I am in the middle of reading Wendy Espeland’s (1998) fantastic The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest, which chronicles fights over the Orme dam within the Federal government and between the government and the Yavapai Indians. During the legislative run-up to the project, a new law was passed which required environmental impact assessments. In the story of what happens next, Espeland offers the following insight about bureaucratic power:
One of bureaucracies’ most effective, least appreciated weapons is its tedious technical reports. Like frigid February elections in Chicago, these fat volumes dissuade all but the most faithful. Yet for partisans and scholars alike, careful scrutiny of bureaucratic documents is a necessary, and often rewarding, exercise. (109-110)
I’m reminded of Susan Leigh Star’s reference to “The Society of People Interested in Boring Things“. Power is a funny and hard-to-define thing, but I really like the idea of tedium as a bureaucratic weapon.