Launching 'Governing through Biometrics: the Biopolitics of Identity' by Btihaj Ajana
Processes of ‘othering’ and ‘inhumanising’ continue to be at the heart of modern political discourses and practices. Nowhere is this more visible, more radical, more systematic than in the domains of immigration, asylum and border governance and policy. For such domains have long exposed the enduring tension between the universality of the human and the particularity of the citizen, while illustrating the State’s continuous monopoly over the socio-political dimension of both of these categories. Recent schemes such as the controversial government-sponsored immigration arrest adverts, together with the UK Border Agency immigration spot-checks targeting ethnic populations in London, are yet another example and instantiation of the cirminalisation and systematic (racial) profiling of those conceived as ‘others’. Added to that the development of a host of technologies and techniques such as those of biometrics, whose chief purpose is the control of movement and the securitisation of identity through the use and manipulation of one of our most intimate aspects: our bodies.
Unsurprisingly, and at least politically if not also ontologically, ‘being other’ inevitably calls into question the often taken-for-granted category of ‘being human’. For, as Arendt and Agamben remind us, only when looked at through the lens of that which is marginal, liminal and outsider could we see and fathom the myriad aporias and failures of current political practices and the fragility, if not even futility, of human rights systems in the so-called democratic states.
This panel covered precisely this question by addressing issues of immigration, humanness and technology from different perspectives including photography and poetry, academic and policy research, and advocacy and activism.
The event also launched the book Governing through Biometrics: The Biopolitics of Identity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) by Dr Btihaj Ajana from the departments of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, and Digital Humanities at King’s College London. This work interrogates what is at stake in the merging of the body and technology for security and governance purposes. It draws on a number of critical theories, philosophies and empirical examples, offering a multi-level and timely analysis of the socio-political and ethical implications of biometric identity systems.
Lisa Doyle (Refugee Council)
Joanna Zylinska (Goldsmiths College)
Btihaj Ajana is Lecturer at the Departments of Media, Culture and Creative Industries, and Digital Humanities at King’s College London. Her teaching and research interests are concerned with the area of ethics and biopolitics, and the philosophy of technology. Her recent book Governing through Biometrics: The Biopolitics of Identity provides a critical and multilayered analysis of the current developments in biometric technology and identification techniques. In addition to these research areas, Btihaj is developing projects on cultural and creative processes with a particular focus on the emerging cultural and museum initiatives in Arab states, and how these are reconfiguring narratives about culture and identity, heritage and memory in the region.
Lisa Doyle is the Advocacy and Influencing Manager at the Refugee Council, where she is responsible for overseeing its campaigning, media, parliamentary, policy and research work. She leads on the organisations research agenda, including designing, managing, conducting and contracting out research projects. Since joining the charity in 2005 she has undertaken research on a variety of issues that affect refugees and asylum seekers. Lisa previously held positions at the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA), where she conducted research concerning widening participation, particularly in relation to improving education services for people with disabilities and/or learning difficulties. Before joining LSDA, she was a lecturer in Human Geography at University of Sussex.
Joanna Zylinska is Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of four books – most recently, Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (with Sarah Kember; MIT Press, 2012) and Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009) - she is also a translator of Stanislaw Lem's major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Together with Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Open Humanities Press, she runs the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life, which publishes open access books at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences. She combines her theoretical writings with photographic art practice and curatorial work.
Anthony Joseph is a poet, novelist, academic and musician. He was born in Trinidad, moving to the UK in 1989. He is the author of three collections of poetry and a novel, The African Origins of UFOs. In 2004 Joseph was selected by renaissance one, Decibel and the Arts Council of England as one of fifty Black and Asian writers who have made major contributions to contemporary British literature, appearing in the historic Great Day photo. In 2005 he was selected as the British Council’s first Poet in residence at California State University, Los Angeles.
Joseph lectures in creative writing at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is a AHRC scholar and doctoral candidate at Goldsmiths College.