Law's Materials

Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology (Geoffrey Winthrop-Young trans.) (Stanford University Press, 2008). Kunal Parker This month, I would like to draw legal historians' attention to an intriguing book, the late Cornelia Vismann's Files: Law and Media Technology. Vismann (1961 – 2010) was a German legal historian and media theorist whose work needs, in my view, to be far better known among American legal scholars. I had the privilege of meeting Vismann once, years ago, at a conference in Cleveland. It was hard not to be impressed by her brilliance. At its most basic, Files provides a history of, well, files: those ubiquitous, daunting, overwhelming, often crushingly tedious accompanists of law. Fiction has concerned itself occasionally with files-one thinks of famous works by Kafka and Melville-but academics (especially legal academics) have not often done so. We think of law in all kinds of ways-as a system of ideas, as a form of politics, as a means of exercising power, as a way of shaping social practice, as the troubled realization of justice-but not enough in terms of its materiality, its existence as sheaves of papers inserted into folders, as a forest of folders. And yet, for much of its history, law has been unimaginable without files of one kind or another. Continue reading "Law's Materials"

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