The Aesthetics of Legal Paper Work

Gustav Kalm

Bureaucracy is ubiquitous. Files are composed and shuffled to connect various people, places and ideas. Contemporary law and administration could simply not function without it. But as powerful as bureaucracy may be, the aesthetics of the legal bureaucratic world mostly go unnoticed. So ordinary are its looks that we may even think of them as infra-ordinary.

The offices and documents that circulate in them often convey a purported style of visual neutrality and nondescript. Grey offices with grey carpet floors and glass curtain walls, regular documents in Times New Roman, 12 pts, bureaucratic legalese and office attire are all parts of this realm. Is this particular style of visual infraordinariness incidental or is it functionally necessary to keep the legal machinery running?

In my master thesis on the aesthetics of legal paperwork based on immersive fieldwork conducted at international business law firms in London, Paris and Tallinn, I sought to fashion an understanding of the role of visuality in legal veridiction. In my doctoral dissertation, I study the visual world of global trade governance bureaucracy to understand its political function. Might we assume that the purported bureaucratic neutrality serves to mantle the true locus of politics in the global economy as insignificant?


This project was part of the Minerva Research Group The Nomos of Images. Manifestation and Iconology of Law.


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