This conference is funded by a British Academy Conference Grant. It is a History and Policy event, and held in affiliation with Cambridge University History Faculty and the 'Generation to Reproduction' Wellcome Trust Strategic Award to Cambridge University.Organized by Simon Szreter and Keith Breckenridge
Faced, as many of us are, by vexatious bureaucracies with apparently insatiable appetites for credentials of identification, it is easy to view identity registration – the administrative recording of births, marriages, and deaths – as one of the walls of Weber's iron-cage. James Scott had this in mind when he argued that surnames “and the rolls of names that they generated were to the legibility of the population what uniform measurement and the cadastral map were to the legibility of real property.” (Scott 1998, 67-8) Of the many examples of coercive systems of registration leading to horrible events the Apartheid state stands out in the scope and longevity of its ambitions. Yet, hazardous and annoying as legibility may be, there are certainly other more persistent dangers that result from being administratively invisible. Almost all of the world's poor face dangers produced by a state that can barely see them at all. There are also good grounds for viewing local birth registration and social security as key institutions in the making of self-sustaining economic growth. The political origins and effects of identity registration are evidently deeply varied. This workshop will gather regional and disciplinary specialists to consider the origins and political consequences of administrative systems of identity registration from societies around the world.