media, information, the contemporary

Sensor-Census-Censor: A Report

Sarai - Sensor Census Censor - Colloquium - Poster


Though the roles and functions of the census, the sensor and the censor have somewhat diverged in more recent times, (with the census by and large escaping the moral censure that sensors and censors often receive from those concerned about civil liberties), their fundamental convergence at the root level of information control remains evident to even a superficial scutiny of information processes in society.

All three terms denote processes by which information is sought to be managed – by being harnessed, indexed and treated for usage, or by being withheld from circulation. Territorial surveys and census forms, public and private archives, documents and databases, reports and records, surveillance cameras and electronic filters, informers and informants, fingerprints and biometrics, photographs and recordings, and a host of other technologies, methods and practices register the changes of state that occur in societies. They are so general in modern societies as to be part of the banal fabric of everyday life, especially in urban spaces…

This colloquium, early in the history of the Information and Society Research Cluster at Sarai-CSDS, posits that the ‘sensor-census-censor’ triad may be a useful way in which the histories and contemporary realities of South Asia and Europe may be investigated. Here, we mean the historic affinities, networks and resonances pertinent to the traffic of information between the colony and the metropolis, especially with regard to the operations of knowledge as power. We also point towards the contemporary (and projected) operations of biometric technologies, internet filtering systems, networked surveillance, data retrieval and outsourcing systems that inflect the global traffic in information today.


Sensor-Census-Sensor: Investigating Circuits of Information, Registering Changes of State colloquium was produced and designed at the Media Lab, The Sarai Programme, CSDS, as part of Towards a Culture of Open Networks, a collaborative initiative of The Sarai Programme, Waag Society, and t0. The initiative was supported by the EU-India Economic and Cross-Cultural Programme under its Media, Communication and Culture Dimension.

Colloquium Coordinator: Shuddhabrata Sengupta.

Assisted by Taha Mehmood.

Production and Operations Management: Ashish Mahajan.

Assisted by Aarti Sethi, Aftab Alam, Iram Ghufran, Lokesh, Moslem Quraishy, Sachin Kumar, and Vikas Chaurasia.

Print Design: Mrityunjay Chatterjee.

Assisted by Amitabh Kumar.

Audio Recording: Bhagwati Prasad and Ish Sherawat.

Documentation: Smriti Vohra.

Disclaimer: This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the partners in the Towards A Culture Of Open Networks initiative, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.




Rapporteur’s NoteSmriti Vohra

Day One

– Panel 1: Information, Mobility and Exclusion: Borders, Passports and Identification Documents

– Panel 2: Monitoring Surveillance

– Panel 3: The Artist As Information Practitioner

– Keynote: Why Did Fingerprinting Emerge in Colonial India? Governmentality, Surveillance and the Fear of the “Native” – Chandak Sengoopta

Day Two

– Keynote: Seeing Like a State: State Controls in Europe Since 1500 – Leo Lucassen

– Panel 2: The Daily Life of Information

– Panel 3: Neo-Liberal Governmentality and Risk: Information and Surveillance in India

– Panel 4: Truth, Transmission and Technology

– Keynote: Illegibility: Reading and Insecurity in 19th-Century Law and Government – Jane Caplan

Day Three

– Panel 1: Censorship and Memory

– Panel 2: Network Effects

– Panel 3: The Accession Register: Information Abundance, Scarcity and Libraries

– Dialogue: Holes, Erasures, Silences: Archives and Absences – Shahid Amin and Mahmood Farooqui

Media / Art Works

– Ectropy Index

– Temporary Loss of Consciousness

– KhirkeeYaan

– Conversing the Cut

– The Dilemma of the Techno-Hero



The entire report can be accessed and downloaded from the Sarai archive.