Accepted Paper:

The File as Hypertext: Documents, Files and the many worlds of the Paper State  

Author:

Mayur Suresh (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

I provide an ethnographic exploration of the power of the file in terrorism trials in Delhi. Drawing on my fieldwork, I look at the power or the file not only to record the world, but actively create and destroy the world. I argue that the file is not merely a textual space, but a hypertextual one.

Paper long abstract:

Files, as an instrument of legal processes, have been thought of as a technology that records the world and provides an accurate picture of the world. Hence scholars like Vismann (2008) and Raman (2012) point to the file as that which determines the world: what is not in the file, is not in the world. If it existed in the file, it was evidence that it existed in the world. In this paper I argue that the power of the file goes further than this: it can literally conjure the world. I argue that if something exists in the file it, it must exist in the world. In doing so, the file destroys one world, and produces another.

Throughout my fieldwork of terrorism trials in Delhi, I found that the terror of law was not manifest through torture and exceptional procedures, but also through the aporia of the worlds produced by the file. A file could create a confession where none existed, could magically summon previously unnamed witnesses and materialise forensic evidence.

Through one case - involving a lost file and the creation of a parallel 'shadow' file - I look at the power or the file not only to record the world, but actively create and destroy the world. I argue that the file is not merely a textual space, but a hypertextual one.

Panel P063
Evidence in question: anthropological authority and legal judgment [Anthropology of Law and Rights]