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Invention and Grace: Taking Turns in a Streetcorner Bureaucracy

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Peer-reviewed

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Abstract

This article analyzes the styles of work and conflict of a group of electrical contractors who congregate across the street from a power utility office. Drawing on a rich tradition of urban Africanist ethnography, as well as the work of Roy Wagner and Lars Spuybroek, it argues that their long-running street-corner bureau is a ‘turn’ that brings together the logics of entrepreneurial accumulation and bureaucratic legitimacy into generative counterpoint. Performed well, the effect of this turn is a kind of grace, characterized by increase and bounty, but also social recognition and dignity. Performed poorly, it is a received as a parody of the logics it aims to transfigure. The ‘taking of turns,’ in all of its contrapuntal difficulty, characterizes much the social drama that unfolds daily.

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Journal Title

HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

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Journal ISSN

2575-1433
2049-1115

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Publisher

HAU-N.E.T

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