The Body as Paperwork: Alternative Anatomies and the Bureaucratisation of Flesh

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


This presentation considers how the body manifested as paperwork in mid-nineteenth-century France. Building on the empirical aims and advances of the late eighteenth century, both medical and political institutions sought to harness the body as a site of experimentation, categorisation, and control. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the cumulative effects of industry and empire had reshaped the body through new modes of visualisation and the bureaucratisation of flesh, altering how the human form itself was experienced and seen. As a result, throughout France’s Second Empire, the body is captured in paper like never before, reconfigured and dissected through anatomical models, prints, photographs, and archives to become a new repository of somatic data. Beginning with the proliferation of Dr. Louis Auzoux’s revolutionary papier-mâché models, this presentation charts how the body became more visually accessible and more easily regulated through its manifestation in paper and will consider how anatomical specimens inform other iterations of the body as paperwork. By examining a variety of visual forms, this presentation will trace the tension between the populism of paper bodies and bodily paperwork as a means of control. While Foucauldian biopolitics undergird this analysis, this presentation will also bring contemporary theories of biometrics and the body-as-archive to bear on the interpretation of the human form in the nineteenth century. Pliable, portable, disposable, and easily reproduced, paper transforms the modern body and provides key material insights into how nineteenth-century flesh was visualised and understood.

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