Dissertation Research: Following infrastructural changes in the story of India's development through Aadhaar
Can a state empower its citizens by uniquely identifying them? This question is central to debates about registration of Indian residents in the biometrics-based national identification project called Aadhaar (translation: Foundation). Based on three biometric modalities (ten fingerprints, two iris scans, and a facial photograph) and basic demographic information (name, age, gender, and residential address), Aadhaar assigns a unique 12-digit number to every enrolled resident. Aadhaar has more than one billion enrollments, making it the largest biometric database in the world. The Indian government is promoting its use by emphasizing the benefits of recognition by the state. However, critics express skepticism by not only invoking the potential of Aadhaar-enabled surveillance, but also pointing to new emergent forms of marginality produced in the use of biometrics for governance. My dissertation advances the public understanding of the affordances and limits of biometrics-based data infrastructures in practically achieving inclusive development and reshaping the nature of Indian citizenship.
By tracing the sociotechnical, administrative, and legal development of Aadhaar, my dissertation contributes to deeper understanding of the uneven infrastructural mediations of state-citizen relationships. Understanding these mediations is important for governments confronted with the complexity of managing citizens at scale and for citizens struggling with their data representation in claiming recognition from the state under emerging regimes of data-driven governance.
Grant: Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, STS Program, Division of Social and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation (NSF)
Restoring Credit: How people understand and interact with credit scoring systems
(since Sep. 2017)
This project is a longitudinal qualitative study of the efforts of low-income individuals to improve their creditworthiness within the lending industry in the United States. It traces credit repair journeys of low-income individuals through qualitative interviews and monthly diary entries over a period of one year of select participants in Upstate New York to understand the implications of credit scoring systems for social and economic inequality. How do ordinary consumers make sense of credit scoring systems that appear to be inscrutable? By capturing credit repair journeys, we hope to understand (1) the key concerns that trigger self-awareness of participating in an algorithmic system, (2) the strategies and tactics used to act upon these concerns under conditions of restricted knowledge and access to the system, and (3) the practices of navigating the ever-shifting line between legitimate participation and illegitimate manipulation of the system. This project is a part of a broader collaboration on conceptualizing and organizing for a Digital Due Process Clinic, based on the model of clinical legal education, to study and support data subjects in their everyday struggles in securing fair representation in algorithmic systems.
Grant: Small Grants Award, Institute for the Social Sciences, Cornell University.
Researchers: Malte Ziewitz (Principal Investigator) and Ranjit Singh (Co-Principal Investigator)
Project Site: Restoring Credit, Cornell University
Life of a Tuple: The Assam NRC as an Infrastructure of Reform in Citizen Identification
(since Nov. 2016)
I am part of a research team, which is following bureaucratic trails of documents used in updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to differentiate between citizens and illegal immigrants in Assam, a state in the north-east of India. This update has required a series of interrelated technical, legal, bureaucratic, and policy fixes to streamline the collection and verification of document-based evidence in building a genealogical database of citizens in Assam. The people who are left out will eventually become immigrants for the Indian state. Its conceptualization and implementation have been rife with controversy with the involvement of diverse stakeholders such as the state bureaucracy, the Supreme Court of India, civil society groups, information technology companies, and communities of people facing different challenges in enlisting as citizens. The project involves producing a documentary film on who is an Indian citizen and the profound consequences for citizens marginalized in the processes of using documents and data records to map family relations and claim Indian citizenship. Discussions on migration have focused on contests over legal identity of immigrants, making bureaucratic sense of the other. This project contributes to these discussions with ethnographic vignettes of a state-sponsored citizen registration project, which aims to make bureaucratic sense of self (citizenry) in order to differentiate it from the other. It captures how the NRC manifests borders that are not geographical but are experienced as anxieties over new forms of alienation from the Indian state.
Grant: Research Grant Programme, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India.
Project Site: Life of a Tuple—Researchers at Work (RAW), Center for Internet and Society (CIS), New Delhi and Bengaluru, India
Back to the Future: Situating 'Technology' in 'Science, and Technology Studies'
(May 2013 - June 2014)
This project explored the historical context within which the discussion paper on Social Construction of Technology (SCoT) emerged and the professional and discursive efforts of STS practitioners to sustain the eventual shift in focus of STS as an academic discipline from socio-cultural explanations of science to those of science and technology. Taking the SCoT paper as an exemplar of this turn to technology, this project traced the drafting, publication, and reception of the SCOT approach between 1982 and 1987 to provide insights into the development of STS as an academic discipline and extend the notion of boundary-work to professions beyond the sciences. Making a claim for expanding disciplinary boundaries is not a singular event in time. Boundary-work is a continuous practical accomplishment of professional practitioners who use accountably rational criteria of intelligibility to determine the boundaries of their professional work. An expansion claim, thus, is only as good as the work done to maintain it.
Supervisor: Michael Lynch
Award: The Sheila Jasanoff Prize for Academic Excellence in Science Technology Studies for the best graduate student paper within the previous three semesters (May 2015)
Invited Talk [Keynote Speaker]: Ranjit Singh, 'Back to the Future: Situating the 'T' in 'STS'', at the Workshop on Social Construction of Technology Coming of Age: New Challenges and Opportunities Ahead, (Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 3-5 June 2014).
Locating Publics: Co-Production of the Bt Brinjal Controversy and Publics in India
(Jan. - July 2011)
This project traced a sequence of historical events between 2005 and 2010 that led up to the National Consultations on Bt Brinjal in January and February, 2010 organized for the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). It evaluated the persistent notions of science governance in India and placed them within the historicity of the controversy. On 9th February, 2010, the then Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests (MoSEF), Jairam Ramesh, imposed a moratorium on the agricultural production of Bt Brinjal after organizing a set of public consultations on the issue. The moratorium not only portrays the possibilities inherent within a public debate, but it also marks another significant event in the continuous evaluation of science and its impact on the developing economy of India. Right from the modern Chipko Movement of the early 1970s initiated as a protest against deforestation for industrialization to Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) since late 1980s against the construction of Narmada Dam, the public conversations on science in India are marked by distinct peaks of criticism within the generic troughs of belief that development through science is equivalent to progress of the country. In this project, I explored the the Bt Brinjal controversy as yet another critique of this belief system around science-led development in India.
Presentation: Ranjit Singh, 'Testing for the Post-normal age: Investigating Scientific Risk Assessment in Bt Brinjal Controversy', at the Science Studies Reading Group Meeting (Ithaca: Department of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University, 15 April 2013).
Institution: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS), Maastricht University
Vaacha: A Tribal HealthCare Management System
(Jan. 2007 - July 2008)
This project focussed on building a healthcare information visualization system of patients who came to the health camps organized by Bhasha, an NGO working on the study, documentation, and conservation of marginal languages in the tribal belt of Gujarat. It was an investigation of the circumstances which lead to disease outbreaks in the tribal belt of Gujarat and an intervention in evaluating contexts and devising healthcare policy using data visualization as a tool. In addition to creating a reference index of support systems for patients suffering from various diseases, the project set out to experiment with techniques to represent statistical indicators on quality of life of such patients. My attempt was to visualize health as a way of life.
Supervisor: Binita Desai
Publication: Ranjit Singh and Ravi Kiran Atluri, 'Democracy and Policy Games: The New Information Panchayats', in Journal of Creative Communications, Vol. 2, no. 3 (2007), pp. 329-344.
Institution: Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DA-IICT)
This was my final year research project towards completion of my undergraduate studies in BTech in Information and Communication Technology at DA-IICT.