Navigating Rules and Wills: Healthcare and Social Protection in a Bosnian Border Town

  • Carna Brkovic

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis follows a variety of practices in the field of social and health protection in Bijeljina, a border town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I completed a year of fieldwork during 2009 and 2010. I explored how people gained access to public services and provisions, and also considered how they pursued social and healthcare protection beyond state-funded institutions. Throughout the thesis, I treat these practices as a form of navigation through what I refer to as social and political space. I argue that navigating one's way through the fields of social and health protection in Bijeljina encompassed the pursuit of personalised relations as well as attempts to fit into institutionalised rules and categories. Instead of assuming what the proper 'state' roles were, and consequently approaching the ethnographic material in terms of how well it fits in to a certain model, I explore in what way the boundary between the 'state' and 'that which is not the state' was constituted through these practices of navigation. In several examples I demonstrate that the boundary between domains was movable and not very neat. These examples include an analysis of an organisation which was sometimes more like an NGO and sometimes more like a state-run centre for children with developmental needs; the way in which the state border was sometimes irrelevant, and at other times very important; the way in which the pursuit of various kinds of personalised relations was hard to separate from the pursuit of institutionalised ones; a charity practice (humanitarne akcije) which consisted of raising money for a single person's health protection from numerous charitable donors - municipalities, high school pupils, neighbours, and pop singers being counted among them. I also argue that this mode of navigating one's way through social and health protection, or this way of reconstituting the boundary between the 'state' and 'that which is not the state', enabled certain people to build up a very personalised mode of power which also worked through various institutions. Ethnographically situating this argument in the discussion of the social position and the life of one woman politician in Bijeljina, I suggest that a combination of the concepts of biopolitics and the Melanesian concept of 'Big Man' is useful for thinking about this personalised modality of power which works through institutions.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStef Jansen (Supervisor) & Sarah Green (Supervisor)

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