Technoscapes | Guest Lecture by Ranjit Singh | 30 Sept | 2pm

Friday, 30 September, 2022 - 14:00

September 30, Friday, 2pm to 3.30pm (SAT & CET)

7th Workshop, 3rd Guest Lecture by Ranjit Singh (AI on the Ground, Data & Society)

Seeing like an Infrastructure

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Abstract: Large-scale data systems play an increasingly central role in how state bureaucracies come to know and manage their citizens. Such systems are endemically uneven in implementation, producing distributed and exclusionary consequences that are among their most important effects. In mediating state-citizen relations, these systems have increasingly come to operate as infrastructures. In this talk, I build on James Scott’s work on ‘seeing like a state’ to conceptualize ‘seeing like an infrastructure’ as a suppler analytic perspective that maps the distributed work and uneven consequences through which designers, bureaucrats, and users assign or claim representation in the consequential data systems that increasingly shape and define citizenship. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork into Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based identification project, and studies of infrastructure, marginalization, and citizenship, I will argue that this perspective provides crucial insight into the strategies by which effective access to the basic rights and entitlements of citizenship are granted, claimed, and sometimes undermined.Certain combinations of data provide more comprehensive pictures of citizens than others. Visibility afforded by data infrastructures is not just a method of state control; it also conditions a citizen’s existence, rights, and participation within the state as a data subject. Drawing inspiration from the optical attribute of resolution, I will illustrate how the Indian state zooms in and out of the lives of citizens in (re)configurations of the registration, circulation, and interpretation of their data. I will explore how citizens and street-level bureaucrats work together to produce resolution of citizens through their data records. Citizens who are difficult to see through data become low-resolution citizens struggling with data-driven marginality in claiming rights and entitlements. Under emerging regimes of data-driven governance, struggles over resolution are crucial for mapping the relationship between the state confronted with the complexity of managing citizens at scale and citizens using their data representation to claim services.

Respondents: Alena Thiel, Christine Richter