Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present

Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South

Biometric identification and registration systems are being proposed by governments and businesses across the world. Surprisingly they are under most rapid, and systematic, development in countries in Africa and Asia. In this groundbreaking book, Keith Breckenridge traces how the origins of the systems being developed in places like India, Mexico, Nigeria and Ghana can be found in a century-long history of biometric government in South Africa.

‘This fascinating and deeply researched study of the transnational politics of biometric measurement and surveillance places South Africa in a global field force of scientific and technological experimentation. Beginning with Galton and Gandhi, it shows how the power of technology can be deployed for many different reasons, and often with surprising outcomes.’

Saul Dubow - Queen Mary, University of London

‘Keith Breckenridge, one of South Africa’s leading historians, has written a fascinating, highly original social archaeology of the ‘biometric state’ … A magisterial work whose scope covers two centuries and many parts of the planet, it explains, counter-intuitively, why South Africa is the most advanced of such states in the world today, why it is a laboratory, in this respect, for other nations. By dint of its thoughtful scholarship, the book compels us to rethink the future history of states everywhere.’

John Comaroff - Harvard University, Massachusetts

‘Brilliantly, Breckenridge sees South Africa as a ‘global laboratory for biometric government’. This highly engaging and consequential analysis traces the vital links between colonialism and contemporary surveillance, provocatively placing biometrics and the state in some unfamiliar but compelling relations with each other. The lights keep coming on, to the very end of the book.’

David Lyon - Queen’s University, Ontario

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red jack
Jan 31 2018 09:06

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  • Over the last century South Africa has acted as a global stage for the schemes and controversies of biometric government. It has produced a blueprint for a new architecture of state power that is spreading through the former colonies of the European empires.

    Keith Breckenridge