Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and by Keith Breckenridge

By Keith Breckenridge

Groundbreaking research of South Africa's position as a domain for international experiments in biometric identity during the 20th century.

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Additional info for Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present

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20 This is because between 1850 and 1900 Galton’s primary juxtaposition was between the English elite and Africans, especially the Herero pastoralists he encountered in South Africa. 21 To be fair the connections between Galton’s travels in South Africa and his interest in eugenics have been noticed by several historians, but most have moved quickly on, embarrassed, perhaps, by the extremity of his views on Africans. Nancy Stepan suggested that his journey was of ‘prime importance’ in the development of the views on race he expressed after Hereditary Genius, but her explanation of the place of Africans in Galton’s theory is made necessarily brief by the scope of her study.

Porter, The Rise of Statistical Thinking 1820–1900 (Princeton University Press, 1986); Hacking, The Taming of Chance; Stigler, The History of Statistics; MacKenzie, Statistics in Britain. 16 Raymond E. W. Gillham, A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) highlights his African experience without exploring its role in his statistics. 17 Stigler, The History of Statistics, 267. 19 But the gap between the 1860s, when Galton’s writing on eugenics began, and the early years of the twentieth century is curious.

24 Again, however, the reader is left wondering how exactly the African descriptions worked. A very similar explanatory structure works in the now extensive historiography on the technologies of identification and registration. 26 In these histories he is situated in an intellectual genealogy that connects Jeremy Bentham with Alphonse Bertillon, working as a clerk for the Paris Police in the 1870s. 27 It was Bertillon’s interest in the statistics of probability that established the practical basis of biometry by specifying in minute detail the procedures that should be used to measure, describe and record eleven different parts of the body.

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