This panel invites empirical studies of the interplay of formal and informal rules in African bureaucracies. It aims at challenging facile culturalist generalisations about the African state and offering a fresh look at the realities of bureaucratic practice in Africa.
State bureaucracies and public services are defined by official rules and formal procedures. Bureaucracies in Africa are no exception in this regard and African state officials often adhere to a high degree of formalism. In practice, however, informality is also rife and officials are adept at bricolage: circumventing or subverting the official rules. Official rules and regulations are often seen as impractical, outdated and out of touch with reality. In response, state officials develop informal and practical rules to manage their work and reconcile the discrepancy between lived realities and official regulations. The result is a complex patchwork of formal and informal rules in situations of normative pluralism where the application of official rules often depends on practical norms. This panel invites empirical studies of the interplay of formal and informal rules in African bureaucracies. How does it shape corruption and the abuse of power? Does informality undermine the operation of bureaucracies? What have been the effects of reform programmes? Are there situations when informality helps to get the job done? Are there domains where only official rules are applied? How does formalism spawn informality? What are the effects on public services and their users? What are the differences between urban, peri-urban and rural settings? The analysis of practices between formality and informality challenges facile culturalist generalisations about the African state and offers a fresh look at the realities of bureaucratic practice in Africa.