Accepted Paper:

Innovative bureaucrats: analyzing the working practices of bureaucrats  


Morten Krogh Petersen (The Design School Kolding)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses concepts that can help us understand the complex working practices of bureaucrats. It draws upon empirical material generated in an ethnographic study concerning how five Danish governmental organizations calculate communication. The study is inspired by the research field STS.

Paper long abstract:

For governmental organizations it has become crucial to be able to calculate the effects of the communicative solutions employed. This is due mainly to two broad tendencies: New Public Management (NPM) and the so-called soft governance.

The PhD project I am working on investigates ethnographically how five, governmental organizations within the Danish Central Administration calculate communication. This is done with analytical inspiration from the research field STS. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to calculate communication. Communication is a slippery phenomenon and therefore there are no easy answers to questions about what and how to calculate. To calculate demands an innovative bureaucrat. At the same time the traditional bureaucratic hierarchy has not disappeared. How to be innovative and obey hierarchy at the same time?

In the paper proposed here I wish to discuss concepts that can grasp the often conflicting content of bureaucrats' working practices, in this case practices of calculating communication. These concepts include the co-existence of management models (Olsen 2006) in the working practices of the communications units of the governmental organizations, calculations of communication as boundary objects (Star & Bowker 1999), and the communications units of the governmental organizations as centres of calculation (Latour 1986). These three concepts all highlight the many, heterogeneous actants (colleges, citizens, documents, working environments, etc.) bureaucrats relate to in their working practices. Thereby, they prevent an analysis that creates too unambiguous understandings of bureaucrats and their work.

The paper will draw extensively on the empirical material generated in the fieldwork.

Panel W052
World(s) of bureaucrats