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Vol 8 No 2: Medical Testing, Diagnosis and Value

The Testing Database as Pandemic Technology: Reflections on the COVID-19 Response in India

July 7, 2020
November 3, 2021


This article examines the COVID-19 response in India, viewing it as deeply enmeshed in the dynamics of the ‘database’ as an emerging technology of governmentality. Databases aim to translate entire populations into units of information abstracted from social identities and local specificities. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, bureaucratic state systems attempt to manage and respond to the health crisis via databases collating testing data across the country. Problematising COVID-19 testing databases, we delve into the logic of database governance. We find that as a tool of governance the database falters in its attempts to compress complex identities and locations into de-contextualised units of information. As the complexity of lived reality interrupts the logic of databasing, state discourse on ‘unintended consequences’, ‘leakages’, ‘duplication’, and ‘reconciliation’ processes in the management of databases abounds and the ambivalence of databases becomes manifest in the COVID-19 response. In this article, we use secondary data to understand how testing databases intervene and interact with complex realities to establish bureaucratic order around a pandemic. We posit that COVID-19 testing databases should be understood as being embedded in emerging database governmentalities that supplant care of the population with the maintenance of databases.