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Foucaultian Dispositifs as Methodology: The Case of Anonymous Exclusions by Unique Identification in India

International Political Sociology

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This paper examines the Indian government's Unique Identification (UID) program, the largest digital biometric program in history. UID is intended to provide a new model of security based on a complex interrelation between welfare, identity and rights. The program resembles the kind of liberal governmentality and biopolitical imperative described by Foucault, yet it is also inseparable from the specific socio‐historic conditions in India that constitute the strategic need for UID. This paper contributes to an ongoing debate as to the suitability of Foucault's thought for international studies by suggesting a productive line of inquiry: tracing the variance between the rationality of government programs and the technologies of enactment. The paper utilizes three methodological “prescriptives” from Foucault's concept of the dispositif, which are applied to the case study. This paper argues that the concrete application of the program challenges the perception that biometric technologies can guarantee the identity and inclusion of the political subject when applied across different geographies with different socio‐historical conditions. The specific discursive and non‐discursive conditions present in the application of UID lead to unexpected political strategies. While India's UID program seeks to augment the population with the biometric identity necessary for consumer citizenship, frugal government and expanded surveillance, those whose bodies are not “readable” by the biometric technology are excluded. It is exactly those subjects that the program aims to help that are most likely to be excluded.