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EXCAVATING LEGAL LANDSCAPES: Juridical Archaeology and the Politics of Bureaucratic Materiality in Bogotá, Colombia

Cultural Anthropology

Published online on


In Bogotá, urban planners employ the notion of juridical archaeology to describe the difficulties associated with the implementation of the city's profuse and contradictory building regulations. They evoke a stratified and recalcitrant topography of decrees whose unpredictable effects are tied to the juxtapositions and gaps between sedimented legal artifacts. In practice, however, juridical archaeology holds great strategic value to bureaucratic operators, as it enables them to configure frameworks for urban development in a field of regulatory contingency. By representing the city's legal system as an opaque and intricately layered terrain, bureaucrats and lawyers deflect accountability, arguing that incoherence is to blame. Furthermore, they occlude their interpretative agency by claiming that they do not shape the meaning of the law, but merely excavate it from the city's legal depths. I argue that juridical archaeology expands understandings of state reification, showing that bureaucratic disorder itself can be reified as a concrete amalgamation of incompatible parts and pieces. Furthermore, I qualify scholarly claims about the agency of bureaucratic artifacts through a more interactive approach to materiality that highlights the crucial roles of social meaning and practice. From this perspective, I focus on the ways in which actors materialize legal infrastructures in their everyday performances of bureaucratic expertise and authority.