Nishant Shah


The rise of digital technologies has foregrounded the individual as the unit of network and database governance. The focus on the quantified self and data subjects has resulted in an increased attention on the rights, responsibilities, and safeguards to protect the individual at the centre of data mining and regulation practices. There is an increased anxiety about how the existing safeguards and policies are inadequate to both activate and to protect the individual in the face of ubiquitous and pervasive computational practices. This paper argues that attempts at trying to extend the fold of existing policies and frameworks are inadequate because they imagine that the individual negotiating with the digital networks is unchanged. Looking at the slippage between identification and identity in the discourse around India’s biometric database governance scheme, Aadhaar, the paper shows how the very conception of the individual and the space for identity expression are changing within digital realms. It further looks at computational architecture and theory to conceptualise an indifferent digital network that is operationalised to create a self-referential system that not only excludes the individual but also creates new ways by which the individual can be controlled and regulated. In mapping the changing contexts and contours of the individual, the paper calls for new research and analysis practices for understanding the diminishing space of expression, agency, and control for individuals in networked governance systems.

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