Author: Ranjit Singh
Workshop: Fostering Historical Research in CSCW & HCI
Venue: The 22nd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
Date: 10 November 2019
This paper outlines the evolution of my work to narrate the history of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based national identification infrastructure, in one of my dissertation chapters. I describe how and why this seemingly simple task of narrating a 20-year history of an infrastructure eventually expanded to cover a 200-year history of infrastructuring unique identification of residents in colonial and postcolonial India. Based on my work on writing this chapter, I argue that histories of infrastructuring the relation between a technology and its intended purpose (relation between biometrics and unique identification, in my case) narrate how cycles of interrelated efforts manifest in partial, yet practical achievement of the purpose before, during, and after the technology’s appropriation. I conclude by arguing that focusing on histories of infrastructuring is not only a useful method and heuristic to historize data infrastructures, but also an effective tactic to leverage the past to inform their design, implementation, and use.