Living with ambivalence: bureaucracy, antistatism and 'progressive' politics

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10.3898/NEWF:100-101.10.2020

This paper addresses a paradox. Bureaucracy, I argue, can be viewed as an ideological construct mobilised in both in the anti-statist rhetoric of neoliberalism, and in discourses of the ‘progressive’ left. But it is also integral to a range of contemporary calls for the regulation of corporate power, public action and personal conduct. Does left/progressive politics, then, mean rescuing bureaucracy in a reimagined polity capable of protecting citizens from harm and restoring notions of the state as a guarantor of public rights and justice? Or are left-inclined movements right to critique bureaucratic institutions and search for alternative organisational forms more capable of engaging or even ‘empowering’ citizens? The paper traces the slips and slides between negative representations of bureaucracy, regulation and the state itself, and asks how far emerging work can offer counter-narratives that serve to reimagine or reclaim them for ‘progressive’ purposes. 

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100 - 101: Bureaucracy