Accepted Paper:

State formation and uncertainty: evocations of law in every-day bureaucratic encounters in post-socialist Serbia   


Marina Simic (University of Belgrade)

Paper short abstract:

This paper deals with uncertainty in dealing with every day bureaucratic producers in post-socialist Serbia that creates the feeling of prolonged living in-between an older state regime and a newer one. This means that currently there is either chaos ('no law') or not enough of the state, or both.

Paper long abstract:

For many people in Serbia the state together with the system (and its benefits) quite literally disappeared in the 1990s and the new state ceased to perform adequately on different levels. Drawing from my long term fieldwork research in the Serbian town of Novi Sad, I show how my informants' evocations of the law were more about regulating everyday acts, attempts to ensure a standardisation of behaviour and experience in public services. These practices include dealing with every day state bureaucratic procedures including the use of state run public transport, dealing with house bills and access to medical care that can be difficult and burdensome. However, a low level of trust in the state makes people think that even if the rules were followed, there is no guarantee that people would be treated fairly of justly and generate constant state of uncertainty. In everyday terms, this lack of trust mostly refers to the idea that the state is either unable or unwilling to efficiently run its bureaucratic procedures and organization. This kind of idea is very familiar to state formation theorists: the idea of an inadequate state has been severely criticized as taking the 'western' model of the state as the norm and comparing all other examples with that. However, that is different from the ethnographic point I am making: people in Serbia felt they were living somewhere between an older state regime and a newer one, which meant that at that moment, there was either chaos or not enough of the state, or both.

Panel W077
Legal pluralism and the uncertainties of responsibility (EN)