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Political Economy of Digital Biometric IDs: A Case of Aadhaar in India

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

Abstract

Post-Cold War governance reform initiatives that have spread across the global south, emphasized efficiency of service delivery, transparency, accountability, partnership approach with market and civil society organizations ((Chaudhuri, 2014). This led to an increasing proclivity for leveraging digital technologies for governance mechanisms. Growing regard for digital biometric identification system is symptomatic of this emerging trend which was further vindicated by the national security concerns in the aftermath of 9/11 (Breckenridge 2005). India’s Aadhaar project has emerged as one of the most ambitious biometric Identification project (Breckenridge 2014). It not only creates an overarching information infrastructure in which the individual become accessible to the state and the market alike but also provides a single point entry into a digital ecosystem that is gradually becoming necessary for accessing any kind of goods and services in India (Rajadhakshya 2013).

This paper examines firstly, how state is changing its position in identifying beneficiaries and in reaching out to those beneficiaries; secondly, how beneficiaries/citizens are coping with new requirement of getting a digital biometric ID and making themselves legible for welfare; and thirdly, how market and civil society organizations get involved in the above two processes. Drawing on secondary literature on governmentality and e-governance and primary research (interpretive case study method) on everyday practices around Aadhaar in two Indian states, this paper shows how digital biometric IDs are changing the relationship between state, market and individual/society at large. The overall objective of the paper is to underline the recursive relationship between technology and politics.

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