Encountering Bureaucracy: Emotion and Affect in Interactions with the State

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Anna TSALAPATANIS, Australian National University, Australia
Historically the bureaucratic ideal has been described as one where emotion is absent, where bureaucracies function ‘‘sine ira et studio’ without hatred or passion, and hence without affection or enthusiasm’ (Weber and Roth [1925] 20, 225, vol 1.). This paper will illustrate how our current bureaucratic regimes suggest quite the opposite: that emotion and affect are central to bureaucratic encounters on both the part of the bureaucrat and the client.

Bureaucrats, far from being indifferent, function within an environment which is emotionally charged; they expect particular emotional responses, face situations that may be emotionally manipulative and use their own emotional reactions in the form of ‘gut instinct’ (Friedman 2010, 179), to arrive at bureaucratic decisions. Even what could be considered as relatively mundane forms of bureaucratic documentation, such as the passport or the identity card, can have the effect of regulating emotional expression.

From the perspective of the client, this paper will consider the affective and emotional intensity of waiting in bureaucratic encounters, by drawing on empirical evidence from in depth interviews carried out in Australia and Greece with multiple citizenship status holders. In doing so it will highlight the role that power and privilege may have in insulating individuals from these encounters, how the emotional intensities of these encounters through repetition build up over time, as well as highlighting the importance of non-determinist analyses in this contexrt, illustrating how emotion and affect are central to encounters with bureaucracy, not absent from them as has been previously theorised.