Diego Valdivieso

PhD Thesis Title: Bureaucracy beyond the desk. Mobilising resources and hunting for users for a state-led development programme in ChiloƩ, Chile

Research project

This thesis is based on an ethnographic study of the everyday practices of state officials charged with implementing the Indigenous Territorial Development Programme (PDTI) in the archipelago of Chiloé in Southern Chile. Specifically, I focus on how two distinct roles, that of the expert/technician and the state bureaucrat, are folded together in the working lives of those I refer to as ‘field-level officials’. I argue that the obligation to account for their practices, and the expectation of their active participation in the production and circulation of bureaucratic technologies, transforms members of extension teams in charge of providing technical support to indigenous farmers in rural areas into state bureaucrats. The analysis traces the tensions and challenges that these field-level officials face when dealing with the demands and expectations that arise from their dual role. In more general terms, the focus on this duality sheds light on how state agencies and agents experience processes of ‘decentralisation’ in a very centralised, neoliberal state system: as they internalise accountability practices, engage in competition for resources, and live with the benefits and uncertainties of flexible contracts.

Accompanying the field-level officials in their daily tasks, I address issues regarding their role (as bureaucrats and technicians), and their potential for manoeuvre in the implementation of a generic programme, formulated at the central level, in a local context characterised by a particular socio-political, economic and cultural background. Furthermore, the thesis explores how the state is constructed and imagined in the everyday interactions between the users of the PDTI (Williche farmers) and the officials who are charged with the enactment of the programme. I draw here on the ethnography of how state effects are produced in peripheral territories through the routinised and centrally controlled practices of its decentralised institutions.

Finally, I contend that in contemporary Chile, ‘state presence’ takes on a specific form in programmes such as the PDTI that bring together the technical, the affective, the bureaucratic, and the political in the everyday practices of field-level officials. Reflecting on the role of the PDTI officials – often considered the bottom rung of the public service organisational ladder – in the flow and materialisation of a public policy, I show the effect that their activities have on how a policy reaches the territories covered by the programme. In detail, I illustrate how they translate these policies into material and recordable outcomes mediated by entrepreneurial and development aspirations and impositions, and a managerial approach to territorial and identity-based belonging.

Research interests

  • Anthropology of the state
  • Bureaucracy
  • Infrastructure
  • Chile
  • Public policies
  • Indigenous policies
  • State-led programmes


  • Prof Penny Harvey
  • Prof Peter Wade


2015-ongoing: PhD Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

2011-2013: Master in Systemic Analysis Applied to Society, Universidad de Chile

2006-2010: BA Sociology, Universidad Diego Portales

Selected publications

Valdivieso, D., Carmona, R., de Cea, M., Espinoza, C., Sepúlveda, M. & Yon, R. 2018. ‘Pueblos indígenas en la región Metropolitana: percepciones y experiencias en la gestión de políticas públicas’ in de la Maza, F., de Cea, M. & Rubilar D, G. (eds.) Políticas Indígenas y construcción del Estado desde lo local: Estudios de caso del sur, centro y norte de Chile. Santiago, Chile: Pehuén

De Cea, M., Heredia, M. & Valdivieso D. 2016. ‘The Chilean elite’s point of view on indigenous peoples’, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 41 (3): 328-347

Valdivieso Sierpe, D. 2016. ‘Reconocimiento político desde los mapuche en Santiago’ [Political recognition from the Mapuche in Santiago], Política y Sociedad, 53 (3): 915-935

Valdivieso Sierpe, D. & Videla, N. 2013. ‘Las transformaciones de la muerte en Chile: Cementerios, ritos y prácticas fúnebres’ in Ávila, J., Mallea, F. & Monares, A. (eds.) En el umbral: Reflexiones contemporáneas de sociólogas y sociólogos jóvenes en Chile. Santiago: Editorial IGD


Email: diego.valdiviesosierpe@manchester.ac.uk