Accepted Paper:

Spatial assemblages and the enactment of politics in local authorities  

Author:

Bettina Grimmer (University of Siegen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the spatial assemblage of a German Job Centre. Architecture, interior design and staff practices create a hidden and non-negotiable infrastructure that relegates the clients to an inferior and passive position within the organizational order.

Paper long abstract:

Doing politics is part of the everyday business of local authorities. They decide who is entitled to what, and they categorize, proceed and sometimes even change their clients. This enactment of politics is not only negotiated in direct interaction, but also inscribed into the materiality of local authority offices. Using data from an ethnographic case study, this paper analyses the arrangement of both architecture and spatial practices in a German Job Centre. I argue that the assemblage of architecture, interior design and staff practices keeps the clients at distance. Clients are considered potentially dangerous subjects: they might be unhealthy and spread pollutants and bacteria; they might also endanger the organization by spying, stealing, destroying facilities or acting violently towards staff members. All of these potential dangers are inscribed into the spatial and practical assemblage of the office. Job Centre staff members permanently work on preventing such dangers. They collaborate with architecture and interior design to restrict the client's scope for action: clients are supposed to leave as soon as possible; they are excluded from particular areas such as personal offices and staff facilities; personal, accidental and bodily contact is reduced to a minimum; organizational knowledge is secured through several measures; there is nothing removable in public areas; and an invisible security system protects the staff members. Through these measures a hidden and non-negotiable infrastructure is created that relegates the clients to an inferior and passive position within the organizational order.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means