Legal Bureaucracies: connection and disruption in and beyond the state
Maxim Bolt (University of Oxford)
George Karekwaivanane (University of Edinburgh)
Jessica Johnson (University of Birmingham)
50 George Square, G.06
Friday 14 June, 8:45-10:15

Short abstract:

The law and the state promise continuity while also precipitating rupture. The concept of legal bureaucracies invites us to consider how people live with and through being governed, and the complex encounters involved beyond the more spectacular and explicitly performative dimensions of officialdom.

Long abstract:

Across the African continent, the law and the state promise to ensure everyday continuity while also precipitating and justifying a range of ruptures. Crucial to both are administrative infrastructures and bureaucratic processes, which mediate legal arrangements and political forms as well as how they transform. These, in turn, need understanding in light of the limited reach of official authority: the ways people strive for regularity or navigate crisis, beyond or in spite of the presence of state institutions. Yet people are rarely simply 'inside' or 'outside'. What even counts as continuity may depend on a plethora of connections with, and disconnections from, state logics. This panel's organising concept of legal bureaucracies opens up fresh spaces for considering how people live with and through being governed. More than simply something to avoid, or even something engaged with in a narrowly functional manner, legal administrative process foregrounds complex encounters. These involve people attempting to get things done, the imaginative frameworks and the relationships within which they do so, and the resonances and disjunctures between official and popular conceptions. They therefore also underline expertise and the law itself - not simply power and hierarchy - in the work of practitioners and officials. At the same time, this focus invites us to revisit questions of order and disorder, public and private, continuity and rupture, connection and disruption. It means stepping away from and recasting the more spectacular and explicitly performative dimensions of the law, and attending to the interplay of state and non-state institutions.