Some anthropological examinations of documents have emphasized their role as regulatory technologies that enact control and legibility over both citizens and “aliens.” This article shows, however, that documentary practices and forms both reinforce and undermine attempts to make persons governable. My analysis centers on the “pink card,” the identity document issued to asylum seekers in Greece, which in 2010 was the European country with the highest number of asylum cases pending in limbo. Examining how both state functionaries and asylum seekers engage with it, I show how the pink card takes on unpredictable meanings with indeterminate effects, which can disrupt the regulatory functions of the asylum procedure. Through ethnographic data drawn from encounters between asylum seekers and police, interviews with asylum seekers, and case material, I argue for a consideration of how things themselves govern—that is, dispose, position, and shape—the activities and tools of state regulation.
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