Development in the Face of Global Inequalities; Barcelona Institute for International Studies (IBEI)

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Paper presentation at the conference “Development in the Face of Global Inequalities

Within seemingly “weak” states exceptionally effective subunits lie hidden. These high-performing niches exhibit organizational characteristics distinct from poor-performing peer organizations, but also from high-functioning organizations in Western countries. This article develops the concept of interstitial bureaucracy to explain how and why unusually high-performing state organizations in developing countries invert canonical features of Weberian bureaucracy. Interstices are distinct-yet-embedded subsystems characterized by practices inconsistent with those of the dominant institution. This interstitial position thereby poses particular challenges and requires unique solutions. Interstices cluster together scarce proto-bureaucratic resources to cultivate durable distinction from the status quo, while managing disruptions arising from interdependencies with the wider neopatrimonial field. The article proposes a framework for how bureaucratic interstices respond to those challenges, generalizing from organizational comparisons within the Ghanaian state and abbreviated historical comparison cases from 19th-Century America, early 20th-Century China, mid-20th Century Kenya, and early 21st Century Nigeria.