Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in A Companion to Organizational Anthropology, ed. D. Douglas Caulkins & Ann T. Jordan (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2013), pp. 519–537.


Copyright © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


It has been more than 30 years since Britan and Cohen (1980) assembled a number of leading anthropologists in a joint call for an anthropology of bureaucracies. Their call was a refinement and rearticulation of a more enduring concern in anthropology, illustrated in particular in the work of South Africa-born, British anthropologist Meyer Fortes (1938) who was interested in what McDermott and Raley (2011: 46) have summarized as "the acquisition of kinds of people by social structure."

One starting point for an anthropology of organizations that sees schools as a particular kind of organization meriting direct scrutiny is the anthropology of bureaucracies. Schools are very clearly bureaucracies (hence the directing of participants into so many role categories) that are embedded in further bureaucratic webs — for example, school districts and state departments of education in the United States, the federal Secretaria de Educación and the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de fa Educación (the teachers union that also has state governance responsibilities) in Mexico, and the panoply of entities (e.g., Department of Basic Education, provincial departments, and school districts) that have educational jurisdiction in South Africa.