AAA 2016 CFP – Pick a Number: Intersections of Age and Bureaucracy

You are invited to submit an abstract to this panel, focusing on the significance of age and aging in bureaucratic settings. Abstracts are limited to 250 words, and are due to [email protected] or [email protected] by Wed, March 23rd. We look forward to hearing from you!

Call for Papers: AAA 2016
Minneapolis, MN
November 16-20, 2016

Theme: “Evidence, Accident, Discovery”
Panel: Pick a Number: Intersections of Age and Bureaucracy 


Drawing on the anthropology of age and bureaucracy, this panel engages with the AAA Annual Meeting theme, “Evidence, Accident, Discovery” to address the (il)logical, (ir)rational, arbitrarily specific, and abstracted aspects of age in organizational contexts.  Whether in human service bureaucracies, schools, or work settings, how do meanings of age and aging challenge or reinforce the routine standardization and rational management of institutions?  Age has been shown through the anthropological record to be understood as having biological, cultural, historical, moral, and political-economic dimensions.  Anthropologists studying bureaucratic settings have often noted the unexpected and unintended consequences regarding categorizing individuals and typifying groups according to predetermined life stages (Buch 2014; Greenberg and Muehlebach 2007; Rosen 2015; Schwartzman 1978, 1980, 1984; Silver 2015; Terio 2015).  The shifting formation of categories, such as “youth” and “elderly,” raises the question of why numerical age persists as an indicator of status, inclusion, or exclusion.  Documents and bureaucratic measurements for discovering and then establishing age can implicate accidents and uncertain forms of evidence and, nonetheless, become codified and strictly enforced as real, as fact.  Therefore, we ask, how does the use of age in bureaucracy reinforce or challenge the “systematic production of arbitrariness” (Gupta 2012:6)? And, how might bureaucracies rely upon age to legitimate governing as purportedly impartial, efficient or guaranteeing equality, accountability, and predictability?

Documentary evidence is widely used in modern life to establish, prove, and validate age. This can be seen through public agencies in state administration (vital records, taxation and licensing, penal, educational, medical, and social service areas), as well as private organizations (banks, entertainment establishments, private education institutions, work settings). Examining these contexts is important because “the institutionalization of the life course has turned age and generation themselves into a major dimension of social inequality” (Kohl 2007:261), and one dominant avenue is the procedural processing of paperwork containing personal information (social, biological).  Largely recognized as an objective marker, age semiotically indexes rather subjective concepts such as dependency, vulnerability, and maturity, reinforcing hierarchical or paternalistic relationships in processes of governing that people can internalize.  Like gender, race, and class, age is a relational category linked to the political and moral economy of the state that can only be understood through its intersections, but these, however, can be obscured in such organizational uses of age.  At the same time, age can be enrolled in protections against discrimination and behavior that is taboo or harmful and as means to assist or determine rights, independence, eligibility, or interventions.  Studying age in bureaucracies provides insight into current entanglements of market-based liberalized economies and state policies that are inherently bound to age and processes of social reproduction (Cole and Durham 2007).  That includes the power dynamics of privatization and the reorganization of work and workers in bureaucracies, especially those that mediate or manage care relationships.  This panel seeks to examine age as a feature bureaucracies can and do abstract, often to include or exclude people, but whose meanings nonetheless exceed their bureaucratic bounds.

2 thoughts on “AAA 2016 CFP – Pick a Number: Intersections of Age and Bureaucracy”

  1. Can you post the more complete works cited? There’s a few of those citations I am unfamiliar with and can’t find easily through my regular searches. Having the information would be helpful!

    1. The best thing to do would be to contact the organizers listed for this call for papers. ACYIG just posts these announcements on behalf of others, and isn’t responsible for content. I’m sure they will be happy to know someone is interested in learning more!

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