Significance of paper work in governance



March 1, 2022

M Ali Siddiqi reconstructs a gradual development of Significance of paper work in governance

The Significance of paper work in governance features of the modern age was the rise of professionals engaged in underpinning the governance practices by widespread secretariat work that kept matters updated throughout the length and breadth of a realm. With the passage of time such paperwork grew to enormous levels and most leading proponents of secretarial work were reported to be burdened under its weight and always complained of turning blind by the excessive quantities of memoranda dealing with diplomacy and statecraft. The modern statecraft became synonymous with a host of secretaries, pen in hand, surrounded by paper, labouring under the pains of governance.
The modern age soon witnessed the proliferation of such secretarial functionaries not only the government sectors but also in merchant companies, universities and religious foundations who were considered essential for the effective functioning of these bodies. The most visible presence of this form of secretarial professionals was in the intricate field of diplomacy where the increasingly complex conduct of foreign affairs saw the emergence of officials tasked with managing the growing number of tasks and personnel involved, as well as the expanding paper trail that they produced. Such figures – secretaries, chancellors and ministers – assumed central roles in a broad range of regimes – small and large, monarchies and republics.
The available historical archives point out that this practice started to take shape in the 15th century due to an intensification of contacts in international affairs, evidenced in a notable rise in the frequency of exchange of diplomatic personnel and in the volume of correspondence that they generated. The preponderance of such crucial work gave rise to the need to employ dedicated secretariat personnel both at home and abroad. Foreign policy was now viewed as intrinsically multifaceted and complex as was no longer considered spasmodic and episodic but rather a seamless activity of the state, a means of tending to bilateral relations and maintaining vigilance through intelligence gathering. This turn in practical requirements stretched the limits of the personal rule and brought about a widening of the circle of those involved in the formulation of state policies.
In early modern government the increasing influence of such professionals in the exercise of state power was one of the most notable features of early modern statecraft that ultimately gave way to the current system of running state affairs. Importantly this development was all pervasive and affected both the occidental and oriental patterns of governance. Along with the European secretary the profession of an eastern munshi also is rated to create a significant influence on the management of the affairs of the state. The history of governance shaped by the secretariat professionals has reshaped the understanding of early modern politics in significant ways. What is clearly evident here is the fusion of political and social milieus of these professionals along with their personal, familial and cultural formations.
It must be borne in mind that the state and statesman cannot be regarded as autonomous actors but rather must be seen as subject to a great variety of social, cultural and institutional forces. The staff cadre employed to carry out such functions are also now acknowledged as agents of cultural exchange, as well as of ideas. In order to comprehend suitable perception of inter-state relations in the early modern period one must take these various social forces and facets of the activities of professionals in the employ of the state into consideration. It is required to be acknowledged that in great many social negotiations that underlay the making of policy such as the negotiation of the interests of various stakeholders within early modern societies, the negotiation of authority and influence of high levels of governance did affect the course of events. In this process the interests of the heads of state went hand in hand with the personal interest and ambition of professional associated with the state activity.
It is therefore manifest that in the multilayered history of governance, many individuals who occupied influential positions in government councils, at court and in society played an important role. They were not only operatives of government, but also representatives of social classes and were part of the wide patronage arena acting both as distributors and as recipients. In this context one cannot fail to observe that governance practices, while ultimately formulated by individuals, was regarded here as the product of a complex set of interactions shaped by various overlapping and intermingling social, political and institutional settings.
The early modern age is also characterised by the emphasis on the role of information that shaped the pattern of events and policies and is rated as a period of important transitions in attitudes and practices concerning the generation, transmission and storing of information of all types. Supported by easy access to paper enabled such professionals to initiate and preserve wide array of human activities through voluminous records that helped in tracing one trail of event with the other. The result was the desire for information and the resultant volume of collected data meant that the task of information management took on unprecedented importance and greatly facilitated all aspects of governance. The resultant virtuosity of a bevy of professional secretaries was in great demand in the early modern world as not only were written records supposed to supply a written representation of reality but they could also create a reality of their own.
Interestingly, Significance of paper work in governance enormous paper soon became the demon of early modern statecraft. Almost all states soon found themselves inundated with excessive paperwork and they produced archives bulging with materials generated from the administration of their territories and their diplomatic relations with their neighbours. Early modern governance transactions encompassed the mediation of public transactions as governance was gradually becoming more informed and handled competently. It became apparent thus that governance transformed into a corporate venture with many professionals using corporeal language to describe its functions and practices. This governance by paper was to soon become the standard format of modern governance.
The governance now comprised of the essential faculty of correspondence mediated the relationships between the rulers and the ruled and between centre and periphery. Much of the power vested in the archives of the governance structures flowed from their content and vast matters of precedents and legal obligations forming the rational base of governance. The rulers were particularly conscious of the vast reservoirs of written records they have to take into account while forming important policies and taking crucial decisions. It was slowly emerging that much of the statecraft conducted by the central figures was transacted predominantly through the exchange of correspondence and this mode soon became the norm of governance. The obvious consequence was that almost all aspects of governance now required the management of correspondence: drafting, reading, sorting and filing.
This was the beginning of Significance of paper work in governance the soon-to-come bureaucratic models specifically put in place to formalise and regulate affairs of governance. The fast explosion of paper characterised governance and became the forerunner of the current practices of governance spanning both official and private sectors. By sixteenth century the role of paperwork became a powerful reality and there was hardly any aspect that it did not cover. It ultimately resulted in bureaucracies, in their circulation of paper, ending up relying on official written documents to represent the world confirming that pursuit of governance actually was hidden and preserved in written record. TW

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M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading periodicals


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