ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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An Identity Card on the Wall

Identities in Flux and Ethics of Technology Change

This article raises and deals with a set of questions and reflections on identity construction, projection and interpretation of a particular context in rural India. It revolves around the story of V Venkataswamy, a cotton handloom weaver in Adilabad in Telangana. It is also based on a particular narrative about this individual and a photograph of an identity he projected of himself. The article pleads for an engagement with the ethics involved in technology change and the impact it is having on millions of people across the length and breadth of the country.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Uzramma, M Annapurna, Latha Tummuru, B Syamasundari, Radhika Gajjala Jo Wachelder, Wiebe Bijker and the CAST Masters Class of 2009-11, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University to the ideas in this article.

This article is constructed upon the story of V Venkataswamy, a man I actually never met. It is also based on a particular narrative someone else told me about him and a photograph I have of an identity he projected about himself. The choice of this single exemplar has its obvious limitations: just one “absent” individual, a very specific and localised context and too many assumptions that will necessarily have to be made.

The reasons, therefore, for making this choice are important to explain and I begin by narrating Venkataswamy’s story and explaining the photograph I made more than a decade ago. I then explore some issues around identity construction itself, particularly those that are created and/or located in situations of societal and economic flux. This is followed by a discussion on the issues of ethics in present-day discourses around modern technologies, something that is particularly evident in the medical field.

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