Scholars and states privilege the written. Documents are often our reference-points and our thinking is mostly heavily logocentric. Yet documents, records and statistics are not self-evident. They are socially produced, and carefully negotiated, stored, deployed and circulated. They are the raison d’etre around which bureaucracies are formed; apparently disinterested matters of record but at the same time both aesthetically crafted and hugely powerful.
In postcolonial states, papers are precious, conferring status, recording grievances, communicating power; and are even more fetishised where masses are illiterate and the right to produce them authoritatively is carefully reserved.
What goes into them and what does not are constructed residues of social processes which filter what the state and its interlocutors record and acknowledge, and what they leave out. At the same time they are material culture, and their materiality matters; termites eat them, fire burns them, light crumbles them, age may either reinforce their authenticity or cast doubt on it.
Even apparently simple documents may be residues of lengthy and complex processes of practice; the tortuous processes of acquiring land title deeds, the post-facto production of police records to create a neat paper-trail in retrospect, the angst over having educational qualifications issued, authenticated, or proved fake.
This panel calls for papers on the social production, utility and usage of documents: certificates, petitions, records, letters, forms, notices, archives; all and any documentation which constructs or demarcates relationships between states and citizens, not just in terms of content but also the relations of its production.