Bureaucracies, whether national or international, have rarely been conceived as 'utopian' sites. On the contrary, classic representations tend to describe bureaucratic formations as 'rationality machines', administrations as homogeneous black boxes and bureaucrats as individuals working 'without hatred or passion' to implement a broader vision of which they remain largely ignorant. The idea for this special issue emerged out of a feeling of unease with such renderings which, although providing important elements of understanding about the nature of bureaucratic power and its effects, do not fully reflect the insights we gained through ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in international bureaucracies. This collection continues a conversation initiated by Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur who urge us to examine bureaucracies 'as an expression of a contract between citizens and officials that aim to generate a utopian order' (2015: 18). We argue that a focus on actors working in international organisations allows the exploration of distinctive bureaucratic subjectivities forged in these settings. By exploring the affective life of international bureaucracies, we seek to understand how actors maintain a sense of agency in spite of the tedious and burdensome nature of the administrative procedures in which they take part.