Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Lecture | Research Seminar

CADS Research Seminar | Poetics and Poiesis

Monday 3 June 2019
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

Poetics and Poiesis: Navigating corruption in the intimate space between public secret and intimate knowledge

In the eastern Indonesian city of Kupang, the knowledge that one has to pay to obtain much–coveted civil service positions is a well–known public secret (rahasia umum). Public secrets are a particular species of secrets that combine the clarity of existence in open view with the opacity of concealment from view (Taussig 1999). To some extent, secrecy is imperative to the successful functioning of the state: Without a certain degree of cultural intimate or socially embedded practical knowledge to lubricate the rusty machinations of bureaucracy state apparatuses run less smoothly.

Yet, how does one navigate the space between public secret and intimate knowledge when one knows what not to know but lacks the knowhow to productively and artfully do so? By presenting ethnographic cases of client–civil servant interactions, I tease out some aspects of the cultural intimacy, performative competencies, and mutual complicity that characterize the poetics of corruption. In so doing, I contrast the opaque character of public secrets with the emphasis on transparency that has become so central to the project of anticorruption, and ask how successful efforts depending on transparency can be when public secrets thrive on the deceptiveness of appearances?


Sylvia Tidey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Global Studies Program at the University of Virginia. Her two research projects on civil service corruption and LGBT-related care in Indonesia interrogate how the normative dimensions of globally circulating ideologies of improvement interact with the ethical complexities of everyday life.

This website uses cookies.  More information.