Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for the Anthropology of Policy
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Policy
This panel responds to the impulse to form what Bear and Mathur (2015) call a new anthropology of bureaucracy focused on the “public good”. Bear and Mathur’s approach insists that we reclaim the concept of the public good from its economistic roots. They argue that by examining bureaucracy as public good, important and so far ignored aspects of bureaucracy come into view. This intervention acknowledges power analyses that carefully deconstruct the complex and coercive mechanisms of bureaucracy, but want to allow for a view of bureaucratic actors as ethical, affective, intentional, desiring, and contradictory figures aiming to work in the service of the public good. This session intends to entertain what this shift would look like in the context of various studies that sit squarely within the anthropology of policy. The examination of policy thus shifts focus taking seriously the desires, ethics, and affect of bureaucratic actors, watching carefully as these actors carry out work of interpreting and implementing policy in everyday contexts. Policy projects then become, in part, protracted assertions, negotiations, and performances that attempt to define who constitutes the public and what constitutes the good. What would happen if we focused on the will towards participation in the public good on the part of diverse participants in a range of policy projects? The aim of this panel is to shed light on policy/organizational contexts in the service of the public good. We examine how the implementation/translation/enactment of policy operates in different policy settings where policies are negotiated, made and contested on the ground. Among the questions we seek to address are: How does the concept of the public good operate in different organizational/policy contexts? What moral worlds do policy participants create? What can we see — and what is obscured — by putting the ethical and affective desires of diverse policy participants at the center of our inquiries into policy worlds?