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2019 J. I. Staley Prize Winner – Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan

Mar 6, 2019

The School for Advanced Research is pleased to announce that the 2019 J. I. Staley Prize book award prize will go to University of Michigan Associate Professor of Anthropology Matthew S. Hull, for his 2012 publication, Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan (University of California Press).

Cities are shaped as much by paper and rubber stamps as they are by bricks and mortar, argues Matthew Hull in Government of Paper. By tracing the unexpected ways in which documents travel, he exposes the secret life of paper that profoundly shapes the built landscape of the planned city of Islamabad, and more broadly, gives us new ways of understanding bureaucracy on a global scale.

Taking us behind the bureaucrat’s desk, and examining the slippage between traditional and modern systems of measurement, Hull’s book shows how officials delegate agency and shape petitioners’ lived environments through circulating or sometimes misplaced documents. These are the material traces of bureaucratic processes which diffuse responsibility and yet influence the ownership of property, housing, religious worship, and commerce. Developing the notion of “graphic artifacts,” the author challenges our conventional notions of administrative process: more than inert forms, papers tell stories, make new meanings, and produce relationships under the guise of imposing rationality on the disorder of a complex city.

Matthew Hull is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan where he teaches courses on corporations, technology and materiality, language, South Asia, and social theory. With a focus on social-cultural and linguistic anthropology, Hull’s research explores the nexus of representation, technology, and institutions. He received a PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago (2003).


About the J. I. Staley Prize: Since 1988, the School for Advanced Research has presented the J. I. Staley Prize to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions. The most recent recipients was archeologist and McArthur Fellow Jason De Léon. In 2018 he won the prize for Land of Open Graves which illuminated the stories of suffering and deaths that occur daily in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as thousands of undocumented migrants attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The 2017 recipient, Stefan Helmreich, won the prize with Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas. His work examined how the use of new technologies such as molecular biological techniques, gene sequencing, bioinformatics, and remote sensing have changed the way scientists study the Earth’s oceans and seas. Read More…

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