3 March 2016
Documents, Power and Rule Ambiguity
Speaker: Assistant Prof Sukriti Issar, Department of Sociology, Sciences Po
Venue: PhD Academy, Level 4, Lionel Robbins Library
Bureaucratic documents have long been defined as the key material artifact of modern bureaucracy. Yet we know little about what bureaucrats actually do with such documents or how the bureaucratic power of documents is enacted. This talk explores the state’s documentary practices, and compares the form with the file. Drawing on field research in archives and bureaus, the file is defined as a manuscript-source, collating internal bureaucratic correspondence and diverse documents about the hard cases of rule application and governance. In contrast to prevailing conceptions of documentary power as standardization, rationalization, and routinization, I argue that files represent moments of ambiguous and tenuous power. Using illustrative examples from urban policy, the civil disobedience movement, and interviews with bureaucrats in India, I explore how files as a data source provide a unique insight into power, bureaucracy, and rule following. The talk concludes with recommendations for the use of bureaucratic files as an archival source for studying the state.