Tabulating population demographics, including “ethnicity,” “nationality,” and “race,” has long been a mark of the modern state. Achieved through its statisticians, this requires the designation and operationalization of relevant categories. Such category-making practices are commonly “invisible,” as is, consequently, their role in making up race-ethnic identities, especially when conducted through the ordinary “everyday-ness” of registering for public services. In this article, the politics of category-making for counting purposes meets the politics of “ethnicity” and “race.” The article examines the creation of categories to tabulate “race-ethnic” concepts and identities through registration practices, as seen in The Netherlands. Registration form questions and answers show how “race,” “ethnicity,” and related ideas are being constructed, implicitly, through commonplace, everyday activities. What makes this case unusual is that these activities take place within an explicit policy restriction on the use of “race.” The article concludes with implications for policy-making with respect to the actuarial, “calculating” state and for theorizing the play of race-ethnic categories in policy practices for tabulating populations.
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