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Accepted Contribution:

Bureaucracies despite rules  

Contributor:

Olly Owen (Oxford University)

Contribution short abstract:

Field work in Nigeria over ten years of working with bureaucracies indicates a consistently inconsistent relationship with rules. On one hand, practice is centred on proceduralism, but on the other, when efficacy in outcomes is demanded, procedure is often rapidly laid aside. Why and to what effect?

Contribution long abstract:

Field work in Nigeria over ten years of working with bureaucracies ranging from the national police, to tax bodies, to local rural government, indicates a consistently inconsistent relationship with rules. On one hand, practice is centred on proceduralism, but on the other, when efficacy in outcomes is demanded, procedure is often rapidly laid aside with an alacrity which is notable. This paper explores why this paradox exists and to what effect. Chief among these are an eternal reproduction of incompleteness and flaw which reproduces uncertainty and undo-ability, as well as the possibility of reversal of the normative bureaucratic of paperwork into post-facto 'regularisation' of social action. This creates a kind of archaeology of documentary knowledge which looks very different to the actual logic of the social action of government, pushing us to think of rules and breaking them as embedded in aesthetic practice and meaning-making as much as governmental logic.

Panel Res09a
Good ends and dubious means: rule breaking and justification