Bureaucratisation of utopia (JOURNAL SPECIAL ISSUE)

Cowan, Jane K and Billaud, Julie, eds. (2020) Bureaucratisation of utopia (JOURNAL SPECIAL ISSUE). Social Anthropology, 28 (1). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0000000000

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Abstract

1. Three decades before the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the international community – in its newly institutionalised guise as a League of Nations – was charged by its covenant to guarantee the rights and protections of a more limited number of people: those considered to be ‘persons belonging to minorities of race, religion or language’ in certain primarily east European states. The everyday work of ‘supervising’ the minorities treaties was carried out by newly recruited members of an entirely unprecedented genre of administration: an international civil service whose role was to support the League of Nations in all its various activities. This paper draws on unpublished interviews from 1965 and 1966, archival documents and first‐person retrospective accounts in which international civil servants describe and reflect on their work on minorities treaty supervision in the new international institution widely seen as an ‘experiment’. Focusing on the accounts of one important figure, the Spaniard Pablo de Azcárate (who served in the Administrative Commissions and Minorities Questions Section of the League of Nations Secretariat from 1922 to 1933), it explores the ethos, aspirations, frustrations and working practices of international civil servants in an institution still in formation and not yet fully bureaucratised.

2. 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: Edited Book
Additional Information: Composite Special Issue record created for REF2021: Cowan, Jane K (2020) ‘The feeling of pursuing an ideal’: a League of Nations civil servant reflects on his work. Social Anthropology, 28 (1). pp. 17-34. ISSN 0964-0282 AND 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
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Jennifer Whitehead
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2021 15:21
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2021 14:19
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/95837

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