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Policing the FrontierAn Ethnography of Two Worlds in Niger$
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Mirco Göpfert

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501747212

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501747212.001.0001

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The Pen

The Pen

Report Writing and Bureaucratic Aesthetics

(p.76) Chapter 6 The Pen
Policing the Frontier

Mirco Göpfert

Cornell University Press

This chapter explains that when the gendarmes had established the facts, they produced a new story—the bureaucratic narrative of the case file. These reports tell the “true story” and make the events, including those involved, legible in the truest sense. By looking closely at the writing process, the chapter shows that bureaucratic work has—beyond institutional, material, and social constraints—plenty to do with aesthetics. This acknowledgement helps fill the gap often perceived between official norms and informal practices, between legal and pragmatic reasoning. Aesthetics of form, style, and content are not mere decor on the legal or pragmatic function of documents; bureaucratic aesthetics embrace them all simultaneously. It is thus no contradiction that bureaucratic aesthetics are at once personal and impersonal, predictable and unpredictable, legal documentation and poetry; it connects people, domains, and worlds through translation while making their separation blatantly obvious. It is the aesthetic of the frontier. The chapter also looks at the procès-verbal, a document which states a breach of a law and the measures taken in response by gendarmes.

Keywords:   gendarmes, bureaucratic narrative, case file, bureaucratic work, bureaucratic aesthetics, legal documentation, bureaucratic documents, procès-verbal, report writing

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