Biometric imaginaries: Formatting voice, body, identity to data

Edward B. Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the sociotechnical imaginary within which contemporary biometric listening or VIA (voice identification and analysis) technologies are being developed. Starting from an examination of a key article on Voiceprint identification written in the 1940s, I interrogate the conceptual link between voice, body, and identity, which was central to these early attempts at technologizing voice identification. By surveying patents that delineate systems for voice identification, collection methods for voice data, and voice analysis, I find that the VIA industry is dependent on the conceptual affixion of voice to identity based on a reduction of voice that sees it as a fixed, extractable, and measurable ‘sound object’ located within the body. This informs the thinking of developers in the VIA industry, resulting in a reframing of the technological shortcomings of voice identification under the rubric of big data. Ultimately, this reframing rationalizes the implementation of audio surveillance systems into existing telecommunications infrastructures through which voice data is acquired on a massive scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)581-602
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • biometrics
  • listening technologies
  • sociotechnical imaginaries
  • voice analytics
  • voice biometrics
  • voice technologies
  • voiceprint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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