Bureaucratic Encounters. An International Workshop

Therese Garstenauer's picture
June 15, 2018 to June 16, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Contemporary History, Political History / Studies, Social History / Studies, Sociology

Bureaucracy is all around us and has a tendency to expand. Contrary to David Graeber’s opening remark in his “Utopia of rules” that allegedly nobody talks much about bureaucracy these days, there is in fact a vivid interest in the subject. In the late 19th century the state began to exercise increasingly more control and influence over its citizens, for example by imposing rules of registration and identification. Citizens, for their part, responded to the rise of bureaucracy by making use of what the state offered and prescribed for their own purposes. Interaction with the authorities was, and still remains, the most common point of contact between citizens and the state.

Encounters with authorities comprise the use of forms, credentials, documents, money (fees as well as bribes) and many more. Bureaucracy, however, is not confined to the state authorities, but is also alive and well in private business. Practices from public administration are being borrowed by private organizations, and vice versa (cf. New Public Management). Boundaries between the two realms are sometimes blurred. As the conference programme clearly demonstrates, bureaucracy is not a phenomenon existing only in the so-called Western world.

The focus of this workshop is on bureaucratic encounters on the individual and the organizational level, in the field of state administration, as well as in private business. Bureaucratic encounters are understood as the actual practices, not prescriptive or ideal-typical concepts of what such encounters should be like. The perspectives of “bureaucratic subjects,” as well as the perspectives of those who represent the respective bureaucracies, are taken into account. The idea of an almighty state that is supplemented by submissive citizens which is often taken for granted in research shall be called into question.

The contributions coming from historians, sociologists and social anthropologists span over a period from the early 19th century to the present. They address bureaucratic encounters taking place in (and sometimes also between) Austria, Australia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Poland, Romania, the Russian and the Habsburg Empires, and Switzerland, thereby allowing for comparative and interdisciplinary approaches.

Friday, June 15

9.00 – 9.15

Welcome Address:

Margareth Lanzinger, Deputy Head of the Department of Economic and Social History

Opening Remarks:

Therese Garstenauer

9.15 – 10.45

Panel 1: Bureaucratic Encounters: Access to Healthcare

Chair: Veronika Helfer

V. Kalyan Shankar (Pune):

Opening a Bureaucratic Can of Worms: Medical Insurance for Waste Pickers in an Indian City

Marius Wamsiedel (Suzhou):

Credibility contests at the emergency department

10.45 – 11.05 Coffee break

11.05 – 13.00

Panel 2: Agency of Bureaucratic Subjects

Chair: Therese Garstenauer

Alexandra Ridgway (Hong Kong/Vienna):

Stay Requests: The Dual Role Performances of Divorced Migrant Women During Bureaucratic Encounters in Hong Kong and Melbourne

Sigrid Wadauer (Vienna):

Vagueness and Errors in Bureaucratic Practices (Austria, 1920s and 30s)

Anna Tsalapatanis (Oxford):

Waiting, Queueing and Endless Delays: Temporality in Bureaucratic Encounters

13 – 14.15 Lunch break

14.15 – 15.45

Panel 3: Administrative Reform: Early 19th Century

Chair: Alexandra Ridgway

Michał Gałędek (Gdansk):

Collegial Decision-making as the Foundation of the Local Administration Reform in the Kingdom of Poland. The 1814 Debate of the Civil Reform Committee

Martin H. Herrnstadt (Tel Aviv):

Bureaucratic Encounters in Post-Revolutionary France: The Case of Joseph-Marie de Gérando

15.45 – 16.15: Coffee break 

16.15 – 17.45

Panel 4: Effects of War and Totalitarian Regimes

Chair: Sigrid Wadauer

Franziska Walter (Munich):

Here We Meet Again. An Emotional History Approach to (Re-)Encounters with Former Perpetrators in the Bavarian Police and Security Forces 1945 until 1955.

Thomas Rohringer (Vienna/Berlin):

Between Sense of Duty and Sacrifice. Petitions of German- and Czech-speaking War-disabled Persons (1914 – 1918)


Saturday, June 16

10 – 11.45

Panel 5: Modernization and Organizational Change

Chair: Thomas Stockinger

Egor Lykov (Vienna):

Bureaucracy as Intermediary Practice. Experience of Russian Private Rail Enterprises (1860–1914)

Julian Klinkhammer (Heidelberg):

Revisiting the New Spirit of Capitalism: Encounters with Neoliberal Globalization or Liberal Bureaucratization in Corporate Management Practices?

Peter Fleer (Bern):

The Swiss Federal Archives as Information Broker between State and Citizens – From Over-the-Counter Business to Online User Interface

11.45 – 12.00: Coffee break

 12.00 – 12.30 Final Discussion

Contact Info: 

Therese Garstenauer, Department of Economic and Social History, University of Vienna