Based on a case-study of the governance of health facilities in Niger, the paper examines how emotions can be used as a method to explore meaning-making activities in bureaucratic settings where public servants’ behaviours follow practical norms that deviate from both official norms and social norms. As a supplement to other techniques associated with long-term field research, the use of obtrusive participant-observation is arguably a relevant and fruitful methodological tactic. The author argues that giving space to the ethnographer’s empathy while doing participant-observation enables a deeper understanding of bureaucratic behaviours by bringing emotions back into the analysis of empirical findings and deepening reflexivity. Whereas the paper examines some ethical issues associated with this method in contexts where the ethnographer is confronted with abuse of power in health bureaucracies, the author suggests that emotions as method can be a fruitful approach to bureaucratic ethnography at large.
- participant observation