Visual Technologies of Legitimating and Authenticating "Self": National ID Programs and National Security

Friday, January 8, 2010: 3:10 PM
Point Loma Room (Marriott)
Rachel A. Wortman , Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Since the attacks of 9/11, one's driver's license or government issued photo ID card has carried more weight than ever before. Many questions about how we legitimate and authenticate individual identity, for purposes of the state, the self, and the medical community, now coalesce around these 3.5 x 2.25 inch plastic cards. More specifically, though, the ID card is a material object and cultural site that engages with the body and identity vis-à-vis visual culture; the ID card highlights the social practice of reading identity on to or off of the surface of the body.

Within the US, the practice of identification has become a visual politics of appearance, one which gives particular weight to glancing at the photo on an ID card, and one which is mired in its own history. This paper considers what is really being asked of us when we are called upon to produce our ID; It also suggests that there is something peculiar in the process, as one is expected by simply looking at the photo on someone's driver's license to be able to authenticate the person standing before him or herself as the “same as” the person pictured on the license. This practice of identification – reading identity on to or off of the surface of body – has potentially grave social and political consequences for those who are identified or misidentified. Ultimately, this paper takes up the Real ID program in the US and the National Identity Scheme in the UK to problematizing these newly instituted identification/national security systems. In an era in which cosmetic surgery and alteration of the body has become highly accessible, this paper asks, what is at stake as we continue to locate identity on or within the body?

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation