When Numbers Run Out: Civil Registration and the Performativity of Methods

Baki Cakici

Science & Technology Studies, 2024.

In the early 2000s, authorities in Sweden and Denmark recognised that their personal identification numbers were about to run out but followed different interventions to resolve the same issue. In this paper, I start from these cases to analyse personal identification numbers as methods for knowing and governing populations. I draw on two assertions from the study of methods within STS: Methods are performative, and they produce multiple objects and realities. I demonstrate how such identification numbers enact individuals and populations simultaneously, and I identify a fundamental tension between them: one emphasising the representational potential of the part and another favouring the coherence of the whole. I conclude that issues surrounding personal identification numbers in use across all Nordic countries can be traced back to a fundamental tension in addressing individuals that is impossible to resolve via technical fixes, although those interventions are crucial to keeping the systems operational.

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