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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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Drama Work

Drama Work

(p.93) Chapter 7 Drama Work
Policing the Frontier

Mirco Göpfert

Cornell University Press

This chapter illustrates how the result of the gendarmes' work was often not a bureaucratic report but an informal arrangement, mostly between the disputing parties. This was, indeed, the more desirable outcome to their work, both from the gendarmes' and the civilians' perspective. However, when confronted with severe crimes, the gendarmes saw their function as establishing consensus, resolving conflicts, and thus restoring social order in the disputants' community. Here the dramaturgical skills of the gendarmes were key. Establishing a consensus meant distributing mutually compatible roles among the parties in such a way that everybody could save face and meaningful interaction was possible. In this “social drama on the stage of law,” the gendarmes used the ambivalence and possibilities of the frontier-condition not so much to invoke the state of exception—quite the contrary. While their bureaucratic work was based on the translation from le social into les textes, from life to form, in these arrangements, the gendarmes allowed for a clear separation of the two. As such, they did not connect mutually compatible forms and formats by pressing life into a bureaucratically exploitable form; but they created mutually compatible forms of sociality and morality.

Keywords:   gendarmes, informal arrangement, disputing parties, social order, bureaucratic work, bureaucracy, sociality, morality

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