chapter  3
Neoliberal bureaucracy as an expression of hybrid rule
Pages 20

The title of this chapter may appear paradoxical or even oxymoronic: a whole swathe of neoliberal rhetoric is based on the critique of state bureaucracy and of direct administrative intervention in the economy: ‘cut the red tape’ is undoubtedly its most important slogan; indeed, one of the key arguments of neoliberalism hangs on the necessity of transforming state interventions. But ‘state administration’ must not be confused with ‘bureaucracy’: this latter term also characterises enterprise, the private sector, the market economy, and the organisations of so-called civil society… . In fact, to anyone who lives, produces or consumes, anyone who seeks relaxation, education, or health care these days, one thing is clear: bureaucratic practices, structures and procedures are becoming ever more ubiquitous. How else, after all, are we to describe the ever-increasing demand for paperwork (ever more omnipresent as it becomes immaterial), whether one is travelling, signing up to some institution, or benefiting from insurance (including private insurance)? Or the incessant confrontation with formal procedures, whether one needs to access credit, electricity, or a computer network, to rent a flat, to grade banks or businesses, or to go to law? Or the need to respect norms and rules, so that the accounts of a particular business can be certified, a vegetable classified as ‘organic’, or an article accepted for publication? The examples are numberless. In the following pages, I show how this specific form of bureaucracy is one

important aspect of the hybrid rule this book studies. It may prove useful to return to Weber, and to combine his analysis of the relation between bureaucracy and capitalism with Michel Foucault’s investigations into the arts of governing, and Claude Lefort’s discussion of bureaucracy as a concrete milieu, a social formation, and a system of behaviours: contemporary bureaucratisation should not be understood as an institution or administration-in other words, as a hierarchised apparatus proper to the state-but as a set of norms, rules, procedures and formalities that includes not just the state administration but the whole of society; seen as such, bureaucratisation constitutes one of the main facets of neoliberalism and the public-private hybridisation that characterises it. In this chapter I want to discuss the main argument of Shelley Hurt and Ronnie Lipschutz’s introduction, that public

private hybridisation is a political project whose goal is to restore or enhance state authority and sovereignty. The entrance through bureaucracy undeniably shows a public private convergence and a transformation of the exercise of state power. But it also suggests that the process of hybridisation is much more complex, that it’s not only, even not so often, a political project that is explicitly stated and carried on. It is not mainly operating through colonisation of the private sector. Beside the production of unintended effects, neoliberal bureaucratisation proceeds also from autonomous dynamics from other actors such as computer or security companies, enterprises and banks, NGOs and associations, consumers, academics or citizens, and so forth, as I will show throughout this chapter. Bureaucracy does not occur outside society, bureaucratisation is not imposed from above; it takes effect through the very actors who are its target and who, consciously or not, are accomplices of this process. I will try to show that the term ‘project’ carries too much intentionality. Of course, political projects and even state projects exist: they often are projects of control, rationalisation, normalisation through the development of hybrid rule. But I want to show that this process of neoliberal bureaucratisation also results from non-political behaviour or logic of action, from non-state actors; for instance it can be the fruit of economic and financial dynamics, profit seeking and logic of market share, professional interest, or citizens’ demand for transparency.