The bureaucratisation of utopia: ethics, affects and subjectivities in international governance processes

Billaud, Julie and Cowan, Jane K (2020) The bureaucratisation of utopia: ethics, affects and subjectivities in international governance processes. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 28 (1). pp. 6-16. ISSN 0964-0282

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Bureaucracies, whether national or international, have rarely been conceived as ‘utopian’ sites. On the contrary, classic representations tend to describe bureaucratic formations as ‘rationality machines’, administrations as homogeneous black boxes and bureaucrats as individuals working ‘without hatred or passion’ to implement a broader vision of which they remain largely ignorant. The idea for this special issue emerged out of a feeling of unease with such renderings which, although providing important elements of understanding about the nature of bureaucratic power and its effects, do not fully reflect the insights we gained through ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in international bureaucracies. This collection continues a conversation initiated by Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur who urge us to examine bureaucracies ‘as an expression of a contract between citizens and officials that aim to generate a utopian order’ (2015: 18). We argue that a focus on actors working in international organisations allows the exploration of distinctive bureaucratic subjectivities forged in these settings. By exploring the affective life of international bureaucracies, we seek to understand how actors maintain a sense of agency in spite of the tedious and burdensome nature of the administrative procedures in which they take part.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: bureaucracy, international organisations, affect, ethics, subjectivities, utopia
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Rights and Justice Research Centre
Depositing User: Jane Cowan
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 08:20
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2022 02:00

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Making Minorities as International Practice: Petitions and Claims for MacedoniaUnsetBritish Academy LeverhulmeUnset
International Human Rights Monitoring at the Reformed Human Rights Council: An Ethnographic and Historical StudyUnsetBritish Academy Research Development AwardBR100028