Staff of the section for Global Development – University of Copenhagen

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Feeling like a caiman: Bodily experiences of corruption

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When I started exploring water access in Senegal, the goal of my research was to test the legal-rational Weberian paradigm through an ethnography of the everyday experience of the State. In the central region of the country, a team of servants attached to the Water Supervisory Ministry were charged with the maintenance of water access. Citizens mostly depicted these agents as “caimans”: Greedy predators who were always asking for money. Witnessing illegal transactions on the field, yet they did not seem to all belong to the same moral world. Asking the protagonists to explain themselves always led to a dead end. Another type of ethnographic engagement was required. To access the inner life of the corporation, I came to work as an apprentice. Or, more accurately, to make sense of my presence I was offered the role of the apprentice by my informants. When it all began as a way of witnessing illegal transactions, my apprenticeship led me to build trust and feelings. As an apprentice, I became part of the moral economy of a particular group of street-level bureaucrats. Being an apprentice gave me a position where I could not only become a good observer or listener but a decent feeler. Accordingly, this article addresses ethnography not only as a method but as a positionality.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Volume39
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)172-187
Number of pages16
ISSN0308-275X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • apprenticeship, corruption, ethnography, feelings, immersion, Senegal, Street-level bureaucrats, water access

ID: 218085978