Identity, norms, narratives, and state bureaucracy: Evidence from tax administration in Afghanistan

Synthesis paper State and State Fragility initiative

The effectiveness and legitimacy of a public organisation may depend to a large degree not only on institutional arrangement but also on the behaviour of actors within institutions and the interactions between the two.

This paper argues that beliefs, in the form of identity, norms, and narratives, significantly affect bureaucratic effectiveness. They can have various sources and are, at least in part, often acquired through participation in networks. Institutional arrangement, however, can partially explain bureaucratic effectiveness and, to a large extent, legitimacy. It focuses on the structure of institutions, underestimating how actors behave within and relate to those institutions and how the institutions evolve in response. Institutions may thus be one thing and, while related, how actors within these institutions behave is another. By using Afghanistan as a case study, in this paper I examine how the behaviour of tax collectors and inspectors, being shaped by identity, norms, and narratives, affects the performance and legitimacy of tax administration.