meetings. The paper describes the ways in which these different kinds of meetings were marked by processes of interdependency and opposition, attachment to particular kinds of organisational form, and the deployment of specialist skills that these civil servants had developed in order to negotiate the precarious and temporary possibilities that become available through their work.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge