The absurdity of bureaucracy

How implementation works

By Nina Holm Vohnsen

The absurdity of bureaucracy


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0134-1
  • Pages: 208
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £70.00
  • Published Date: May 2017
  • BIC Category: Civil service & public sector, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare, Welfare & Benefit Systems, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Social Policy, Social welfare & social services, Social & cultural anthropology, Society & social sciences / Social welfare & social services, Civil Service & Public Sector
  • Series: Political and Administrative Ethnography


The absurdity of bureaucracy offers a humorous ethnographic account of policy implementation set in contemporary Danish bureaucracy. Taking the reader deep into the hallways of governmental administration and municipal caseworkers' offices, the book sets out to explore what characterizes policy implementation as a mode of human agency. Using the notions of absurdity and sense-making as lenses through which to explore the dynamic relationship between a policy and its effects, the book reclaims 'implementation studies' for the qualitative sciences and emphasizes the existential dilemma that any policymaker and implementer must confront. Following step-by-step the planning and implementation of the randomized controlled trial, Active - Back Sooner, the book sets out to show that 'going wrong' is not a question of implementation failure but is in fact the only way in which implementation may happen.


Nina Holm Vohnsen is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University


Series editor's preface
Reading guide
Central people, documents, and organizations
Prologue: Labor days
Introduction: the absurdity of bureaucracy
1 Anticipations
Portrait 1: "making a difference"
Portrait 2: the perfect plan
Analysis: a container of discrete agendas
2 Mutations
Portrait 3: the trial mutates
Portrait 4: satisfying needs
Analysis: vectors of concern
3 Multiplications
Portrait 5: the purpose multiplies
Portrait 6: the productivity of controversy
Analysis: absurdity is a perspective that appreciates the sum-total
4 The quest for meaning
Portrait 7: "bending" the rules and agreements
Portrait 8: the end of meaning
Analysis: they rebel, they do not resist
5 How implementation works
Epilogue: bureaucracy-choose your own adventure
Appendix: data, position, method

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