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Accepted paper:

How do Bureaucracies Actually Work? Ethnographic Explorations of Everyday Makings of the State, Law, Subjectivity in Contemporary Turkey


Erol Saglam (Istanbul Medeniyet Univeresity)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on an ethnographic research, this project explores seemingly mundane practices and discourses across bureaucratic spaces to understand how bureaucrats cope with authoritarian interventions, disruptions and changes in the legal frameworks to forge spaces of autonomy and resistance.

Paper long abstract:

Bureaucracies are widely seen as lethargic and suffocating institutions plagued by red tape. Bureaucrats, in turn, are often assumed to have no space for individuality or autonomy in the face of overbearing bureaucratic ethos, hierarchy, and norms.

Given the recent reconfigurations of politics and society, much has been said about the decline of institutional autonomy of bureaucracy in Turkey. However, these analyses mostly focused on discourses-policies of Erdogan/AKP, widely neglecting how bureaucrats in these institutions negotiate, re-define, and re-work the law and state-society relations. Questioning the assumption that bureaucracies are simply lethargic and hollowed-out organisations and means of oppression/extraction, this research focuses on how bureaucrats cope with the recent entanglements and forge their subjectivity and agency within this socio-political setting.

Drawing an ethnographic research I conducted in two ministerial administration offices in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018-2019, this project provides an analysis of the everyday and intimate workings of bureaucracy in contemporary Turkey. The research explores seemingly mundane practices and discourses across institutions to understand how bureaucrats cope with authoritarian interventions, legal disruptions, and the increasing interactions with the citizenry. It focuses on how bureaucrats weave networks of solidarity against authoritarian pressure and use their expertise to forge spaces of autonomy vis-à-vis nepotistic superiors as well as how the growing number of inputs from the citizenry (e.g., complaints) are instrumentalised to protect institutional autonomy. The research demonstrate how the law is "made real" (Latour 2002), how bureaucrats forge their subjectivities, and how the state operates in the everyday.

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