Accepted Paper:

A parliament of paperwork  


Bård Hobæk (University of Oslo)
Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

Parliaments are arenas for debates and political struggles, but are at the same time sites that work by way of documents and paperwork. Documents are core to what we label ‘assembling-practices’, as this paper shows in an analysis of a whaling controversy in the Norwegian parliament.

Paper long abstract:

What is a national assembly - or political parliament? As one of the key institutions and paradigmatic examples of 'politics as usual', parliaments are traditionally understood as sites for political struggles between parties, arenas for the exchange of ideas and voting over conflicting issues and diverging interests. Instead of contesting these established narratives, this paper aims to approach parliaments from a different perspective by exploring how parliamentary politics takes place through paperwork and the circulation of documents within and outside of parliament itself. In order to do this, the paper draws on the so-called laboratory turn in science studies, which demonstrated the role of inscription devices in the development of the sciences, tracing how the making of scientific knowledge was thoroughly dependent upon writing practices and the translation of nature-objects into inscriptions. Drawing on these insights, the paper argues that documents are more than silent background for the debates and decisions in parliament. Rather, the ways objects and interests are translated into paperwork enable specific forms of what we suggest to label 'assembling-work' that interact with and shape the questions, publics, knowledge or interests in play. This approach is explored through an analysis of a long and heated controversy over whaling within the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, in the late 19th century.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means