Overcoming resistance to resistance in public administration: Resistance strategies of marginalized publics in citizen‐state interactions

Date01 February 2018
AuthorMuhammad Azfar Nisar
Published date01 February 2018
Overcoming resistance to resistance in public administration:
Resistance strategies of marginalized publics in citizenstate
Muhammad Azfar Nisar
Lahore University of Management Sciences,
Muhammad Azfar Nisar, Suleman Dawood
School of Business, Lahore University of
Management Sciences, Pakistan.
Email: azfar.nisar@lums.edu.pk
Funding information
Arizona State University, Grant/Award Num-
ber: Graduate Research Support Program;
American Institute of Pakistan Studies, Grant/
Award Number: Summer Research Grant
There has been a general resistance to resistance studies in public administration (PA) research.
Although previous research has documented instances of selective policy implementation by
PA practitioners that put minority groups at a comparative disadvantage, we still have a limited
understanding of the different ways in which these groups contest discriminatory administrative
practices especially within nonwestern developing countries. To address this gap, in this article,
I discuss the various strategic responses the Khawaja Siraa genderqueer group of Pakistan
employ in their interactions with the frontline police workers to contest their hypersurveillance
and moral policing. The discussion illustrates that while Khawaja Sira mostly rely on individual
acts of contestation in their interactions with police officers, the emerging leadership of the
Khawaja Sira is enabling emergence of new forms of resistance based on social capital and
collective protests. In addition to contributing to the limited literature on citizen perspectives
and LGBT issues in PA research, the theoretical framework of resistance presented here can
serve as a good template to analyze citizen responses to discriminatory frontline practice in other
sociopolitical contexts as well.
citizenstate interactions, developing countries, discrimination, genderqueer groups, policing,
resistance, streetlevel bureaucracy,transgender
Finding research on resistance—“a social action that involves agency;
and that act is carried out in some kind of oppositional relation to
power(Johansson & Vinthagen, 2016, p. 418)in public administra-
tion (PA) scholarship is a disappointing endeavor. Despite its obvious
importance for a comprehensive understanding of organizational
change and citizenstate interactions, there has been a resistance to
resistance(Nord & Jermier, 1994) within PA research. The little
research that has been carried out has, almost exclusively, focused
on resistance to organizational or policy change (Coetsee, 1993;
Kumar, Kant, & Amburgey, 2007; Michener & Ritter, 2017). Except
for a few normative analyses (Catlaw & Eagan, 2016; Fox, 2003;
Nord & Jermier, 1994), almost no empirical research has investigated
the different ways in which citizens, especially minority groups,
contest the transgressions of a surveilling state or discriminatory
bureaucratic practices. This is a particularly important gap in PA
scholarship because as awareness increases about the role of adminis-
trative transgressions in persistent social inequity, for example, in the
context of streetlevel policing (Chu, Lu, Wang, & Tsai, 2016;
Epp, MaynardMoody, & HaiderMarkel, 2014; NicholsonCrotty,
NicholsonCrotty, & Fernandez, 2017), it is even more important to
document and analyze the different contestation strategies used by
the marginalized groups to resist such frontline practices.
This gap exists primarily because of two underlying normative
assumptions in most PA research; that the primary target audience of
our research are the PA practitionersnot the publicand they have
a predominantly positive functional role in society (Catlaw, 2007;
Farmer, 2003b; Nisar, 2015). Consequently, PA researchers are often
guilty of trying to legitimize the administrative stateby discussing
those administratorcitizen interactions that reaffirm our affinity to
the role of PA as a productive discipline while downplaying abhorrent
ones(Fox, 2003, p. 63). For example, the Black Lives Matter move-
ment, which has highlighted the plight of the African American
Received: 3 March 2017 Revised: 19 October 2017 Accepted: 10 November 2017
DOI: 10.1002/pad.1817
Public Admin Dev. 2018;38:1525. Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pad 15

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