Techno-optimism

June 22, 2020
Biometrically enabled surveillance of ration distribution at a Fair Price Shop in India

Policy-makers around the world deploy technology with the goal of leap-frogging their countries into the twenty-first century. The technologies do not always live up to such optimistic expectations; however, they are not without effect: with the introduction of new technologies come new procedures through which alternatives to established relations among states, markets, and citizens can be tested. New technologies gain traction through a multiplicity of micro-translations that create durable relations between humans, things, and institutions. While some scholars emphasize the dangers of digital transformation – for example, the potential for surveillance, the curtailing of individual freedom, or issues with data safety and data security – other scholars identify shifts in power balances through the implementation of disruptive technology or the creation of more inclusive platforms for expanding and easing access to services. Seen through the eyes of stakeholders, both sides have a point. People react to the multiple effects of new techno-regimes as they formulate their critique – for example, by protesting against new forms of surveillance or lamenting the failure to deliver on the promise of progress and modernity. By zooming in on the relation between the effects of technology and reflecting on these effects and their consequences, we create a vantage point for studying the negotiation between utopian impulses and ordinary action. The projects study biometric governance in India, the use of apps for improving health services around the globe, interventions to create smart cities, or changing techniques of scanning and interpreting the stars in Africa.

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