Documents and Bureaucracy
Posted: 8 Oct 2012
Date Written: October 2012
This review surveys anthropological and other social research on bureaucratic documents. The fundamental insight of this literature is that documents are not simply instruments of bureaucratic organizations, but rather are constitutive of bureaucratic rules, ideologies, knowledge, practices, subjectivities, objects, outcomes, even the organizations themselves. It explores the reasons why documents have been late to come under ethnographic scrutiny and the implications for our theoretical understandings of organizations and methods for studying them. The review argues for the great value of the study of paper-mediated documentation to the study of electronic forms, but it also highlights the risk of an exclusive focus on paper, making anthropology marginal to the study of core bureaucratic practices in the manner of earlier anthropology.
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