Monday, April 15, 2013

Identification Practices

There's a very interesting project at Vienna University which looks at identification practices and technologies between the 19th and 21st century. They are three doctoral and post-doctoral students who work from an STS perspective on topics such as standardization of passports in the 1800s, fingerprinting in the 1900s, or algorithmic identification practices in the 21st century. I really like that they get to look at and compare old and new technologies, which is something that usually is too broad a scope for an individual dissertation.

Those in the German Area might want to check out their talk next week in Hamburg. Stephan Gruber, Daniel Me├čner and Christoph Musik will talk with Nils Zurawski about promises of security and the development of identification technologies. The talk will take place April 23rd at 6 pm, at the institute for criminology, Allende Platz 1, room no. 250.

Here's a short project description form their website (check out the three individual contributions as well):

Identification Practices and Techniques in Austria, 18th–21st century


The aim of our interdisciplinary research project is to explore the negotiation and implementation of individual identification – which is part of an ongoing and controversial public debate – in a long-term perspective. We focus on the situation in Austria and place it in a European and global context.

We will examine how identification techniques are negotiated, developed and implemented by different human and non-human actors, in institutions of the police, scientists and computer engineers. A basic theoretical reference is Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory. We do not write a linear story, but instead we pay attention to the expectations and failures that are part of the development of identification strategies and thereby investigate a dynamic process.

We want to compare which personal features, especially body features, are supposed to identify a person in our three research contexts: how classifications are made, how such features are standardized in an early modern, technical and algorithmic context. In addition to these features, we are interested in the construction and attribution of individual and collective identities: These identities are part of identification processes, for example in the construction of individuals as criminals or beggars.

We are interested in the connection between identification and surveillance. By that, we want to contribute to an ongoing debate that includes privacy issues, individual and collective identities, public and private surveillance. By focussing on three different historical and social settings, we want to deliver distinguished explanations that are often missing from public debates.

Our common research interests will enhance an ongoing theoretical and methodical discussion within our project and lead to an additional value of our individual dissertations.

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