Power and Enlightenment: Micro-practices
One of the basic tactics of those in dominant positions of power is delay. It is a tactic insofar as once it is questioned there is always available the corresponding, and conversation stopping, answer, ‘I was (and am) very busy.’ This self-justificatory response tacitly denies that there is any strategy involved in not answering. Such a response is both a reminder and a warning: the reminder is that the person in the higher office has more important things that need to be attended to; and the warning is that the office holder has the unilateral ability to decide such things and will do so only when they deem it appropriate.
Should one continue to insist on rights, duties or procedures there are always available the stock moves of the higher office holder: no response as a reminder of where one is situated in a power system; a grumpy reminder not to nag (they are very busy with matters of great importance that you underlings do not know about); finally, a hint, a word to the wise, that by continuing to assert correct procedure one is causing trouble that could well lead to irritation that could well turn to trouble for those daring to cause trouble. Such irritation, of course, will be long remembered by those in charge of dossiers and informal evaluations, and can readily be used as part of a tagging system of “trouble-maker” and the like.
The message is that is better to stay silent and wait patiently. Or, as the posters of May ’68 put it “Sois jeune et tais toi!” Such injunctions are never amusing but especially so when directed at senior members of what is held to be a common organization.
One example of this class of bureaucratic power in the university occurred when the Dean of the Social Sciences had agreed to talk with our faculty about the state of things for our department, present and future. Arranging this meeting took some time as schedules of busy bureaucrats had to be coordinated and accommodated. When a date was fixed, it turned out that only one hour was available for the faculty to meet with the Dean, as there was a talk scheduled. The Dean arrived thirty-five minutes late: she had been meeting with students she gruffly tossed off under her breath as a perfunctory and seemingly grudging apology to the 25 or so faculty present who had been waiting for her entrance. Her tone made it clear that we should not respond to this slight less she not be available again. Should we question her tardiness, after all, we would have been the one’s wasting precious time. Nothing of substance transpired in the remaining time. The chilled atmosphere and bubbling resentment combined to ensure the communicative void.
As our Chair was smitten by those higher in the bureaucratic hierarchy, he made it clear that it was best not to complain or comment. All his imperative achieved was the complaining and commentary took place in the corridors and offices, i.e. semi-private, semi-public spaces. There was no public forum to discuss the event. And to the extent it was circulated the response was either to trivialize the tardiness or to justify it. In either of these two tactics the rights of the faculty/citizen were shown to be what they have become—a remnant of a past regime. We were subjected minors. We were to accept dutifully the dictates and actions of our administration’s combination of surveillance and discipline.