On the banality of paperwork and the brutality of judicial bureaucracy in Myanmar

Nick Cheesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Bureaucratic paperwork seems to be self-evidently banal. But why does it matter that paperwork has this appearance? What work is banality doing? This article addresses these general questions by attending to three specific material qualities of banality in files from Myanmar's Supreme Court under military dictatorship, for the years 1992–1998: namely, their uniform typeface, frequent tabulation, and strenuous concatenation. Each has a corresponding value for bureaucracy: typeface connotes authority; tabulation, legibility; and concatenation, orderliness. Together these qualities permitted interventions into lives and events about which the court's judge-bureaucrats knew precious little. The files’ contents were banal so that uninformed, prompt, and more-or-less arbitrary decisions would be rendered easy and seemingly rational. Their banality at once enabled and occluded a distinctive brutality.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)165-182
    Number of pages18
    JournalHistory and Anthropology
    Volume33
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2022

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