Ursula Rao

Ursula Rao

Ursula Rao is Professor rif Anthropology at the University of Leipzig in Germany. She is head of the Department of Anthropology and Deputy Head of the Collaborative Research Centre “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition”. Her current research focuses on e-governance and the social consequences of biometric technology in India. She is completing a manuscript on “Biometric Futures. Rescaling governance through new bodily disciplines”. In the past Ursula Rao has also written on Hindi- and English journalism, urban space and ritual theory. Her regional focus is India.

Before joining the University of Leipzig, Ursula Rao held academic positions at the University of Heidelberg (1999-2002), the University of Halle (2002-2006) and the University of New South Wales, Sydney (2007-2012).

Current position
Professor of Anthropology
University affiliation
University of Leipzig


The project Biometric Futures traces the relevance of biometric technology for re-making of bodies, populations and political subjects in contemporary India. Biometric technology is proliferating all around the globe and being used to classify and sort populations at airports, in welfare offices, and even at sales points. It promises to provide a particularly accurate way of identifying people by mapping unique patterns of individual bodies, such as fingerprints, irises, gaits, or voice patterns. In India biometric technology is prolific in the domains of welfare and banking and is used for recording attendance and controlling access at work places.

Biometic Futures investigates the social consequences of the application of biometric technology in quotidian management systems. When writing subjects are replaced by scanned bodies new power-knowledge constellations emerge. They fetishize the body as original source of knowledge while simultaneously struggling with dynamic live bodies. By investigating the multiple linkages and ruptures between human actions, complex failure-prone infrastructures and contradictory policy intentions, the contours of a new body-politics becomes visible.


  • Rao, Ursula, and Vijayankar Nair (eds.) (2019) "Aadhaar. Governing With Biometrics. (Special Issue)" in South Asia. Journal of South Asian Studies 42 (3).
  • Rao, Ursula (2018) "Biometric Bodies, or How to Make Fingerprinting Work in India." in Body & Society published online 19 June 2018. → http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1357034X18780983
  • Anjaria, Jonathan, and Ursula Rao (2014) "Talking back to the state. Citizens’ engagement after neoliberal reform in India." in Social Anthropologist 22(4): 410-427
  • Rao, Ursula, and Graham Greenleaf (2013) "Subverting ID from above and below. The uncertain shaping of India’s new instrument of governance." in Surveillance & Society 11(3): 287-300
  • Rao, Ursula (2013) "Tolerated Encroachment. Resettlement policies and the negotiation of the licit/illicit divide in an Indian metropolis." in Cultural Anthropology 28(4):760-779
  • Rao, Ursula (2013) "Biometric marginality. UID and the shaping of homeless identities in the city." in Economic and Political Weekly 48:1-7
  • Rao, Ursula (2010) "Making the global city. Urban citizenship at the margins of Delhi." in Ethnos 75(4):402-424
  • Rao, Ursula (2010) "Neoliberalism and the rewriting of the Indian leader." in American Ethnologist 37(4): 713-725
  • Rao, Ursula (forthcoming) "Writing, typing and scanning. Distributive justice and the politics of visibility in the era of e-governance." in South Asian media and politics, , edited by Sahana Udupa, Steve McDowell. London: Routledge.