Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 38–57 | Cite as

Adhocracy, security and responsibility: Revisiting Abu Ghraib a decade later

  • Bernardo Zacka


This article examines the acts of detainee abuse that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq from the standpoint of organization theory. Instead of seeing Abu Ghraib as a failure of bureaucracy, I show that the prison is emblematic of a different organizational model – adhocracy – that places greater emphasis on the delegation of improvisation and practical judgment to low-level operators. I argue that that there is an intimate connection between adhocracies and the kind of security apparatus put in place by Coalition forces in Iraq, that the space of their encounter is potentially dangerous, and that adhocracies demand a distinctive approach to questions of individual responsibility.


bureaucracy adhocracy responsibility security Abu Ghraib 



Earlier versions of this article were presented at conferences at Harvard, UCLA, Columbia and Notre-Dame. For their helpful comments and criticism, I thank Tal Arbel, Steven Caton, Prithvi Datta, Michael Frazer, Sean Ingham, Pablo Kalmanovitz, Matthew Landauer, Yascha Mounk, Oded Na’aman, Melodie Chika Ogawa, Sabeel Rahman, Michael Rosen, Nancy Rosenblum, Elaine Scarry and Andrea Tivig. I am also grateful to Samuel Chambers and two anonymous reviewers at Contemporary Political Theory.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernardo Zacka
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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