Assistant Professor


PhD University of Michigan

BA   Columbia University 


Zehra Hashmi studies identification technologies in South Asia and their intersection with surveillance, kinship and governance. Her current book project is a historical ethnography of Pakistan’s national identity database. It follows how this information system uses data as a kin-making substance to redefine who counts as kin, and ultimately, a citizen. Her work brings an anthro-historical understanding to bear on debates concerning a central feature of life today: digital identification.

Research Interests

Digital infrastructures, biometrics, documentary technology, kinship, surveillance, colonial and postcolonial governance, ethnicity, and migration.

My research looks at how the individual became identifiable and the technological history of this process in South Asia. My first book project is a historical ethnography of Pakistan’s national identity database. I study how this information infrastructure came to use data as a kin-making substance that redefines who counts as kin and, by extension, who counts as citizen. I argue that this reliance on kinship and genealogy reconfigures how we can understand modern identification both in South Asia and beyond. 

With an interdisciplinary training in Anthropology, History, and Science and Technology Studies, I draw on multiple methodologies to unsettle disciplinary boundaries. I follow how historical practices of identification congealed into technological objects such as the identity card and the identity database. I examine how seemingly separate domains, such as the family and the state, leak into one another over time. My work incorporates the practice of moving between ethnography and archives to trace the longstanding interconnections between individual identity, kinship, and informational technologies of the postcolonial state. 

My interest in identification and surveillance has led me to begin new research on tracking technologies in the domain of public health. My next project aims to bring together a history of public health surveillance in Pakistan with an ethnographic focus on the nascent Integrated Disease Surveillance System (IDSR). This project sits at the intersection of health bureaucracy, information systems, epidemiology, and the intertwined politics of empire and global health.

Selected Work

“Making Reliable Persons: Managing Descent and Genealogical Computation in Pakistan.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 63, no. 4, 2021, pp. 948–78.

“Thinking with a Database.” PlatypusBlog, Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing. May2021.

 “Identification and Misrecognition in an Identity Database,” in Parables of AI in/from the Majority World: An Anthology, Data and Society.


Courses Taught

STSC 3766: Cultures of Surveillance 

STSC 1600: The Information Age

Faculty Bookshelf