What conditions have enabled human and social service providers to imagine the demise of state-provided services? How did this imagination influence a coalition’s decision to sue the state for impairment of contract during the Illinois budget impasse? Throughout the state and across bureaucratic divisions, Illinois social service providers formed a temporary coalition, Pay Now Illinois, that communicated solely through emails and conference calls. From my ethnographic study of the coalition and its members’ responses to the budget impasse, I argue that their spatial-temporal orientations to state contracts and to modes of internal and public communication made the imagined end of social services both possible and disavowable, and the coalition’s decision to continue to pursue policy and legal recourse for their impaired contracts reflects the cruel optimism in recognizing the limitations of state bureaucracy while maintaining its practical efficacy as “the only way to get things done in the meantime.” These conclusions demonstrate how alternatives to bureaucratic modes of engagement become “unthinkable” through certain chronotopic imaginaries of and attachments to the state and the contract.
Scott Jung is a first year PhD student in anthropology at UCI. His proposed paper relies on ethnographic research from his master’s program at the University of Chicago (2016-2017). It explores broader themes that he continue to engage in his new project on public housing in Singapore: bureaucracy and hierarchy; social contracting; chronotopic imaginaries; and affective attachments to state-constructed environments.