Hannah Norwood @ USL

“Being Seen by the State: Visibility and Counting the 2020 U.S. Census”
Hannah Norwood | PhD Candidate 
Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice
Discussant: Paula Martin | PhD Candidate 
Department of Comparative Human Development
Wednesday, February 16th, 4:00-5:30pm
Location: Zoom
To receive a copy of the pre-circulated paper or for the zoom link, please email zarrington@uchicago.edu 
Paper Abstract: The contradictory stakes of being seen by the state are at the very center of U.S. decennial census counting, which has historically weaponized both visibility and invisibility through counting. At the same time, it produces data that is relied on to enforce civil rights legislation and for the distribution of congressional power and federal resources. In the lead up to the 2020 Census, the Trump administration and new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made attempts to compile citizenship data, in the hopes of cutting immigrants out of the U.S. apportionment base and maintaining minority political power. As most of the pathways to citizenship data were legally blocked, the Trump administration took other, less overt, steps towards invisibilization through the count. My dissertation draws on ethnographic fieldwork that followed the broad coalition of organizers, elected officials, and policy workers that attempted to avert an undercount in Chicago and Illinois, and comprised a big part of 2020 enumeration before any census form reached the bureau. In this chapter, I argue that the federal actions around the 2020 Census were taken up as attempts by the state to not see. Instead of minimizing visibility due to concerns about surveillance, the counting campaign centered visibility, even promising to surveil the state. This chapter explores how visibility was scaled through counting as an act of resistance, of self-determination and truth-telling, and even the most elemental right of American democracy. Despite the private articulation of less lofty goals, a progressive narrative of a future where everyone is visible and everyone counts, if we could just get those questions right, pervaded census counting. Leaving room for critique of the census’ past and of the form today, this narrative still foreclosed substantive critique of political process.

*This convening is open to all invitees regardless of vaccination status and, because of ongoing health risks to the unvaccinated, those who are unvaccinated are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures advised by public health officials (masking and social distancing, etc.). Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others, including venue staff, and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.

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