'I is; therefore I am': The Census as Practice of Double Identification

Ruppert, Evelyn (2008). 'I is; therefore I am': The Census as Practice of Double Identification. Sociological Research Online, 13(4), article no. 6.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.1778

URL: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/13/4/6.html


I examine practices of modern census making with a specific focus on Canadian censuses of population from 1911 – 1951. My analysis builds on the work of two recent and related streams of research in the social sciences. One draws from Foucault’s writings on biopower and post-Foucauldian governmentality studies by examining the census as a political technology that produces a specific knowledge or political arithmetic (statistics) of the population so that its forces and strengths can be acted upon by various state authorities. The census is thus understood as a field for the administration of the state. The other focuses on how censuses are socially constructed, on the ‘making’ of censuses as opposed to the ‘taking’ of censuses and the use of census data as ‘evidence’. These studies document how the interests and political influence of various actors shape census making. The census is thus understood as a particular way of defining, collecting and organising social observations about individuals and not a simple reflection of an empirically existing reality. While the two streams of research have usefully challenged the facticity of census data, they have tended to reinforce a division between the real and the constructed. For if census data is not ‘real’ but a particular construction then what exactly does it represent? I contend that censuses are part of myriad identification practices that have come to produce subjects who are able to recognise and identify themselves in relation to the categories constructed and circulated by the census. It is through processes of double identification (state-citizen) that census categories come into existence, become facts and can then in turn not only be measured, analysed and assembled (objectification) but also be identified with (subjectification). The presence of such double identification makes an ostensible division between facticity and representation artificial.

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