New York University doctoral candidate, Vijayanka Nair, supervised by Dr. Emily Martin, proposes to undertake research that explores the cultural implications of biometric identification systems. Nair will conduct 12 months of field research in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka to examine the sociocultural salience of the construction of the world's largest biometric database. In 2009, the Government of India set out to issue each of its billion residents a Unique Identification Number (UID), where identification would be facilitated through a database linking the demographic and biometric (iris scans, fingerprints, photograph) information of residents to a twelve-digit number.

Informed by social and legal anthropology, as well as and science and technology studies, this doctoral research has two central concerns. Firstly, working with enrollees as well as government officials charged with planning, enrollment and biometric archiving, it asks: are there distinct, emergent ideas of individual identity being articulated through this program? Secondly, this study asks how the UID might reconfigure ideals associated with the state and governance in India. Is the UID's large-scale technologization occasioning a reimagining of the post-liberalization Indian state by bureaucrats, technocrats and the public alike? This research pays attention to the novel procedures through which states amass knowledge about individuals, thus advancing an understanding of the layered connections between information, ethics, and contemporary governance.

The study will use a combination of social science methods, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, textual and discourse analysis. This research is important because it takes an innovative ethnographic approach to studying a key issue of our times - the relationship between the technologizing state and the individual. Funding this project supports the education of a social scientist.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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New York University
New York
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