Accepted Paper:

Can there be a standard translation of standards? An analysis of social welfare provision in rural Romania  

Author:

Ioan Mihai Popa (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The standardisation of persons is a prerequisite for the operation of the modern state. In this paper I use ethnographic material from fieldwork in a Romanian village to depict the operation of social welfare standards in the everyday practice of local state officials. I argue that welfare provision standards are not adopted but translated by local officials in the course of everyday administrative practice.

Paper long abstract:

The standardisation of persons is a prerequisite for the operation of any modern state governance technology, from border control regimes to systems of tax collection and welfare provision. In the field of social welfare, eligibility criteria are standards that frame what the state sees as being the "poor" or "needy" persons.

In this paper I use ethnographic material from long-term fieldwork in a Romanian village to depict the operation of social welfare standards in the everyday practice of local state officials. I argue that welfare provision standards are not adopted but translated by local officials in the course of everyday administrative practice.

In the examples discussed, local officials operate in two ways: they adapt legal eligibility criteria (revenues, land surfaces, material possessions) to local social conditions (biographies, status hierarchies) and they code local social reality into official documents. In a translation model of policy implementation, local officials are located at the interface between two modes of seeing and ordering the social landscape: one peculiar to the central state and one peculiar to the local community.

On an everyday basis local officials make compatible local standards of deservingness and need with legal standards of eligibility. Their practices are conditioned by the double accountability they have to villagers and to higher levels of state administration.

In the analysis presented the operation of standards is necessarily unstable. The translation of standards is an everyday feature of local administrative practice and marks an ongoing rather than settled struggle between different layers of the state concerning the accepted view of those governed.

Panel IW002
Standards and the quest for technocratic certainty