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The Biometric Imaginary: Standardization & Objectivity in Post-Apartheid Welfare

Year: 2013
Working paper number: 335
Author: Donovan, Kevin
Unit: SSU
Abstract:
Starting in March 2012, the South African government engaged in a massive effort of citizen registration that continued for more than a year. Nearly 19 million social welfare beneficiaries enrolled in a novel biometric identification scheme that uses fingerprints and voice recognition to authenticate social grant recipients. This paper seeks to understand the meaning of biometric technology in post-apartheid South African welfare through a study of the bureaucratic and policy elite's motivation for this undertaking. It suggests that biometric technology was conceived of and implemented as the most recent in a series of institutional, infrastructural, and policy reforms that seek to deliver welfare in a standardized and objective manner. This technopolitical imaginary has contributed to both the strengths and weaknesses of today's centralized welfare state.
Publication file: WP 335.pdf
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