The self as a network: Examining the contours of privacy in database governance

Nishant Shah

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There has been a growing concern about the political subjectivity of the individual in the time of the network. Privacy advocates and researchers in particular have been critical about the eroding sense of the private self and recommending for a safe-guarding and upholding of individual privacy. This talk, drawing from the digital architecture of computational networks, examines the Digital Subject and the Quantified Self, as two new configurations of the self that defy the idea of the individual self. It argues that within the nodal structure of the digital, the self as we understand it has been not just been reconfigured through networks, but is indeed, a network in itself, distributed, and dense. The demands we make from database governance systems cannot be about restitution of the old self. Instead we need to begin with this newly configured self and understand what can be done to keep the new political subjectivity of the self as a network. The talk draws from ethnographic material from the building of the biometric identity and governance database – Aadhaar – in India, in order to illustrate the argument.