Documents of indiscipline and indifference

The violence of bureaucracy in a Brazilian juvenile prison

by K. Drybread

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Beatings and torture are common elements of prison discipline in Brazil. Yet the nation's juvenile inmates also suffer violence at the hands of prison staff and administrators in less obvious ways—through the production and circulation of institutional paperwork. Every relationship an inmate has with a professional who works in the juvenile-justice system is mediated by documents in which the discursive and the material interact to construct subjectivities, define relationships, and establish values. Ethnographically attending to the production and circulation of such documents reveals the ways that paperwork participates in structural violence: it circumscribes the identities and the futures of institutional subjects and limits the professional trajectories of lower-level bureaucrats. Moreover, official paperwork may in some cases contribute to the institutional violence that it purports to only record.