Despite an abundant academic literature on african states, little empirical attention has been devoted to the « state machine ». Recent anthropological investigations of the state describe how the “idea” of the State spreads in the social fabric or explore the State’s margins or interstices. As for political science, it is rich in studies that underline the dysfunctions of African public services, but emphasis is mainly placed on the deviations from the official norms inspired by Western regulations, which are explained in terms of notions like clientelism, neopatrimonialism or cultural patterns.
Breaking with these approaches, this panel focuses on the daily functioning of state administrations. It will assemble empirical studies exploring the mundane pratices of state making from three main entry points, strongly interrelated: a) the ethnography of civil servants (bureaucratic or professional cultures and practical norms, operational routines in the offices, patterns of career and modes of appointment, etc.) ; b) the delivery of public services and goods (how do the bureaucrats themselves perceive and deliver the goods and services for which their departments have responsibility? What are their every-day relationships with service users ?) ; c) the reforms of public administrations (how the different bureaucratic corps react to the « good governance » international policies ? What are the consequences of these reforms on the daily working of state bureaucracies and on the civil servants’ identities and modes of accountability ? Is there room for micro-reforms from the bottom-up, building on local innovations or informal arrangements ?). Highlighting some new trends of research “into the core of the State”, the panel is open to interdisciplinary as well as comparative studies.