Bureaucracy : Disciplining

Disciplining

One of the primary functions of bureaucratic forms like the dictionary, encyclopedia or collection of statutes is to build disciplinary structures. Bureaucracy works toward consolidating the policies and procedures of institutions, governments, and specific professional fields like medicine or law. But defining the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge often entails ordering and controlling people and things, and thus discipline in the Foucauldian sense. Bureaucracy sets the parameters of modern academic and scientific disciplines, and in doing so subjects us to regimes of power that have no clear origin or agent.

This edition of the third part of Edward Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England was published in 1648. Like all of Coke’s other works, these materials played an important role in the seventeenth-century English turn toward modern notions of legal authority that rejects idiosyncrasy. Whereas the practice and very processes of law had previously depended upon the independent and often inconsistent decisions of individual leaders or jurists, Coke advocated a more systematic and consistent legal practice based on knowledge distilled from the history of English common-law decision-making. His Institutes represented a repository of this distilled wisdom that was composed alongside an equally important and influential set of reports of specific cases that Coke had observed and taken part in.

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By the time he reached the age of 55, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) held court over a literary club that included among its members many of the most influential men and women in eighteenth-century English culture. Johnson’s ride to this height was not easy, but it was advanced enormously by his work as an innovative lexicographer. Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was first published in 1755. 

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The Glossographia was first printed and sold in 1656 (British Library). This third edition was published in 1670, the same year that Blount’s most famous, or, at least, most re-printed, work appeared on the book market once again, another treatise on the use of the English language, The Academy of Eloquence: Containing A Compleat English Rhetorique, Exemplified Common Places and Formula’s digested into an Easie and Methodical Way to speak and write fluently, according to the Mode of the present Times: With Letters both Amorous and Moral Upon emergent Occasions (1654). A similar work to Blount’s, the English Dictionary: or an Interpreter of Hard English Words by Henry Cockeram, was first published in 1623; this was the first book of its kind to use the word “dictionary” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). 

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In 1895, the well-known playwright, author, and poet, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was sentenced to two years of imprisonment at hard labor for gross indecency. Six years after his death in 1900, this compilation of “short hand reports” surfaced, titled The Shame of Oscar Wilde. Using excerpts from questioning and testimony, this book recounts selected details from the convoluted trials Wilde was involved in. It details the court proceedings and testimonies in both the libel trial against the Marquis of Queensberry and the ensuing criminal cases of sodomy and gross indecency against Wilde, which resulted in his conviction.

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