Keith Breckenridge

Cite as:

Okune, Angela. 2018. "Keith Breckenridge." In STS in "Africa" Personal Careers. In STS in "Africa" in Formation, created by Angela Okune and Aadita Chaudhury. In STS Across Borders Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.


Keith is a Professor and Deputy Director at Wiser, and one of the editors of the Journal of African History. He writes about the cultural and economic history of South Africa, particularly the gold mining industry, the state and the development of information systems. He studied at Wits and Johns Hopkins and completed his PhD at Northwestern in 1995. His book -- Biometric State: the Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present (Cambridge, 2014) -- shows how the South African obsession with Francis Galton's universal fingerprint identity registration served as a 20th century incubator for the current systems of biometric citizenship being developed throughout the South.

This PECE essay helps to answer the STS Across Borders analytic question: “What people, projects, and products exemplify how this STS formation has developed over time?”

This essay highlights prominant and upcoming individuals working on critical science and technology issues in Africa and is part of a broader exhibit on "STS in Africa."

STS Across Borders In Brief

STS Across Borders is a special exhibit organized by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) to showcase how the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed in different times, places...Read more

Breckenridge, Keith. 2018. “What Happened to the Theory of African Capitalism?” Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

AO: This 2018 seminar paper given by Keith Breckenridge at WITS looks at the reasons for the consistent disinterest in African economics that runs through the four styles of comparative political economy that the journal Economy & Society – the most important forum for comparative...Read more

Breckenridge, Keith. 2018. “Hopeless Entanglement: The Short History of the Academic Humanities in South Africa 1.” In The Changing Face of Higher Education, 175–196. Routledge.

AO: This 2018 paper by Keith Breckenridge speaks from a South African perspective on the global crisis of confidence in the humanities, which he notes is marked by declining student numbers and a loss of faith among scholars in the methods and powers of their research...Read more

Breckenridge, Keith. 2014. Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Abstract: " A groundbreaking study of South Africa's role as a site for global experiments in biometric identification throughout the twentieth century." Read more

Presentation at UC Berkeley (Geography)

Keith Breckenridge spoke at the University of California Berkeley's  Department of Geography on his most recent monography, “Biometric Capitalism: Africa in the 21st Century” on 4 April 2018. Watch here.