135. Biometrics and their Infrastructural Worlds

Michelle Spektor, Tufts University; Ranjit Singh;

Biometric data form conditions of possibility for imagining, representing, and intervening in individual and collective identities. These data, however, are also a means to create technological infrastructures that serve a variety of social and political purposes. Body measurements can be incorporated into passports, and other pre-existing identification and surveillance infrastructures, that distinguish citizens from non-citizens. Biometric data and their promise of unique identification are inscribed in systems that control access to healthcare and voting, as well as classification systems that reinforce inequalities related to, race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, disability, and nationality. Sensors in 'smart' devices and buildings measure human activity in order to regulate energy consumption, while the built environments of border crossings rely on biometrics to regulate the mobility of populations. These biometric infrastructures can transfer to new geographic, political, and temporal contexts, where their original technological designs and political aims may persist or change. For example, some post-colonial police departments inherited fingerprint systems from their colonial predecessors, but aimed to reframe them as infrastructures of nation building. This panel extends questions about the meanings of biometric data to include what these data do in the world - especially when they are imbricated into infrastructures that organize the societies, ecologies, and built environments in which we live. Taking an expansive view of what counts as biometrics, this panel welcomes papers that critically examine the consequences, politics, and human experiences of past and present infrastructures around the world that rely on measurements of life itself.

Contact: spektor@mit.edu, rp.singh@outlook.com

Keywords: Information, Computing and Media Technology, Data and Quantification, Infrastructure, biometrics; infrastructure; identification; identity; classification

Published: 04/07/2023