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Urban laboratories of biometric security: the technopolitics of facial recognition systems in Brazil

Grant number: 20/05628-1
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctorate
Effective date (Start): December 01, 2020
Effective date (End): November 30, 2022
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Sociology - Other specific Sociologies
Principal Investigator:Marcos César Alvarez
Grantee:Daniel Edler Duarte
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


The production of order in Brazilian metropolises relies upon a number of scanning tools that extract real-time data on urban flows, communications and individual behaviors. While observing surveillance systems as sociotechnical assemblages - composed by institutional controversies, political calculations and material constraints that rearticulate elements in time and space -, this research aims at understanding how facial recognition apparatuses rearrange technologies of government and security practices in Brazil. Specifically, the point is to investigate the making and automation of categories of suspicion and deviance, questioning how these processes impact social control techniques. Therefore, the research encompasses an analysis of police routines, but it also maps public/private relations in the security sector, and examines everyday practices of data mining, algorithmic engineering, and the many uses of facial recognition platforms. In this process, I argue that programmers, data scientists, statisticians and designers become stakeholders in criminal justice systems and coauthors of punitive apparatuses. Engaging both surveillance studies and sociology of punishment literatures, the research seeks to answers a few questions: how are facial recognition devices composed? What are the political choices and material constraints involved in the translation of bodies into algorithmic representations? In short, how these biometric systems produce new ontologies of deviant bodies and what technologies of power they entice? (AU)