Auditing bureaucracy: An ethnographic account of two immigration bureaucracies
Frankel, Mark Elliot
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This dissertation is a narrative ethnography of two federal government bureaucracies in Buffalo, New York. The research took place from spring 2009 to spring 2011 at the Buffalo Verification Operations Center ("BVOC") and the Buffalo Immigration Court. Participant observation was used at BVOC to present an insider's perspective on the bureaucratization process of an intimate office into a regional bureaucratic hub. At the Buffalo Immigration Court, the case method technique was used to collect data on immigration proceedings in order to analyze the importance of capital at immigration court and to understand immigrants' legal consciousness and legalization strategies. The ethnographic data on the Buffalo Verification Operations Center and the Buffalo Immigration Court is also compared and contrasted to analyze the social consequences of bureaucracy and bureaucratization. This dissertation argues that in order to appear accountable or legitimate as institutions, bureaucracies such as BVOC and the Buffalo Immigration Court rely on auditing mechanisms and controls. The ideology around and practices of auditing have created a culture of audit – or auditing culture – throughout U.S. society and bureaucracies today. However, instead of increasing efficiency and transparency, in practice auditing often has an inverse effect. Auditing mechanisms and controls create an atmosphere of procedural compliance, which results in inefficiency and poor quality of services by the bureaucracy. In addition to securing institutional legitimacy, this dissertation provides two other methods for the reproduction of audit culture: through immigration as a rite of passage and by way of individual internalization and mimicking of audit ideology and practices.