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Biometric Bodies or How to make fingerprinting technology work in India

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 17:00 to 18:30

Russell Square, College Buildings, Room 116
Professor Ursula Rao (Director of the Institute of Anthropology, Uni of Leipzig)

The rapid spread of electronic fingerprinting creates new regimes of surveillance and compels users to adopt novel ways of performing their bodies. This ethnography uses two Indian case studies – of verification practices at a welfare office and workplace – to unpack the processes by which fingerprinting devices become useful tools for determining identity. While in the popular imaginary biometric technology is often associated with providing disinterested and thus objective evaluations of identity, in practice “failures to enrol” and “false rejects” frequently cause crises of representation. People address these by tinkering with bodies and changing rules and in the process craft biometric bodies. There are assembled bodies that link people and objects in ways considered advantageous for the specific identity regime. By using assemblage theory, the talk proposes an alternative interpretation of biometric surveillance as fluid practice that is framed through the activity of multiple actors and that solidifies as particular power/knowledge arrangements are updated and become naturalised.

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