artigos e ensaios - 2009/ Mariza Peirano

The paradox of IDs.

An account of an ethnographic experience in the US

As we all know, fieldwork does not begin in a chosen place or at a particular moment; it takes place within us, when we mobilize a specific sensibility ― that "jeweler's eye", as Fischer (2009) would term it. A daily event becomes a native expression, revealing that ethnography is not defined according to the means of communication, but rather by the purpose to which the observation is submitted.

When I thought I could leave for the United States at the end of 2007, I received an email from the officer of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, Columbia University, to which I would be affiliated for the following six months, in which she apologized for asking me for another document to complete all the necessary paperwork. She explained to me that Columbia had separated ("un-attached" was her term) all personal information from the respective social security numbers. So, as a way of "matching" a person to his/her documents, the International Office then required a copy of my passport with the application. This new regulation had just come out to her

This was truly the beginning of my fieldwork about documents and processes of identification in the US. Sufficiently familiarized with the country's immigration bureaucracy after many years of to-ing and fro-ing, this simple email revealed new, relevant dimensions I was not aware of ― I was dealing with an "ethnographic fact" even before arriving in the "field". After all, identification procedures change, they are dynamic, despite the invariable and immutable character with which we tend to view them. This was a singular change since a passport is far more complex in semiotic terms than a social security card. A passport includes name, photo, number, filiation, birth date, signature, issue date in the country of origin, and the American visa. On the contrary, the social security number, although part of a national database, is simply a card with a name and a number (similar to the Brazilian CPF). Leia na íntegra...