Accepted Paper:

Knowing the whole: personal identification number as statistical infrastructure  

Author:

Baki Cakici (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

The personal identification number is designed to describe the whole population. In this paper, I trace the 'problem subjects' enacted by the different features and limitations of the number, and I show how it brings into being the population it sets out to identify.

Paper long abstract:

The personal identification number (PIN) is essential for the everyday functions of Nordic welfare states. As the number is unique to each individual, it allows different state-held registers to be linked to one another to produce a wide variety of data about the population, and it plays a role in nearly all transactions between the state and its subjects. It is also a key component of the population register, which holds census information on all citizens and residents. In this sense, it acts as statistical infrastructure which makes it possible for the state to know and govern.

Building on the notion of governmentality, specifically the necessity to know a population to be able to govern it, as well recent STS scholarship on how methods enact the very realities they set out to describe, I analyse the personal identification number and surrounding data practices. I focus on the ambition to describe a totality, that is, the whole population, and how this description is made possible by indexing using the date of birth. I detail the technologies that sustain the number, and I trace the 'problem subjects' enacted by the different features and limitations of the PIN, such as the binary encoding of gender in odd and even numbers, and the necessity to assign a date of birth even when the exact date is unknown. By attending to the technical details of the number and their consequences, I show how the PIN brings into being the population it sets out to identify.

Panel V07
Data infrastructures: practices and consequences