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August 13, 2008


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Great post. I couldn't help thinking about Murphy's law, though: "only a bureaucracy can fight another bureaucracy". This exclusive relation of one-to-one logic should be embodied by academics more often in their dealings with bureaucrats. I always fantasize being a bilingual incognito mediator: move concretely through the bureaucrat's language of regulations, but not at the expense of my own creative vocabulary. - Camelia


Sounds like Dinesh Wadiwel's diss! We had one of the same supervisors.


Camelia--thanks so much. Your bim (bilingual incognito mediator) made me think of the character of Radar from the film and tv show, MASH. He had the ability to flow through bureaucratic channels, a master of rules, procedures, and work arounds. He really was like a fantasy figure for the ideal bureaucrat and smoothest possible bureaucracy. What I can't figure out if it that kind of fantasy is the worst sort of totalitarianism (my god, the system works!) or the opposite (totalitarianism doesn't and can't work; it's too total).

Glen--if you have any contact with DW, please tell him how wonderful the diss is. If he confirms that it's his, I'll put his name in the body of the post to make sure he gets credit for his excellent work.

ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen

"only a bureaucracy can fight another bureaucracy" - that sounds like a summary of what lenin wrote on the organization of revolutionaries in "what is to be done?"


I've never understood whether and how much yelling is part of the contemporary work place. Is it best practice for managers to yell at employees? Is this a blue collar, white collar, service sector, industry specific practice?

I've spent a truly miserable year year suffering the (often quite 'imaginative') hostility of management in a 'caring', white-collar profession, where problems like this are apparently rife. (By 'problems like this', I mean management actions designed to humiliate, undermine, intimidate etc.) I asked to have my complaints recorded, but I fear that this isn't common - for instance, I saw fearful colleagues unwilling to endanger their jobs and reputations by speaking up - so I think it would be difficult to get a sense of how widespread this problem is. In a context where job availability and security are declining, problems are also likely to become less and less visible.

Whilst I also agree that this is probably a symptom of a wider systemic violence, there are those who seem to get off on the opportunities this presents, and it's important, if you're the target, to be able to fight them as individuals. In Britain, as far as I understand it, harassment legislation is often the only protection against misuses of power in work places, so, on an individual level, I think it makes practical sense to use these terms, Zizek's critique of harassed narcissistic victims notwithstanding.


>A bureaucrat, manager, or >administrator of some sort can >ease, encourage, and facilitate >flows of work and information by >relying on a variety of >lubricants: saying "thank you," >using praise, communicating >clearly and concisely, >respecting creativity and >independence, listening. A >potential problem with this is >that the organization could >begin to run so seamlessly and >well that she wouldn't feel >powerful and important. She >could have just managed herself >out of a job! Without people >panicking and submissive, can >authority really be >authoritative?

I saw Thomas Frank on Democracy Now the other night, and according to his new book, from what I can gather, Karl Rove and crew believe it's just the opposite. His line is that the neocons have purposefully tried to make government as inefficient as possible, by hiring Michael Brown-type nitwits, in order that the public not get too attached to their civil servants and become, as a result, all the more amenable to privatization. You should tell them they have the wrong strategy!

It puts me in mind of this paper (pdf!).


Strangely, the link didn't come through. The paper's here:


Marc Lombardo

Interesting post Jodi. I was actually just thinking about bureaucracy today as well. It occurred to me that what really makes bureaucracy inefficient is NOT any inherent difficulty to perform the actual functions that it is charged with (which vary according to the sector of the economy with which it is engaged). Rather, it seems to me that what makes bureaucracy inefficient is the task of having to decide who it is that has the right to benefit from its service. Take welfare for example: no sane person wants to be on welfare, not because they don't want or even need the benefits in many cases, but simply because they rightfully recognize that the task of convincing the bureaucracy that they qualify for such benefits will require a Herculean effort. An army of case workers are employed for the sole purpose of surveiling applicants, when they could actually be put to work giving people the services for which they're applying. Bureaucracy is actually very good at cutting people checks, once it has decided that that's what it wants to do. However, it's very bad at deciding to whom or for what it should cut those checks. Perhaps there's something like a Coase Theorem of bureaucracy that follows from this: bureaucratic efficiency is maximized if and only if services are granted automatically and only denied as an exception. In other words, the burden of proof for bureaucratic service should be shifted from the applicant having to prove that he or she qualifies to the bureaucracy having to prove that he or she does not. Following this law might not be plausible in all cases (and like all laws, it never exists in reality) but we can recognize analytically that the degree to which a given bureaucracy deviates from such a law is the degree to which it is inefficient with respect to providing the greatest possible number of services to the greatest possible number of cases.

Dominic Fox

This reminds me of the contention, voiced in one of Stephen Baxter's novels, that the purpose of NASA is to obstruct human access to space. The purpose of much welfare bureaucracy is to obstruct people's access to welfare, not because the powers that be are opposed to welfare per se (although they are), but because the function of preventing ineligible persons from accessing it has metastasised and taken over the welfare-distributing agency. It's the same story in immigration: agencies intended to *regulate* migration end up being dedicated to keeping as many people out/sending as many people back as possible. And this is a failure of regulation as such, a jammed or unhinged governor.

parody center

interesting to find out that you're not only into water sports but fisting as well; I like kinky girls like that.

Dennis J Figueroa

"The purpose of much welfare bureaucracy is to obstruct people's access to welfare, not because the powers that be are opposed to welfare per se (although they are), but because the function of preventing ineligible persons from accessing it has metastasised and taken over the welfare-distributing agency."

Suggesting that a non-bureaucratic solution, like the national guranteed income.

Michael O'Rourke

It sounds like Dinesh Wadiwel's work. That chapter on fisting is forthcoming in The Ashgate Companion to Queer Theory edited by Noreen Giffney and myself. Dinesh also has several articles published on lubricative ethics, fricative power and biopolitics. His book on sovereignty and power bringing all this together shouldn't be too long appearing.

Michael O'Rourke


Thanks, Michael. I'll be sure to look for The Ashgate Companion to Queer Theory. Is Dinesh based in Australia? I ask because someone asked me about folks to invite for a small conference on biopolitics.

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