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Keith Breckenridge: Recasting The Technologies of the Carceral Empire


This Zoom webinar is free and open to the public. Register here.


Recasting the Technologies of the Carceral Empire: India, South Africa, and the Political Paradoxes of Post-Colonial Citizenship


Keith Breckenridge, University of the Witwatersrand

in conversation with Ursula Rao, University of Leipzig


If India in the 19th century was the global laboratory for enduring Utilitarian experiments in carceral government, South Africa played the same role – informed by the racist priorities of Atlantic Progressivism – in the 20th. The intellectual and institutional histories of these two sites of imperial government have strongly shaped each other, and – over the last decade – they have converged on an apparently similar model of biometric citizenship. The administrative, intellectual and political histories of the two countries are, however, also very different. My talk will show that these differences equip the contemporary technologies of biometric government in each region with very different political capacities and purposes. But it will also discuss the grounds for a disturbing convergence. In the very recent past both countries host similar political movements driven by potent forms of nationalism that may foster news of carceral government aimed at the identification and exclusion of long-resident populations newly defined as illegal immigrants. Addressing these crises will require – in the United States and Europe as much as in India and South Africa – new understandings, and new technologies, of citizenship and its entitlements.


Professor Keith Breckenridge is Deputy Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser), and one of the editors of the Journal of African History. He writes about the cultural and economic history of South Africa, particularly the gold mining industry, the state and the development of information systems. He studied at Wits and Johns Hopkins and completed his PhD at Northwestern in 1995.

Professor Ursula Rao is Director of the Department of the Anthropology of Politics and Governance at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale).



This event is part of the webinar series “Behind Walls, Beyond Discipline: Science, Technology & the Carceral State.” This is the first event in this series. The next event is Criminal Knowledge.

For more information, see the series Web site:

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