The Business of Identity
Money and Identification in Twentieth Century Sweden
The concept of identity has become omnipresent in the social sciences and humanities. Yet the most obvious aspect of how society handles identities has rarely been explored, namely the actual practice of identification. The few existing historical studies of documented identity direct their focus towards the efforts of bureaucratic states to make their citizens ‘legible’ and controllable, especially in relation to mobility and crime. However, in the emerging consumer society of the 20th century the most prevalent situations requiring identification have been the economic transactions of daily life. Moreover, such financial identifications (e.g. today’s digital BankIDs) have often been used for other purposes than commercial transactions. There are, in short, strong economic interests involved in the infrastructures of identity. This project studies the changing interconnections between everyday finances and identification, or, in more abstract terms, between money and identity. I explain why Swedish banks gained such an important role in the management of identities (unique in international comparison) by analysing how material devices for identification (such as the Post Office’s and the banks’ ID-cards and credit cards) were developed and how they replaced earlier forms of identifications. By applying a cultural theoretical perspective I show how social/cultural identities and the infrastructures of identification shape each other in the business of identity.