Annual South Asia Lecture: History and Anthropology of Science-Technology-Medicine

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 6:00pm

Annenberg Building, Room 111

3620 Walnut Street

Philadelphia, PA 19104

The South Asia Center & Department of History and Sociology of Science Presents:

The End of Biography and History: Biometrics in India and the "De-Duplication" of Society

with Professor Lawrence Cohen from the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley


"In the 1990s, two distinct assemblages of bureaucracy, biometrics, and big data emerged in India, respectively organized around border security (the National Population Register or NPR) and financial security and the future of welfare (the Unique Identification Authority or UIDAI). Each made a claim to create a national ID that would enfold all of the currently proliferating forms of state, civil, and corporate identification within it. Two intertwined historical and sociological glosses have emerged to explain both UIDAI and NPR and adjudicate the difference: a hermeneutic of suspicion organized around data monetization and surveillance under neoliberal expansion, and a hermeneutic of generosity organized around the condition for a mass biopolitics after labor ceases to organize future politics or utopia. The respective "Concepts" of the two biometric ID programs, to use the engineering term, centered on the relation of data to biography, history, and territory. This talk, speculative in attending to unfolding events, thinks with the claims for data of the two programs and the possible shift in these claims as the programs' contested relation has been transformed under the current government. It attends as well to the periodic intervention of the divine in the emergent everyday life of data."