Thursday, 23 October 2008

On Bureaucracy

The police post was manned by about fifteen gendarmes, all armed to the teeth. One was polishing a submachine-gun. The commandant turned out to be a big Southerner of about six foot five. He summoned me into his office and inspected my documents minutely. What was my reason for being here? I displayed my research permit, a most impressive document, covered with photographs and stamps. He was clearly very unhappy a I tried to expound the essential nature of the anthropological endeavour. 'But what's it for?' he asked. Choosing between giving an impromptu version of the 'Introduction to Anthropology' lecture course and something less full, I replied somewhat lamely, 'It's my job'. Subsequently, I came to realize what a highly satisfactory explanation this was to an official who spent most of his life in pointlessly enforcing rules that seemed an end in themselves.
Nigel Barley: The Innocent Anthropologist

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