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The Infrastructure of Post-Imperial Citizenship: The Global Adoption of the South African Model of Biometric Government

Monday, October 7, 2013
4:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

Around the world the countries of the South are all moving to develop a new infrastructure of biometric citizenship.  In India, Mexico, Brazil (and a long list of other former colonies) states are deploying centralized identification and cash transfer systems that make use of fingerprinting for authentication.  In most accounts this global shift is traced to the development of Conditional Cash Transfers in Mexico and Brazil in the middle of the 1990s.   In this paper I show that all of these countries are moving to adopt systems of biometric identification and benefit transfers that were first developed and fully elaborated in South Africa from the late 1980s.

Keith Breckenridge has published on the cultural and economic history of the South African gold mining industry, of the state and of information systems. He has just completed Biometric State a book project that 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.