SENSOR-CENSUS-CENSOR : Investigating Circuits of Information, Registering Changes of State is an International Colloquium on Information, Society. Politics and History that will critically examine and investigate regimes and technologies of information harvesting, management, circulation and deployment as they have developed in India and Europe from early modernity till today.
The colloquium, organized by the Sarai Programme at CSDS, Delhi, in collaboration with the Waag Society, Amsterdam, under the rubric of the network titled 'Towards a Culture of Open Networks', invites scholars, theorists, researchers and practitioners working in the areas of history, political economy, political theory, philosophy, culture and technology studies as well as artists, writers and media practitioners based in India and/or Europe.
SENSOR-CENSUS-CENSOR will take place from 30 November to 2 december 2006 in Delhi.
Information, Society, Politics, History
Information is a crucial axis of political, economic and social life. The nature of information practices in contemporary societies are marked by a radical dispersal. This dispersal does not replace, earlier centralizing modes of gathering information, but stands alongside it. The basis of governance, in all its capillary forms and at all levels, from the level of the neighbourhood or the workplace to that of city, district, province, and the nation, and continuing even at the level of the relationship between persons (as citizens and non citizens) and different nations, and between nations themselves, can continue to be analysed in terms of the management of information. In fact, we can locate the analysis of information in society, history and politics along the lines of tension between centralization and dispersal.
At the core of this axial reality lies a conceptual and a categorical distinction between what is seen to be a member of a population - an entity that needs to be governed, and the far more valuable category of the citizen - a subject (with sentience and volition) who participates in that governance. The recognition of subjectivity (a sensory operation, involving an awareness of the change of state that involves the transition from a silent, or incoherent statistic to a speaking, sentient being) is what can be seen to lie at the heart of politics. It can be seen as a pre-condition of the political.
The harnessing and treatment of information creates the conditions by which persons and citizens, a population and a citizenry, a person and a consumer, a network of needs and a market, an identity and a demographic can be invoked in varied and complex ways by the state, quasi state agencies of social governance, as well as by local and global economic forces. This activity seems to be lever for mechanisms that have to do with the identification, policing, mechanisms of appeal and redress, moral order, taxation, the disbursement of welfare, the discrimination between citizens and others, and between different kinds of citizens.
Such information gathering, in order to be rendered useful, has to be activated through territorial surveys and census forms, public and private archives, documents and databases, reports and records, surveillance cameras and electronic filters, informers and informants, fingerprints and biometrics, photographs and recordings and a host of other technologies, methods and practices register the changes of state that occur in societies. These instruments and processes are so general in modern societies as to be part of the banal fabric of everyday life, especially in urban spaces.
Inspite of their generality, the circuits that solder information to power and established ways of doing things are constantly being hacked into. These quotidian episodes of information disruption, of unauthorised circulation and reproduction of information and a range of other transgressive information practices, can be seen to punctuate a chronicle of progress and order at crucial junctures. There is persistent trouble in the archives.
This colloquium is an attempt to inaugurate a body of reflection and research on information, society, history and politics within the ambit of the Sarai Programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, and raise the profile of questions about information in discourse in South Asia. The key questions that the colloquium will address are as follows :
Key Questions and Themes
Does the nature and purpose of information gathering undergo a transformation as we move away from relatively stable social and political formations to more contingent situations and domains globally? How does the role of the 'expert' stand in relation to new kinds of politics, based on contingent alliances? Is there an excess of information - in markets, in politics, in society?
What is the relationship between discourses of information and discourses of risk, security and safety?
What does information lose or gain in translation across languages and contexts? What for instance happens when databases generated for one purpose is linked to another. What happens when information crosses borders? What happens when information is deployed at a scale very different from the scale of the context in which it was generated?
How were methods of identification and information gathering experimented with and developed in India and other colonies and then perfected and deployed in Europe in the context of colonialism?
Can we build maps of the traffic in the knowledge of power across the circuits of empire, which takes in the work of archivists and historians, museum curators and judges, the testimonies of informants and approvers, as much as it includes the activities of administrators, surveyors, anthropologists and policemen, requires to be elaborated and detailed.?
How have the introduction of new information technologies, such as the telegraph, photography, telephones, sound recording, video, computers and the internet changed the course of information gathering, control and circulation? What implications have they had politically, how have they impacted on the political economy of information?
How have these technologies been used to subvert, challenge or erode the operations of power?
How does the unauthorised circulation and reproduction of information resources, piracy, copy culture, samizdat and other forms of transgressive information practice, affect the balance of power of information in any society?
How do different political systems deal with the management of information? What for instance is the relationship between the parallel histories of computing in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc and the demands of state action in these societies?
How can historians re-think silences and absences in the archives?
Can we construct alternative histories of archives and archiving? What status do archives of popular and social movements, personal collections and other attempts at restoring the memory of events and processes that have been deliberately obscured have in relation to the knowledge gathering activities of the state, and of power generally?
How can political theorists examine the relationships between populations, citizens, information and utterance to yield different models of complex political realities?
What implications do the contemporary (and projected) operations of biometric technologies, internet filtering systems, networked surveillance and data retrieval and outsourcing systems have for social and political life today and in the near future?
The rhetoric of 'Information society' with its ideological commitment to notions of 'e-governance' and 'e-citizenship' and 'ICT in development' conveniently obscures both older continuities and inequities as well as recent parallels between the politics of different kinds of information regimes as they stretch between India /Asia and Europe. What kinds of correspondences and crossovers between new and old practices of information can we locate and identify?
The 'SENSOR - CENSUS - CENSOR' colloquium will be produced with the financial assistance of the European Union's EU-India Cross Cultural Project,<www.opencultures.net>, under the ambit of 'Towards a Cutlture of Open Networks' . The contents of this announcement are the sole responsibility of Sarai/CSDS and its Partners in this network, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.