Panel 127: State Bureaucracies, Public Reforms and Service Delivery

Panel organisers: Thomas Bierschenk (Johannes Gutenberg Univ., Germany), Giorgio Blundo (L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales, France) and Jean- Pierre Olivier de Sardan (Laboratoire d'Etudes et de Recherche sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le Développement Local, Niger)


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.

Accepted Abstracts


Producing Public Services in between State and Society: The Education Sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Every-day Public Service Delivery, the Issue of User Access at Local Level in Benin

Teachers’ Trade Unions and the Protest of New Study Programmes in Benin. The Logics of Action and the Public Services Reforms

A Castle in Guéckédou - State Institutions and Youth in a Guinean Forest Town

‘The Child is not Being Cooperative, Your Honour’. The Political Economy of Kenya’s Child Protection Service


The Reproduction of State Agricultural Bureaucratic Culture in Benin

A Hydrocracy under Reform.The Department of Water Affairs and Reform of Water Management in South Africa

« We make do and keep going! » The Non-State Resources of the Functioning of Niamey and Zinder (Niger) Regional Courts.

Embracing Human Rights in Ugandan Prisons

Peering into the Multiple States of Khartoum, Sudan: The Experiences and Perceptions of Job-seekers.