Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Government regulations that shape our lives, from the quality of the air we breathe to the medicine we ingest, are influenced by a ubiquitous procedure known in the United States as “rulemaking.” This administrative law procedure aims to manifest democratic values of participation and accountability by allowing interested individuals to submit written comments critiquing policies before they become regulations, which have the force of law. Comments are often submitted on environmental policies by environmental advocacy groups, industry representatives, and individuals, each submitting comments based on different types and degrees of knowledge. What bureaucratic practices are involved in receiving, categorizing, and using these comments as federal civil servants create policy? While expert comments operate at micro- and mezzo-levels, informing the specifics of policy decisions and bureaucratic strategies, “general public” comments tend to operate at a macro-level and can inform broader political conversations about what counts as environmental protection. In this paper, I draw on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork—including nearly a year as an intern at the U.S. EPA—to argue that comments submitted by the “general public,” to use an emic term, matter to policy-making differently than expert comments, but still matter: they shape the broader political discourse and contour what is considered legitimate or illegitimate bureaucratic action.