Show Summary Details
Full access


Nonrecording states between legibility and looking away

Barak Kalir and Willem van Schendel

Keywords: civil servants; discretionary power; excluded citizens; population control; recording practices; state bureaucracy; state sovereignty; undocumented migrants

In this theme section we explore why and when states knowingly refrain from recording people and their activities. States are not simply in pursuit of enhanced “legibility”; at times they also need to be able to “look away.” In explaining strategies of nonrecording, our focus is on how subjects negotiate with state recording agencies, how nonrecording relieves state agents from the burden of accountability, how the discretionary power of individual state agents affects (non)recording in unanticipated ways, and how states may project an illusion of vigorous recording internationally while actually engaging in deliberate nonrecording. Presenting case studies from China, Greece, the Netherlands, India, and Romania, we show that strategies of nonrecording are flexible, selective, and aimed at certain populations—and that both citizens and noncitizens can be singled out for nonrecording or derecording. In analyzing this state-produced social oblivion, divergences between national and local levels are of crucial significance.


Kalir, Barak - University of Amsterdam

van Schendel, Willem - University of Amsterdam