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Writing, Signing, Scanning. Redistributive Justice and the Politics of Visibility in the Era of E-Governance

Sat, September 2, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Gardner B

Abstract

This paper focuses on the social and conceptual struggles following on from a shift in management systems from paper based record keeping to biometrically enabled e-governance. Using the public distribution system in Delhi, India as a case study, I will explore how the use of biometric technology repositions beneficiaries in systems of governance and impacts the manufacture of identity and transparency. Customers of the public distribution system are known through at least for different registers. They are known as abstract category of people living below the poverty line, as certified individuals holding identification (ration) cards, as known individuals in a neighbourhood and as bodies available for biometric identification. Ideally these representations should be congruent. Yet, each has its own reality concomitant with the technology through which it comes into being. Their difficult integration during processes of verification creates a rift between proponents and opponents of biometric technology. While the former fetishize the body as the original source of knowledge, dissatisfied users and shopkeepers mobilize the notion of writing as truth-making mechanism. The authority of the signing subject is pinned against the unpredictable operations of failure prone machines. This conflict over the visibilities and opacities produced by specific social technologies provides a pathway for reflecting on the foundational differences between writing and scanning, or signing and being signed in.

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