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How does anthropology help us understand bureaucracy?

Daniel Rogger's picture

Editor's note: This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.

A session of parliament
Photo: © Gennadiy Ratushenko / World Bank

Bureaucratic structures are complex. A given country’s norms and values can be difficult to comprehend for outsiders trying to engage in governance reform there. How can anthropologists help us understand the dynamics of a bureaucracy or government organization?
In rural Tanzania, more than seven million citizens lack reliable access to clean water. At any given time, 46 percent of rural water points need repair. An all too easy way to rationalize government shortcomings would be to label officials as lazy or corrupt. However, this statement oversimplifies the issue at hand and fails to dive deeper into the underlying bureaucratic structures that hinder successful service delivery.