Guest post by Glenda Garelli (De Paul University) and Martina Tazzioli (Swansea University). This is the first post of Border Criminologies’ themed series ‘Migrant Digitalities and the Politics of Dispersal’, organised by Martina and Glenda.
This themed series stems from a one-day international workshop on ‘Migrant digitalities and the politics of dispersal’ held at Swansea University on June 30, 2017, and funded by the Cherish-De research centre. The workshop focused on digital technologies in the field of migration governmentality and refugee humanitarianism by investigating the spatial strategies of dispersal that are simultaneously enacted by states for regaining control over ‘unruly’ mobility. The spaces of mobility and control of what we call ‘migrant digitalities’ remain unexplored in the analyses of the datafication of migration.
The migrant as a source of data extraction is part of the daily functioning of the border regime and its economy: the datafication of mobility and the obligation for migrants to leave digital traces of their passages (e.g., through fingerprinting procedures) are part of the multiplication and heterogenization of borders well beyond the geopolitical frontiers of Europe. However, migrants are not just objects of digital technologies; more recently, they have also been crafted as active users of these technologies, such as Apps and digital maps, and of financial tools such as debit cards. What European states defined as a ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, has constituted the political and material terrain where digital technologies for managing, supporting and including migrants have proliferated.
We are also interested in how migrants’ subjectivities are shaped and disciplined through financial and digital technologies, in conjunction with the spatial effects of containment and dispersal. The wide use of digital technologies for supporting and governing migrants is gaining more and more importance in the academic literature as well as in the public debate. However, discussions are usually framed either in terms of control and migrants’ traceability that the use of digital technologies can potentially trigger, or through the vocabulary of inclusiveness and connectivity. Instead, we aim to take a different analytical angle, moving beyond the binary opposition between exclusion and inclusion. More than tracking individual subjects, digital technologies in the field of ‘digital humanitarianism’ are used, we argue, for governing refugee populations.
In this regard, we challenge the paradigm of the consumer (the subjective figure of the migrant-consumer) and the model of the citizen (the refugee as the active citizen). Indeed, migrants can be excluded from the asylum system or be denied entry, while at the same time they are incorporated into digital economies. Similarly, the exclusionary criteria to get access to financial tools or digital technologies, do not produce migrants as consumers or as autonomous individuals. Instead, migrants are shaped as temporarily financialised and digital subjects. Hence, the digitalised refugee or the ‘connected migrant’, as per Dana Diminescu’s definition, is emerging as a figure who constitutes a source of data and value extraction, as well as new modes of exploitation. The partial and temporary inclusion of migrants in financial circuits - through the implementation of debit cards in refugee camps - and the increased digital connectivity is very often disjoined from legal recognition and refugee protection and does not foster their right to stay, work, and access citizens’ benefits. In fact, the temporariness that characterises Cash Assistance Programmes and migrants’ access to digital technologies contributes to strengthening migrants’ precariousness. The same migrants who do temporarily benefit of prepaid debit cards recharged by the UNHCR and who are eventually in connection with NGOs via mobile Apps, are easily ‘illegalised’ when denied international protection. We want to suggest that a spatial approach, which enables mapping the effective geographies of control and destitution, should be supplemented with an analysis of the temporalities that migrant digitalities rely on. This is an aspect that remains essentially unexplored in critical scholarship on the datafication of mobility and on digital technologies in the field of migration.
A critical approach to migrant digitalities aims for much more than simply studying the transformations of bordering mechanisms: it is an investigation of Europe’s technological borders that draws attention to the effects of subjectivation and subjection that the temporary and exclusionary digitalisation of migration engender on migrants themselves.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Garelli, G and Tazzioli, M. (2018) Migrant Digitalities and the Politics of Dispersal: An Introduction. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/05/migrant (Accessed [date]).