Explaining trust in large biometric infrastructures: A critical realist case study of India's Aadhaar project
journal contributionposted on 18.10.2018, 16:02 authored by Silvia Masiero
The need for formulation of solid explanatory theories is heightened in information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) by the high incidence of failure, which involves substantial costs for the countries affected. A core argument of this paper is that a critical realist ontology offers intellectual tools that can ground the formulation of causal theory in ICT4D. The paper illustrates such potential through the case study of India's Unique Identity Project (Aadhaar), which Indian states are increasingly using within their anti-poverty programmes. Following a critical realist retroductive methodology, the paper seeks to explain the incorporation of Aadhaar into India's main food security system, the Public Distribution System; an incorporation somewhat paradoxical given the mistrust often associated with biometric infrastructures in social protection. Critical realism allows construction of a theory of trust-building in Aadhaar, based on mechanisms of institutionalisation (state governments framing Aadhaar as a core institutional means to receive benefits) and image formation (authorities systemically associating Aadhaar with an image of effective pro-poor reform). Based on primary and secondary data collected over the course of six years, this paper contributes a theoretical explanation of an important phenomenon in Indian development, and illustrates how a critical realist philosophy is instrumental in building the type of causal theory that is needed in ICT4D.
- Business and Economics