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Paper No: 2005/3 - An Anthropological Approach to the Culture of Institutions

An Anthropological Approach to the Culture of Institutions


Irene Bellier


The author approaches the culture of institutions, both theoretically and empirically, with case studies at the French National School of Administration and the European Commission. She discusses the way institutions, through the practices and discourse of their representatives and agents, construct their territories, perform activities and define political spaces. She asks why the institution has become place of culture, while society, as a coherent whole, is a concept that fades away in the wake of globalization. Bureaucratic cultures cannot be treated in the same way as a national, social or local culture. The agents of power institutions are not the objective agents of a neutral institution. There are power relations at work. Their culture is not the expression of a system, but the particular declension of subsystems inside a more complex unit. Their practices, partly defined by their social background, recomposed in the professional sphere, refer to the notion of ‘political culture’ when the principles leading to the elaboration of norms and ‘administrative culture’ are analysed, i.e., when the means through which norms are enacted are identified. Language is probably most apt to specify the institution and identify the individuals. One must enter the field of words, in the world of communication to grasp this cultural phenomenon, which largely escapes representation.

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