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Accepted paper:

"I do not like the administration". Criticism and compliance by young state employees in Niger's asylum office


Laura Lambert (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates how the critique of bureaucracy voiced by young state employees in Niger shapes the everyday work in the asylum office and how both informal and direct criticism are nevertheless linked to forms of compliance with the unwritten rules of the administration.

Paper long abstract:

Many young state employees in Niger I encountered vividly criticized the bureaucracy for being inaccessible, corrupt, inefficient, hierarchic, unfair and controlled by the old generation, resembling the criticism of service user's, such as asylum-seekers and refugees.

I will trace how the negative identification with their workplace contributes to shaping the daily work in the administration, situating the staff in a dilemma of frustration and compliance. They have to comply, since paid labor is rare in the Sahel state. However, they voice frustration and contempt of the place that structures and secures their everyday life.

I encountered two forms of opposition, which were always tied to compliance. Some staff informally criticize in semi-private conversations as they have learned that their prior reform proposals were not welcomed. They passively wait for a societal change: "Just some old people will have to die and young ones take their positions" as one tried to convince me. Others criticize their superiors upfront, but have to rely on other forms of solidarity with them (political or social links, denouncing the ethnographer) in order to avoid falling from grace.

Nevertheless, these strategies combining criticism and compliance are based on the same mechanisms present in the administration that these staff criticize - clientelism, hierarchies and unfair behavior ("coups bas") . Therefore, it is questionable if the young generation's access to power will actually lead to the administrative change they vividly support.

The material is based on 13 months of ethnography in and around the Ministry of Interior's asylum office.

panel P079
Politicized bureaucrats in and beyond Europe: conflicting loyalties, professionalism and the law in the making of public services [LAWNET]