23 Mar 2012 - 24 Mar 2012 All day CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT



Dr Nayanika Mathur (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr Laura Bear (Anthropology, LSE)


Conference summary

The study of bureaucracy has long suffered from relative academic neglect due to its dismissal as a disenchanted Weberian iron cage. Recent anthropological work has brought attention to the increasing bureaucratisation of the world (e.g. Graeber 2006) and our collective submergence into ‘audit cultures’ (Strathern 2000), while ethnographies have shown the affective, intimate faces of specific bureaucracies (Navaro-Yashin 2007, Stoler 2009, Bear 2007). In making bureaucratic formations and their reconfigurations on the premise of 'new public goods' a subject of academic investigation, this conference will draw attention to a largely neglected but central feature of modernity. Bringing together leading social scientists working on and around the theme of bureaucracy, straddling regions and organisational forms, it is envisaged that this conference will be the first of its kind to draw attention to the unanalysed global trend of what we term ‘flexible bureaucracies.’
Specifically, this conference asks what exactly is new about newly declared public goods such as transparency, accountability, devolution of power, efficiency, the offering-up of ‘choice’, the introduction of new technologies or the raising of measurable happiness? How do they manifest themselves through transformations in mundane administrative technologies? What sorts of affectivities are engendered by them? What, indeed, are the unintended consequences of the profoundly political and moral alterations in the practice of rule that are being introduced in the name of new public goods? For instance, what is the impact of the utilisation of biometric ids by the Indian state in its disbursement of welfare provisions to the urban poor? Does this sophisticated technological fix render the state transparent, does it allow for faultless identification of wholly individualised subjects? What forms of changes are wrought – pragmatically and affectively – by the replacement of ‘traditional’ modes of bureaucratic identification of the poor (such as documents) with new high-tech identificatory techniques?
This conference shall creatively bring together academics working on a diversity of bureaucratic structures ranging from large public sector undertakings (PSUs) and development bureaucracies in South Asia, higher educational and local government reforms in the UK, health organisations in Australia and hospitals in the Netherlands, large multinational corporations such as Microsoft or oil companies, worker co-operatives in Argentina, human rights organisations in southern Africa, to customs offices in Ghana. Theoretical interventions on the penetration of neo-liberal political rationalities and technologies of governance as well as the gendering and insidious violence of bureaucratic organisations will be brought into conversation with ethnographic accounts of the quotidian practices of bureaucracies. The conference aims to be inter-disciplinary. It will draw in anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, cultural theorists, historians, and gender specialists. It will be transnational in its orientation not only by including researchers who work in different parts of the world but also in its very foundational act of identifying a common theme that crosscuts diverse regions: the alterations being effected in variegated bureaucratic formations via new and contested definitions of the public good.







Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Division of Social Anthropology (William Wyse Fund), University of Cambridge, and LSE. 



Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates


We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.


Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk