Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge
Cornell University - Law School
Annelise Riles, ARTIFACTS OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE, University of Michigan Press, 2006
Documents are everywhere in modern life, from the sciences to bureaucracy to law. The production, collection, sharing and even destruction of documents is such a common aspect of modern social life that it usually goes unnoticed. Yet both law and science depend upon the day to day handling of thousands of routine forms, vouchers, tickets, reports, court records, laboratory results, and more. On closer examination, the routine ways documents structure our lives have much to teach us about how truth is produced or politics is done, or how actors maintain their commitment and enthusiasm for the daily routines of modern life.
The essays in this book describe practices of documentation in cultural settings ranging from prisons, to scientific laboratories, to the United Nations, to hospitals, to universities, and Fijian death rituals. They describe the powerful role of mundane documenting practices in structuring actors' conceptions of time, for example, or in shaping notions of agency (in ritual contexts), authorship (in the scientific context), even humanity (in interactions between hospital staff and patients). In so doing, the essays show that areas of modern life that seem very distant or different - law and medicine, American hospitals and Fijian rituals - can actually be compared in fresh new ways.
Documents are not just features of the modern world; they are also hallmarks of ethnographic research: fieldworkers document social realities by collecting, producing and exchanging documents of their own. The contributors to this volume, all renowned and accomplished ethnographers in the fields of law, anthropology, sociology and science studies, take this point of overlap as an opportunity to reflect on the new challenges to humanistic social science in a world in which the subjects of research increasingly share the professional passions and problems of the researcher.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 11, 2005
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