Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Erin McDonnell ─ Interstitial Bureaucracy: How Some State Agencies Succeed in the Context of Weak and Fractious Institutional Environments

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

Billions of foreign aid dollars aim to strengthen organizational capacity of states in developing countries, advocating organizational reforms based on what works in wealthy, Western, industrialized countries. Such reforms rarely succeed. Growing consensus acknowledges such reforms are ill-fit for the institutional context where they are received. Many such reforms presume a minimal standard of Weberian bureaucratic ethos in the organizational environment, which is conspicuously rare in many developing countries. Instead of hegemonicbureaucracy, an adapted form of Weberian-style bureaucracy exists in niches within the central state administrative apparatus. These high-performing niches possess organizational characteristics that are distinctive from poor-performing peer organizations, but also from high-functioning organizations in Western countries. The talk develops the concept of interstitial bureaucracy to help explain how and why such niches invert canonical features of bureaucracy, arguing the distinctive interstitial structural position creates novel organizational needs: clustering together scarce proto-bureaucratic resources to cultivate durable distinction from the status quo, while managing disruptions arising from interdependencies with the wider neopatrimonial field. These organizational responses are oriented to impersonal administration for the effective and timely satisfaction of organizational duties. Often taken for granted, routine satisfaction of organizational duties is an impressive accomplishment of socialization, disciplining state agents to mitigate personal interest and coordinate to achieve collective goals.

Erin McDonnell is a Kellogg Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. She is a theorist whose research engages organizational, political, cultural, and economic sociology. Her work focuses on how social organization affects economic outcomes, from consumer groups to administrative capacity in African states.

Development Seminar