Seen by the state: Bureaucracy, visibility and governmentality in a Papua New Guinean hospital


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Drawing on ethnographic material from a government hospital in Papua New Guinea (PNG), this paper examines the relationship between power and visibility in two kinds of bureaucratic practice: hospital managers’ performance of institutional ‘transparency’ and patients’ careful management of their government health documents. In both examples, people engage with bureaucratic and biomedical technologies of visibility to entice governing actors to see and enter into a relationship with them. Against dominant Foucauldian theories of power-vision, the article shows that, in the institutional crevices of a ‘weak state’, bureaucratic technologies operate as relational technologies that elicit affective motivations rather than as disciplinary technologies that transform the self.