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Performing Regulation: Transcending Regulatory Ritualism in HIV Clinics

December 2012

From Law & Society Review:

Sociolegal scholars suggest that regulatory encounters often are occasions for displaying a surface compliance decoupled from day-to-day practice. Yet ethnographic data from five highly regulated HIV clinics show that regulatory encounters open opportunities both for ritualism and—surprisingly—for transcending ritualism using a theatrical analogy. Heimer and Gazley argue that improv performance is the technology that enables regulatory inspectors and clinic staff to transcend ritualism. As regulatory encounters unfold, clinics carefully prepared performances sometimes change into more cooperative interactions where inspectors and regulatees hash out details about how rules will be applied and even work together on reports for the regulators’ supervisors. By performing together, regulatory inspectors gain access to the clinic’s backstage, where they can access clinic workers’ deeper conformity to ethical and scientific norms. But such joint performances are less likely where cultural divides and material scarcity make it difficult for clinic staff to gain inspectors trust.