Disrupting undocumentation: Municipal ID cards against passport fetishism

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In this article, I interpret municipal ID card programs as disruptions of nation-state practices of documentation and what I call undocumentation: requiring specific documentation in a wide variety of situations, while refusing to issue such documentation to people without legal residency. To understand municipal ID card programs as disruptions of these exclusionary practices, I analyze the relation between nation-states, people, and documents through close readings of two works of literature that dramatize the “fictive” nature of this relation: the dialogue on passports in Bertolt Brecht’s 1940 Refugee Conversations, and Sizwe Bansi is Dead, a 1972 play devised by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona that explores undocumentation during the infamous pass laws in apartheid South Africa. I argue that these works ironize the fetishization of documentation and undocumentation, which disguises the actual relations between people as relations between passports. I then argue that municipal ID card programs do not institute alternative forms of membership on a local level, or create sanctuaries that offer refuge from the secular world of power, but disrupt the monopolization and fetishization of the means of identification and documentation by nation-states, and reclaim these means for everyday use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalLaw & Literature
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jun 2022


  • municipal ID cards
  • passports
  • undocumented immigrants
  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Athol Fugard
  • Sizwe Bansi is Dead
  • Refugee Conversations
  • Identification
  • undocumentation
  • refugee politics
  • Pass laws South Africa


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