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The Power of International Bureaucracies and IOs Reconsidered: Patrimonialism and Emotional Labour at the ASEAN Secretariat

Public Administration
International
Power
Deepak Nair
National University of Singapore
Deepak Nair
National University of Singapore

Abstract

This Paper argues that extant theorizations of the power of International Organisations and Secretariats (namely, PA and constructivist models) are limited as they are frequently wedded to an international bureaucracies’ rational-legal authority and the technical knowledge and expertise of its staff. Taking the small, restrictively designed, and ‘patrimonial’ bureaucracy of the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as my empirical case, I demonstrate how some staff at the Secretariat endowed with linguistic, cultural, and social capital have carved out a capacity to manage diplomatic interactions by elevating the everyday and banal practices of ‘servicing’ member states into an art form. This art form involves staff internalizing and performing the script of faithful ‘servants’ to state representatives in order to disarm them, win their trust, and play the role of tacticians and bricoleurs as they manage and mould diplomatic interactions. Fashioning this art rests less on the possession of technical expertise than in staff rendering their ‘emotional labour’ in service of the dispositions and practices of ASEAN’s diplomacy. ‘Power’, then, is not only a possession that is owned in a substantialist vein but is also a relational capacity that is borrowed, harnessed, and enjoyed by bureaucrats in the backstage of diplomacy.