Can Trust be Engineered?

Keynote Lecture "Can Trust be Engineered?"

by Prof. Keith Breckenridge (University of the Witwatersrand)
31.01.2024 at 6 pm CET in the central building, C.40.704 Leuphana University.

Keynote Abstract: Many countries on the African continent are building powerful new biometric population registration systems. Often matched with new credit scoring regulations and – in some cases -- digital payment switches, these tools are designed to have powerful effects on finance. The advocates of these systems describe them as trust infrastructures, mainly because they can be used to simplify payments and strengthen credit distribution in the context of unreliable identification and collateral systems. But what is trust? And can it be generated technologically? These are especially important questions on the African continent where, as Celestin Monga and many others have shown, trust has been radically curtailed over centuries. In this paper I explore the geopolitics of trust over the last century and suggest what will be necessary if the biometric infrastructures are, indeed, to build trust.

Keith Breckenridge is a Professor and acting Co-Director at Wiser. He holds the Standard Bank Chair in African Trust Infrastructures. Keith studied at Wits and Johns Hopkins and completed his PhD at Northwestern in 1995. He writes about the cultural and economic history of South Africa, particularly the gold mining industry, the state and the development of information systems. For the last twenty years he has been writing about biometric identification systems and their political effects, especially on the African continent. His book -- Biometric State: the Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present (Cambridge, 2014) -- shows how the South African obsession with Francis Galton's universal fingerprint identity registration served as a 20th century incubator for the current systems of biometric citizenship being developed throughout the South. In 2017 the book was awarded the inaugural Humanities Book Award by the Academy of Science of South Africa. With Simon Szreter, he edited Registration and Recognition: Documenting the Person in World History published by OUP and the British Academy in 2012, a volume of essays which examines the workings and failures of civil registration in twenty different regions and periods around the world. He has published widely on the history and contemporary politics of biometrics, with papers in Africa, History Workshop, the Journal of Southern African Studies, Public Culture and comparative anthologies on systems of identification (the full list is here). This interest in biometrics has also drawn him in to the global institutional history of state documentation, especially the forms of birth, death and marriage registration that are ubiquitous (but very poorly understood) in Europe, Asia and the Americas (see http://wiser.wits.ac.za/futureID).
He is now working to finish several book projects: Biometric Capitalism, which investigates the global infrastructures of biometric civil registration and credit surveillance that are developing in the former colonial world; Power without Knowledge, which examines the very limited forms of official knowledge that supported the state in South Africa in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; and Mining, Power and Politics in South Africa which interrogates the usefulness of the idea of the Resource Curse in South African history.

International Workshop - Enacting Citizenship in the Digital Age

International Workshop "Enacting Citizenship in the Digital Age"

From 30 November to 1 December 2023, the DigID project organised its first international workshop at Leuphana University, Lueneburg. About 20 researchers from different European universities came together for a 1.5 hands-on workshop to discuss how citizenship is reconfigured in the digital age.

This workshop examined how the digitization of border and citizenship regimes – as highlighted by the move towards eGovernance, eDemocracy, eVoting and ‘smartborders’ – affects struggles over the right to have rights and people’s possibilities to enact themselves as political subjects. The workshop focused on three central questions. First, how and where do acts of citizenship occur when public assembly and direct state-citizens interactions become rare in the digital age? Which methods and research practices can we develop to actively engage with these protagonists and follow their struggles and practices of contestation, dissent and negotiation? And how does the digitization of social, economic and political life call for a more thorough (re-)consideration of material citizenship, that is, the material affordances, artefacts and infrastructures that are needed to enact citizenship?

These issues were addressed in three respective panels and a public lecture on "Performing Digital Data Rights" by Prof. em. Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths, University of London). You can find the program here.

Keynote Lecture: Performing Digital Data Rights - Poster Keynote Lecture: Performing Digital Data Rights

Keynote Lecture: "Performing Digital Data Rights" (Prof. em. Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths/ University of London)

The DigID project organised its first keynote lecture at Leuphana University, Lueneburg on 30 November 2023. It was given by Evelyn Ruppert.

The keynote addressed the following themes: What are the possibilities of performing effective and creative politics in increasingly digitised societies? How do subjects struggle to revolt, subvert and evade digital assemblages that track, troll, visualize, control, discipline, surveil and datify their acts and actions? How might we conceptualise such acts of resistance as data rights claims that subjects make when they act in or through digital technologies? Evelyn Ruppert approached these questions by considering two citizen-led enumeration practices. One was the #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less) movement in Argentina which makes rights claims to the collection and presentation of data about violence against women. The second was the Afrozensus project based in Germany that creates alternative census data about the experiences of discrimination and underrepresentation of African-descendants. Prof. Ruppert suggested that through a complex assemblage of legal, performative, and imaginary forces these practices perform ‘I, we, they have a right to’ challenge and perform alternative data about who we are as citizens.

Evelyn Ruppert is Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on how digital technologies such as smart phones, social media platforms, as well as myriad government databases generate enormous volumes of data about the movements, preferences, associations, and activities of people. While providing new sources of knowledge about individuals and populations, she investigates how digital technologies and the data they generate can also powerfully shape and have consequences for who we are and how we are known and governed. As such, digital technologies are also changing how we understand ourselves as political subjects, that is, citizens with rights to speech, access, and privacy. How citizens make claims to digital rights through what they say and what they do through digital technologies are key questions that she addresses. Evelyn was Principal Investigator of a five-year European Research Council funded project, Peopling Europe: How Data Make a People (ARITHMUS; 2014-19). Recent books are all Open Access: Data Practices: Making up a European People (co-edited with Stephan Scheel); Being Digital Citizens (2015; 2020; co-authored with Engin Isin); Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights (2019; co-edited with Didier Bigo and Engin Isin); and Modes of Knowing (2016; co-edited with John Law).