Friday, September 24, 2010
anthropological approach to public admin
Cloudless skies for the past few days – and so many books piling up for attention. Two UPS packages from Amazon in the past 2 days - and at least two more on the way. I’m still trying to finish Fred Pearce’s When the Rivers Run Dry and Philip Blond’s Red Tory and am well into Paradise Lost; Smyrna 1922 The Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance - one of 3 books I have recently bought about the horrific massacres and ethnic cleansings which affected Turks, Greeks and Armenians in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire. It was, however, Andrew Greig’s novel In Another Light which seduced me from the very moment I pulled it from the package.
Here is a writer (Scottish) who crafts his words and sentences with sheer poetry. His writing gives a sense of the fragility of life and therefore the momentousness of what we do. The narrative switches in time between the 1920s and the present and in place between Penang and the Orkneys as a son tries to trace aspects of his long dead father’s life. Despite the unusual slowness with which I read the book, I finished it in the day.
In between, I ploughed through a couple of the many academic articles I am presently able to download from the Sage journals (particularly American Review of Public Administration and International Journal of Administrative Sciences) to which free access is possible until mid-October. Ploughing is the word for the denseness of the prose. One (on the experience of strategic management in the public sector) by a writer I normally admire (John Brysen) turned out to have been poisoned by post-modernist pesticide. The other (by RAW Rhodes) had a promising topic and title - Everyday Live in a Minstry – Public Administration as anthropology but was also ultimately disappointing for both its ethnographical theorising and pawny results. It told us no more than we already knew from such TV series as The Thick of It and Yes Minister - namely how very shallow and cynical what passes for policy-making in government actually is.
On my various foreign assignments, I have always tried to get into the skin of my client – asking for their appointment diaries, for example, arranging to shadow them, inviting them to give me some examples of the cases they handled in a particular week. Such an approach is, sadly, not encouraged by the rigidity which the project management approach has inflicted on Technical Assistance. The best critique of this is Lucy Earle’s Lost in the Logframe paper – which you will find as paper 8 on my website
You may or may not have noticed that another of my beefs is the disregard and disrespect for the past which our worship of the contemporary carries. That’s why I always enjoy when a book’s birthday is marked. David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd made a mark on me in the 1960s (although it’s not in the list of significant books I compiled almost a year ago) – and is celebrated in the thoughtful Chronicle of Higher Education
Finally a useful piece in Der Spiegel about the costs of green power.