Big data aggregation

In a post-colony like India, any critical engagement with data-driven knowledge production has to consider the persistent role of colonial biopolitics. It is well established that statistics — formerly termed ‘political arithmetic’ — have played a key role in the production of people, identity and nation-states. From the construction of enlightenment ideas such as the ‘individual’, national populations in Europe, and the ‘citizen’ in the US, the intended and unintended consequences of counting and categorising people run far and wide.

European colonies became sites for exotic and imperious enumerative and classificatory systems framed by orientalist pedagogies that displaced and serialised existing social orders. From the inventions of fingerprinting and the enumeration of complex traditions of faith and social difference into the fixities of religious identity and objectification of caste, such a biopolitics sought to make populations knowable and governable.

Further, post-Independence India saw an expansion of bureaucracy, official statistics and planning. Subsequently, government and transnational businesses used data modelling of the economy and populations to understand citizenship entitlements and consumer profiles.

The intersections of State and market interests after economic liberalisation in 1991 transformed the national political economy as well as the everyday cultural conditions of governance.


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