Identification As Power, Body As Risk but Resource: The Colonial ID Systems Applied to the Neoliberal World

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Midori OGASAWARA, Queen's University, Canada
Surveillance systems today are massive and individualistic, identifying the population as individuals, accumulating data on an individual basis across spheres, and tracking individual movements physically and virtually. Identification (ID) is central to today’s formation of power politically and economically. Among ID technologies, biometrics is seen and spread as the ultimate identifier of the ‘truth’. The body is targeted as the final evidence of self and the original source of data in both markets and security systems.

Although the ID technologies found the best opportunity to proliferate in the ongoing ‘war on terror’ since 2001, the modern origin to govern individual bodies can be traced back to some basic institutions: the nation-state, bureaucracy, capitalism and colonialism (Weber 1946, Marx 1976, Foucault 1977, Lyon 2009). Among them, biometrics shows strong connection to colonial governance, as fingerprinting was invented in British India and applied to South Africa (Cole 2001, Breckenridge 2014). In Northeast Asia, Japan issued fingerprinted ID cards to identify the Chinese population when occupying Manchuria, northeast China, in the 1920s–1945.

The Manchurian ID systems performed dual tasks: preempting potential rebellion among the local Chinese and using them as cheap labour power for the empire. Their bodies were treated as risks, as source of resistance, but profitable resources, by the colonizers. Colonial ID systems classified racialized bodies for both exclusion and inclusion. The dual characteristics are theoretically framed by biopower (Foucault 1978), the state of exception (Agamben 1998), and necropolitics (Mbembe 2003). The same purposes are still alive with technological enhancement in the postcolonial, neoliberal world, for preemptive surveillance and proactive profit making. Japan’s Manchurian ID systems reveal the political economic origin of ID systems that manage to force and cajole oppositions to work in unison and to make them serve the same reality in concert (Bauman and Lyon 2013).