Accepted Paper:

Biopolitical bordering: Enacting populations as intelligible objects of government  


Stephan Scheel (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in statistical offices in EUrope, this paper studies the multiple practices, decisions and negotiations that are involved in the delineation of the population that is to be enumerated into being as an intelligible object of government in register-based censuses.

Paper long abstract:

Following Michel Foucault, the target of biopolitics are not territories or individual subjects but entire populations. While Foucault specifies that the emergence of this mode of government is related to new forms of knowledge - most notably statistics - he does not elaborate on how populations are constituted as intelligible objects of government. To address this question, this paper studies what I call biopolitical bordering: quantification practices which determine who is to be considered part of the population that is to be enumerated into being through censuses and other population statistics. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Estonia's statistical office, I study the practices, data infrastructures and method assemblages that are involved in the delineation of populations in order to inquire how this biopolitical bordering is done. In the context of Estonia's register-based census, the determination of the so-called target population (the population to be enumerated in the census) requires a methodology that permits to decide whether a person has been resident in Estonia in the 12 months preceding the census. Therefore, statisticians are developing an algorithm that determines an individual's residency-status through the number and types of entries a person has in 20 different government registers. What my research suggests is that multiple negotiations and decisions are involved in this kind of biopolitical bordering, ranging from the challenge of accounting for the varying significance of government-registers to the question if to in- or exclude people with ambivalent 'signs of life' in the registers in the target population.

Panel T045
New Collective Practices of Measurement, Monitoring and Evidence