Bureaucraft (II): Bread, Bakers and State-Makers in Amman

By Jose Martinez
Submitted to Session P6466 (State and the City: Presences and Absences in the Mashreq, 2021 Annual Meeting
Anthro
Jordan;
Ethnography;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper draws on twenty months of observant participation in three bakeries in Amman to explore the role of subsidized bread, and those who make it, in generating the state effect. It asks and seeks to explore if and when the affiliation of ‘more-than-human arrangements’ produce the state as a coherent entity, one whose presence is welcomed just as its absence is deplored. Building on recent explorations of craftwork, this paper begins by dissecting the skills, both cognitive and corporeal, through which practical knowledge of baking is transmitted and developed amongst bread-makers in the Jordanian capital. I forefront dexterities exercised by people to coax and tame a variety of ingredients into a form congenial to human consumption because the stabilizations achieved so frequently conceal the conditions of their own assembly.

The paper then turns to a broader consideration of the way governmental practices, such as welfare provision, are enacted. I argue that attempts to capture bread production in statistics and numerical indicators are always partial and uncertain, subject to the whims of fire and dough, yeast and water, or the machinations of a shrewd miller or mischievous bread-maker. Instead, welfare services--and the infrastructures central to their delivery--‘work’ and ‘endure’ through recurring practices of maintenance and repair that entangle humans and non-humans in relations of cohabitation and collaboration. If we wish to understand the routine realization of governmental practices, then we should consider the bodies, components, efforts and exertions upon which all such measures are built. Outcomes and results, which have us enter the fray far too late in the game, are not all that matter; so do the people and things at their heart. Taming materials to make them congenial to the state effect takes a great deal of shrewd manoeuvring. It requires craft.