Parasites, Invention, and Grace: Taking Turns in a Streetcorner Bureaucracy

This talk analyzes the styles of work and conflict amongst electrical contractors who congregate across the street from a power utility office in urban Tanzania. Tempering depictions of African cities as rhizomatic and crisis-ridden, it argues that their long-running streetcorner bureau has endured by striking a modest balance with its institutional host. This balance can be understood as an act of cultural invention, whereby existing conventions (here entrepreneurial hustle and bureaucratic order) are brought into new metaphoric resonance. When performed poorly, such inventive turns become mere parodies of the conventions they aim to transfigure. Performed well, they figure a certain kind of grace.

Departmental Seminar Series Trinity 2023

3.15pm, Fridays of Weeks 1-3 and 5-6. 

Teams link and in person in 64 Banbury Road.

Convened by Akanksha Awal.