Biometrics from the Frontier to the Border Zone

Authors: Amber Hickey*, University of California - Santa Cruz
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Military Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: biometrics, surveillance, borders, indigeneity, immigration, resistance, visual culture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the 19th century, physical anthropologists began employing craniometric tools in their studies of racial difference. These studies — which have long since been refuted — were used as evidence to justify the violent treatment of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities across the globe. Today, interest in biometric technologies such as iris recognition is burgeoning. This is particularly evident in border zones, where the regulation of racialized bodies is glaringly normalized.

In this paper, I ask: how are people resisting biometrics at the border?;What models of trans-border solidarity are emerging and/or surviving along the border, and how are these expressions of solidarity manifested?; How are these issues bound to Indigenous peoples histories and visions of territorial stewardship across currently imposed borders?; How are they connected to the violent history of biometric studies in and of many of these communities?

I seek to illuminate connections across the long history of biometric technologies — from craniometry to iris recognition. Drawing upon research on the history of craniometry performed at the National Anthropological Archives, I foreground the role of biometric technologies in processes of racialization, and their origins in white supremacist ideologies and structures, with a particular focus on technologies currently or soon to be used at the US/Mexico border. I point toward the expansive surveillance abilities of the US, arguing that biometric technologies have long been a central tool of corporeal regulation of racialized communities, and conclude by putting forward several examples of dynamic contemporary resistance to such biometric oppression.

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