Who or what is the subject of contemporary identity, and what politics ensue in the face of this emergent subject? This question, is the central one that this experiment cum blog seems to find itself addressing.
Zipless encounters with the identification establishment
Before I begin with a comment I will stretch out over two or more posts, I might for this entry recount a conversation I had with a fellow scholar this past week, who was telling me of her experience in signing up for the UID/Aadhaar card. What made it so easy, she said, was that I did not need to bring any documents.
Her experience runs against many of the reports of UID registration covered in news articles and elsewhere. For the moment and taking her account seriously, let me presume that the question of using biometrics, big data, and the rationalized and deterritorialized reorganization of welfare to generate trust—the promise of UID in a nutshell—itself enters into a world in which preexisting ecologies of risk and trustworthiness produce differing modes of entrance into UID’s promise.
In the case of this one person, the mode of entrance was entirely friction-free. To borrow a favorite adjective from Erica Jong, it appeared “zipless.”
I am presuming that such zipless encounters are not evenly distributed. But suspending for the moment my hermeneutic of suspicion, the social fact (if that is what it is) of the ease of entrance into Aadhaar is worth thinking with. I will be reading both Akhil Gupta‘s and Matthew Hull‘s recent books in the next few weeks. Both differently attend to the relation of bureaucracy to the materiality and force of the document, extending a conversation Annaliese Riles, Laura Bear, and Emma Tarlo among others have engendered. But the claim advanced to me, by and for a certain kind of subject, was for a relation to entitlement and belonging that required no documents. Whatever its relation to actual practice, as such the claim bears attention.
This scholar made two other points. First, she noted that such zipless ease could be manipulated. It is fine for people like you and I, she said, and I should note that these words are my reconstruction of a conversation some hours after it took place, but others could create duplicate numbers. Her use of the duplicate was perhaps a response to my own mention, earlier, of my growing interest in de-duplication as a mode of governance.
If I am correct in reading the implicit theory of value and the state in the project of Aadhaar as a dual diagnosis of ‘duplication from above’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the powerful through the creation of phantom populations that receive entitlement monies or materials] and ‘duplication from below’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the ‘common man’ or janata manipulating the varied identities given one by the state], then taking this scholar’s concern seriously produces a middle-subject [there must be some useful expression of this in German, say] that can be trusted not to duplicate itself and that can, therefore, be granted ID ziplessly. Or rather, all subjects may variably make claims on their status as such a middle-subject.
My interlocutor made another point. The agency that registered her, pleasant and unencumbered by documents though it was, could answer few of her questions. Simply put, its employees seemed to have little understanding of the UID number or its use. Their sphere of competence focused on the technical practice of registration and not the afterlife of that enrollment.
For the moment, and as with the earlier points with awareness of the limits of a single conversation, we might define what is at stake here as a particular temporality of enrollment or registration. Aadhaar, that is, may seem to bear a particular relation to the present, with its relation to what after Jane Guyer I will term the near future in question.
If the scholar suggested the limit to a unitary process of enrollment, given the distinction between the middle-subject (always already de-duplicated) and the duplicating, cheating subject, we might attend to how the figure of the Universal Subject of “Universal ID,” the basis [“aadhaar”] of the promise of a national telos of fairness, reason, and wealth, may always already contain within itself a doubling or duplication, a split subject that will threaten to defeat the very project of universalizing, de-duplicating technology.