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Rhizomes of digitalisation: bureaucratic sentiments and redistributed accountability 
Timm P. Sureau
Thomas Götzelmann (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)
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Larissa Vetters (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Morality and Legality
Thursday 1 April, -
Time zone: Europe/London

Short Abstract:

Commercial software, globally shared programming practices and libraries are shaping the digitalisation of bureaucracies. How do such elusive international networks affect decision making, the focus of responsibility and the redistribution of accountability?

Long Abstract:

The materiality of documents, Hull (2012), plays a substantial role in bureaucratic processes, as translations and reductions between reality and document shape scopes of action and perpetuate hierarchies and norms. Along with administrative procedures, aesthetics, morality, legal understanding and established categories, this produces bureaucratic sentiments (Bens/Zenker 2019), whose affective-emotional power influences decision-making processes and redistributes accountability. Such sentiments within administrations do not represent layers beyond law, but a dimension within law and bureaucracy. Thus, the ascription of responsibility is a comparatively simple act compared to giving an actual account which needs to reflect this very complexity.

The digital transformation adds complexity since the 1980s and continues transforming the legal infrastructure of society. Tacit knowledge (Polanyi 1966), and established processes are being re-thought and re-ordered. Global networks of standards, shared program libraries, design languages, efficiency and process logics and corporate products for government and commercial administrations are altering and creating new procedures and aesthetics of legal decision-making. Responsibilities turn towards functioning computer programs, repositioning legal standards. We therefore wonder how these emerging (inter-)national networks, rhizomatic in the Deleuzian sense (1987) - relevant, often unconscious, elusive - affect distributed accountability in administrations and how bureaucrats and society deal with these new added layers of connectivity.

We seek abstracts that shed light, ethnographically and critically, on these digital-rhizomatic changes of hierarchies and digital workflows, the blurring of public and private boundaries, and the resulting reconfigurations of accountability within the state and between states and (non-)citizens.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Thursday 1 April, 2021, -