From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Data colonialism: the census, the map, and the software

Tommaso Grossi and Lucilla Lepratti


This paper investigates how colonial logics of population mapping and administration find a continuity with the extraction and use of data in the Global South and its borders to the West. Understanding technologies of colonial management such as cartography and the census as sites of knowledge production, we draw parallels with contemporary, global forms of data-based governance. Rooted in recent theories of ‘data colonialism’, our paper shows how it continues, yet reconfigures, colonial power and objects of knowledge in establishing data-based relations. We develop this case by first discussing the genealogy of data extraction in relation to the organising of bodies and territories in different colonial contexts. One condition of continuity that we present is how European imperial censuses in the nineteenth century and colonial technologies of counting and ordering more broadly, are reshaped and reused in postcolonial contexts. We examine how data colonialism plays out in the Global South, specifically in the advancement of biometrics in postcolonial India. Further, expanding the notion of data colonialism, we look at how European migration management software makes populations on the move governable. In another retooling of the colonial census, the anticipation and management of migrations is enabled through the mapping and archiving of human mobility.


data colonialism, census, map, biometrics, empires, borders



Vai ad inizio pagina keyboard_arrow_up