Histories of Bureaucratic Knowledge



14:00 – 17:00 Uhr

Histories of Bureaucratic Knowledge


Lektüre-Workshop mit Christine von Oertzen und Ethel Matala de Mazza

Bureaucracies have emerged in every corner of the world, seemingly spontaneously, wherever large territories, resources, and populations were to be governed. Bureaucracies have given, and still give, paradoxical answers to the problem of governing on scale: they use abstraction to rule specific people and places; they assign authority to individuals who depend on the work of many hands and minds; they make themselves accountable to stakeholders only to be able to act more independently. Since the early modern period, bureaucratic tools of knowledge production and control seem to have moved effortlessly between fields established as distinct spheres: from the state to businesses to science, and vice versa; and presently, these transmissions are facilitated by “meta-bureaucracies” such as the ISO or the UN. Bureaucracies in the 21st century (unlike the people who staff them or whom they govern) have learned to speak a common language, visible in the relentless repetition of architectural form, shared accounting and assessment protocols, or the unencumbered flow of cargo across borders of all sorts. Bureaucracy, an ancient mode of governing on large scales seems to be up to the challenges of a globalizing world.

But how have bureaucracies learned to know the world that they aspire to govern? And, conversely, how does their knowledge production shape their inner structure? These questions have been raised not only in the history of science and technology, but also in colonial and postcolonial studies, business and administration history, as well as in media and organization studies. Practices of collecting and transforming data have become popular objects of study in these disciplines, yielding a rich literature on how knowledge was produced and applied in state administrations, businesses, academic and religious institutions, as well as other public and private organizations.

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