Immersion in the bureaucratic field

Methodological pathways

Eric Komlavi Hahonou, Tomas Max Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The introduction argues that while the legitimacy of bureaucracy as an object of inquiry is well established, little is generally said on the methodologies mobilized by ethnographers to study the bureaucratic field. The special issue is a contribution to fill this gap. The authors characterize bureaucracy as a mode of control by way of four dimensions—service, rule, violence, and secrecy—and propose three methodological pathways through which ethnographers may immerse in the bureaucratic field. The first pathway, “stages,” is concerned with the methodological reflections on accessing the bureaucratic stage and of being led in by bureaucrats as they perform their stage work. The second focuses on “techniques” and considers the implications of immersing oneself in a distinct technical landscape. The third pathway concerns the ethnographer’s positionality, drawing attention to the deep reflexivity and unstable ethics of bureaucracy ethnography. The authors invite bureaucracy ethnographers to pursue these pathways and to engage in a critical reflection on their fieldwork practices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)122-138
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • bureaucracy
  • ethnography
  • method
  • immersion
  • reflexivity
  • ethics
  • state

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