Orientation and crafted bureaucracy: Finding dignity in Nicaraguan food safety

Alexander Nading

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores how food‐safety inspectors (hygienistas) in Nicaragua monitor and certify foodservice workers and facilities. While inspectors are well versed in sanitary law, they describe their job not as law enforcement but as “orientation.” Orientation integrates state regulation with interpersonal exchanges of gifts and jokes, which reinforce unwritten social norms. Such interpersonal exchanges are not simply signs of corruption or governmental incapacity. Rather, orientation is a form of “crafted bureaucracy”: a pragmatic effort to ensure both the quality of food and the quality of governmental encounters. Orientation allows inspectors and food producers to reconcile memories of Nicaragua's revolutionary past with anxieties about the country's more recent integration into a global food economy. While effective surveillance is at stake in orientation, dignity is also at stake. When orientation is successful, the dignity of both bureaucrats and food workers is temporarily affirmed. When orientation fails, their dignity is at risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478–490
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Anthropological Association (American Anthropologist)
Issue number3
Early online date14 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2017


  • public health
  • hygiene
  • medical anthropology
  • infrastructure
  • Latin America


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