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The Production of Legal Identities Proper to States: The Case of the Permanent Family Surname

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2002

James C. Scott
Yale University
John Tehranian
Yale University
Jeremy Mathias
Yale University


State naming practices and local, customary naming practices are strikingly different. Each set of practices is designed to make the human and physical landscape legible, by sharply identifying a unique individual, a household, or a singular geographic feature. Yet they are each devised by very distinct agents for whom the purposes of identification are radically different. Purely local, customary practices, as we shall see, achieve a level of precision and clarity--often with impressive economy--perfectly suited to the needs of knowledgeable locals. State naming practices are, by contrast, constructed to guide an official ÔstrangerÕ in identifying unambiguously persons and places, not just in a single locality, but in many localities using standardized administrative techniques.

Research Article
© 2002 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

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