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Seeing like Bureaucracies: Rearranging Knowledge and Ignorance in Somalia

Bakonyi, Jutta

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Development promotes bureaucratization, and bureaucracies are based on knowledge and produce knowledge. Failures of development are therefore regularly attributed to a lack of knowledge. The article argues that the quest for knowledge is embedded in the managerial rationality of interventions. This rationality also structures the developmental knowledge field and thereby generates ignorance. The example of a state-building program in Somalia is used to empirically explore how the generation, administration, and transfer of knowledge was intertwined with ignorance. It shows what knowledge missed, obfuscated, ignored, or even hid and how knowledge and ignorance were arranged in the daily state-building practice. This approach sheds light on relations and mechanism of power exerted in development and helps to explain its effects. In Somalia, omission, silence, secrecy, and strategic and bureaucratic ignorance enabled the program to delineate the interventionist terrain as technical and to depoliticize state-building. They also helped to expand liberal modalities of government to “remote” and “unruly” Somali villages.


Bakonyi, J. (2018). Seeing like Bureaucracies: Rearranging Knowledge and Ignorance in Somalia. International Political Sociology, 12(3), 256-273.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 21, 2018
Online Publication Date May 29, 2018
Publication Date Sep 1, 2018
Deposit Date Mar 28, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jun 5, 2018
Journal International Political Sociology
Print ISSN 1749-5679
Electronic ISSN 1749-5687
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 3
Pages 256-273


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (192 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License
(, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact

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