The make-believe space

I have just finished reading the most amazing book by Yael-Navaro-Yashin which was suggested to me by my fantastic colleague Michael Fischer.  This book presents a rich and detailed account of long term ethnographic research in Northern Cyprus.

In 1974 Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus and there was a separation of Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots through the imposition of a boundary.  This book explores a number of the implications of this partition and the displacement of individuals and communities and expropriation of property that went along with this process.

This is not only a detailed and nuanced ethnographic study of a community that has often lacked visibility, but in the process, Navaro-Yashin also develops a rang of theoretical insights into the dynamic interactions of materiality, subjectivity, affect and the phantasmic.

In this fascinating account Navaro-Yashin explores what she calls ‘make-believe’ space.  She is talking about this idea of being make-believe not just in the sense of the space and territory being inhabited but also the modes of governance and administration that emerge in response to this and their associate material practices.

The mainstream public administration literature, as Christopher Pollitt reminds us, has typically struggled to accommodate notions of time and space in its analysis.  Navaro-Yashin illustrates just why this is so important and the relationships between these aspects and the material practices of governance and administration.

The book deals with issues of the phantasmic in a truly fascinating way.  I imagine many of us have worked in organisations which feel like they are inhabited by ghosts and that the specter of individuals or values can be felt through practices or objects long after they have left the building.

The chapter on administration and affect is fascinating and terrifying in equal amounts.  There a whole series of issues relating to the status of public servants and expectations of their contribution to work that in many places we would imagine have been confined to the past.  Yet, the description of processes that lack any rational or instrumental value but are still carried out because of their symbolic value will be incredibly familiar to many.

There is a vast amount of theoretical depth and richness that could very helpfully be applied in a public administration setting and could further develop our thinking in this space about why individuals and groups behave the ways that they do and the impact that waves of reform have over organisations.  Well worth a read for something a little different and similar at the same time.

make believe


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