How does digital bureaucracy compare to paper bureaucracy in terms of its ‘instrumental rationality‘, efficiency, and effectiveness, as judged by both the users and the officials? Further, how well does the digital bureaucracy fulfill the function of a framing device? After all, one of the main reasons for digitalizing public sector services was the information overload caused by the increased complexity of administrative processes. Did it happen? Not really. This chapter is not an attempt to plant the seed of doubt into the belief that virtual red tape is potentially an effective way of managing document overflow. Yet that belief can cause cognitive overflow to both the bureaucrats and their customers, and the way out of it is to synchronize the “manual” management of overflow with the digital one.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
How people and organizations create and manage excess

This book presents studies of ways in which people and organizations deal with the overflow of information, goods, or choices. The contributors explore two main themes. The first is the emergence of overflows: What is defined as overflow? Here the notion of framing as coined by Michel Callon has guided our approach. There is no overflow until some flow has been framed; framing means defining, and defining means imposing borders. Who does it, how, and why? The answer to these questions necessitates an historical and comparative approach. What one culture defines as necessity, another may see as excess, and these differences can exist even between different levels of the same social hierarchy. The second theme is the management of overflows, in the double meaning of the term: as controlling and as coping. Coping with overflow means learning to live with it; controlling overflow requires various skills and devices. The individual chapters show the management of overflow taking place in various social settings, periods, and political contexts: From the attempts of states to manage future consumption overflow in post-war Eastern European to the contemporary economies of sharing. Other contributions focus on overflow in healthcare administration, overflow problems in mass travel and migration, overflow in digital services, and the overflow that scholars face in dealing with an abundance of research information and publications. This edited volume belongs to the transdisciplinary social sciences, and therefore it should be of interest to sociologists, management scholars, economists, historians, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars.

Open Access (free)

This volume summarizes seven years of research, drawing and adding to the insights presented in the two earlier books from the project. The first volume, Managing overflow in affluent societies (2012) began by exploring earlier research in the field and then developed a conceptual framework that was put to work in a number of case studies. The second volume, Coping with excess: How organizations, communities and individuals manage overflows (2013), brought another theme to the foreground: the social and moral dimensions of evaluating overflow in terms of positive or negative, as a problem or as a potentiality. We return to the findings of these earlier publications as we reflect upon the cumulative work over the years.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?