Annual South Asia Lecture on the History and Anthropology of Science-Tech-Medicine
Speaker: Professor Lawrence Cohen, University of California, Berkeley.
“The end of biography and history: Biometrics in India and the "de-duplication" of society"
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."