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Cover for Government of Paper

Government of Paper

The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan

Matthew S. Hull


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (6/5/2012)


In the electronic age, documents appear to have escaped their paper confinement. But we are still surrounded by flows of paper with enormous consequences. In the planned city of Islamabad, order and disorder are produced through the ceaseless inscription and circulation of millions of paper artifacts among bureaucrats, politicians, property owners, villagers, imams (prayer leaders), businessmen, and builders. What are the implications of such a thorough paper mediation of relationships among people, things, places, and purposes? Government of Paper explores this question in the routine yet unpredictable realm of the Pakistani urban bureaucracy, showing how the material forms of postcolonial bureaucratic documentation produce a distinctive political economy of paper that shapes how the city is constructed, regulated, and inhabited. Files, maps, petitions, and visiting cards constitute the enduring material infrastructure of more ephemeral classifications, laws, and institutional organizations. Matthew S. Hull develops a fresh approach to state governance as a material practice, explaining why writing practices designed during the colonial era to isolate the government from society have become a means of participation in it.

Praise For Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan

“A must read.”

"Government of Paper . . . provides a rich apparatus for observing and analyzing the people and activities of bureaucracy in detail. Hull combines linguistic and sociocultural anthropology, in order to closely read details such as arrangements of persons during audiences in offices, the use of specific verb forms by persons according to goal and rank, and so forth. Scholars who work in many settings will profit from careful study of his evidence and interpretation."
— Anthropological Quarterly

"Hull’s book is a landmark ethnography of Pakistani society and should serve as a touchstone for future social research on Pakistan and South Asia. It is a welcome addition to a growing body of fieldwork-based scholarship that works against the grain of reductionist and essentialist representations of Pakistan as a problem to be fixed and, instead, treats its subject, the Pakistani government and people, with attention, care, and respect."
— South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal

"Matthew Hull's much anticipated book on the semiotic technology undergirding Pakistan's bureaucratic state does not disappoint. This is a comprehensive ethnographic portrait of the working of the documentary practices that are central to modern governance, based on many years of close observation in Islamabad's Capital Development Authority (CDA) and keen attention to the material and linguistic details of highly complex processes. . . . An important addition to the recent boom in ethnographies of bureaucracy, and his analytic care and precision make it a text that all students of government will have to contend with." 
— Political and Legal Anthropology Review

"Provides a fascinating insight into recordkeeping practices of the CDA and is a powerful statement about understanding the context in which records are created and used."
— Archives and Manuscripts

"An elegantly composed and rigorously argued ethnography."
— HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

University of California Press, 9780520272156, 320pp.

Publication Date: June 5, 2012

About the Author

Matthew S. Hull is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the nexus of representation, technology, and institutions.