The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Keith Breckenridge

Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

Keith Breckenridge is a Professor and the Deputy Director at Wiser. His book -- Biometric State: the Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present (Cambridge, 2014) – shows how the South African obsession with Francis Galton's universal fingerprint identity registration served as a 20th century incubator for the current systems of biometric citizenship being developed throughout the South. He has also published widely on the history and contemporary politics of biometrics,  with important papers in Africa, History Workshop, the Journal of Southern African Studies, Public Culture and comparative anthologies on systems of identification (the full list is here).  This interest in biometrics has also drawn him in to the global institutional history of state documentation, especially the forms of birth, death and marriage registration that are ubiquitous (but very poorly understood) in Europe, Asia and the Americas (see  With Simon Szreter he edited Registration and Recognition: Documenting the Person in World History published by OUP and the British Academy in 2012, a volume of essays which examines the workings and failures of civil registration in twenty different regions and periods around the world.  He is currently working on several book projects, including, Biometric Citizenship, which investigates the global infrastructure of biometric civil registration that is developing in the former colonial world.