Codes of life: identification codes and the machine-readable world
Dodge, Martin and Kitchin, Rob (2005) Codes of life: identification codes and the machine-readable world. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23 (6). pp. 851-881. ISSN 0263-7758
In this paper we present a detailed examination of identification codes, their embeddedness in everyday life, and how recent trends are qualitatively altering their nature and power. Developing a Foucaultian analysis we argue that identification codes are key components of governmentality and capitalism. They provide a means of representing, collating, sorting, categorising, matching, profiling, regulating, of generating information, knowledge, and control through processes of abstraction, compu- tation, modeling, and classification. Identification codes now provide a means of uniquely addressing all the entities and processes that make up everyday life - people, material objects, information, transactions, and territories. Moreover, they provide a means of linking these entities and processes together in complex ways to form dense rhizomic assemblages of power/knowledge. At present, however, the information that identification codes provide access to are, at best, oligopticon in nature - that is, they afford only partial and selective views. In the latter part of the paper we outline four trends - wide-scale trawling for data, increased granularity, forever storage, and enhanced processing and analysis - that seek to convert these partial oligopticons into more panoptic arrangements. In turn, we contend that these trends are part of a larger metatrend --the creation of a machine-readable world in which identification codes can be systematically and automatically 'read' and acted on by software inde- pendent of human control. This metatrend is supported by interlocking discourses such as safety, security, efficiency, antifraud, citizenship and consumer empowerment, productivity, reliability, flexi- bility, economic rationality, and competitive advantage to construct powerful, supportive discursive regimes.
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