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Centre for Digital Humanities


CDH Webinar: On data and care in migration contexts

Date(s) - 17-09-2021
15:00 - 16:00

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On 17 September, the Centre for Digital Humanities will host the webinar: ‘On data and care in migration contexts’. In the context of the emerging interdisciplinary field of digital migration studies, this webinar will discuss how researchers can care for their data. The webinar features as a pre-launch of the volume Research methodologies and ethical challenges in digital migration studies – Caring for (big) data?, edited by Marie Sandberg, Luca Rossi, Vasilis Galis and Martin Bak Jørgensen, forthcoming October 2021 with publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

Digital migration studies

Situated in the emerging interdisciplinary research focus area of digital migration studies, this webinar explores how researchers can care for data. Drawing on critical and feminist theories of care, this intervention seeks to nuance the recent trend of seeing migration as a laboratory to carry out experiments with big data. Experimental big-data-driven technosolutionism must be understood in the broader socio-political context where refugee and asylum migratory movements are taken to stage a crisis, e.g. the so-called ‘European migration crisis’. Rather than caring for, under the heading of crisis the key aim is increasingly controlling mobile groups. For example, Frontex, Europe’s Border and Coast Guard agency is carrying out big-data-driven artificial intelligence (AI) based research and innovation as part of its “Integrated Border Management” (2020, p. 62) seeking to identify, contain and deter particular mobile people. Technologies to be tested include “automated border control”, ” Small Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Systems” and “geospatial data analytics of operational awareness” (2020, p. 35-40). Refugee camps in Greece like “Moria 2.0” become EU’s “sandbox for surveillance technologies”, where data-driven securitization plans include “camera surveillance with motion analysis algorithms monitoring the behavior and movement of centre residents” (Molnar, 2021). In thinking further how we as critical, engaged migration and media researchers operate in this space, this webinar draws out conceptually assumptions around and possible relations between the two thematics of data and care.

About the book

The Open Access book Research methodologies and ethical challenges in digital migration studies – Caring for (big) data? investigates the methodological and ethical dilemmas involved when working with digital technologies and large-scale datasets in relation to ethnographic studies of digital migration practices and trajectories. Digital technologies reshape not only every phase of the migration process itself (by providing new ways to access, to share and preserve relevant information) but also the activities of other actors, from solidarity networks to border control agencies. In doing so, digital technologies create a whole new set of ethical and methodological challenges for migration studies: from data access to data interpretation, privacy protection, and research ethics more generally.

Of specific concern are the aspects of digital migration researchers accessing digital platforms used by migrants, who are subject to precarious and insecure life circumstances, lack recognised papers and are in danger of being rejected and deported. Thus, the authors call for new modes of caring for (big) data when researching migrants’ digital practices in the configuration of migration and borders. Besides taking proper care of research participants’ privacy, autonomy, and security, this also spans carefully establishing analytically sustainable environments for the respective data sets. Along with Science and Technology Studies and Feminist Theory, contributions draw on Anthropology of Migration and Critical Border and Migration Research, in which the exceptionality and irregularity of categories such as “refugee” and “migrant” are critically and self-reflexively assessed. In doing so, the book argues that it is essential to carefully reflect on researchers’ own positioning as being part of the challenge they seek to address.

“In a world where migrants and data are often treated with disrespect, this book offers a much-needed antidote to academic, political, technological and methodological carelessness. A must read for anyone who cares.” (Huub Dijstelbloem, Professor of Philosophy of Science, Technology and Politics at University of Amsterdam)

Structure of the webinar

After a general introduction, the webinar includes a book presentation by Marie Sandberg, visiting associate professor at the University of British Columbia, followed by a presentation by Koen Leurs, assistant professor in Gender and Postcolonial Studies (MCW, UU) who wrote a commentary included in the book. The presentations are followed with an open questions and answer session.

About the speakers

Marie Sandberg is Associate Professor in Ethnology and Director of the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS), The SAXO Institute at University of Copenhagen. Sandberg is currently visiting associate professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada. She is director of the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies,  and was co-pi of the DIGINAUTS – Migrants’ Digital Practices in/of the European Border Regime research project.

Koen Leurs is an assistant professor in Gender, Media and Migration Studies at the Graduate Gender Program, Department of Media and Culture at Utrecht University. He works on digital migration. His first monograph is titled Digital Passages. Migrant Youth 2.0. Diaspora, Gender & Youth Cultural Intersections (Amsterdam University Press, 2015). Recently he co-edited the Sage Handbook of Media and Migration together with Kevin Smets, Saskia Witteborn, Myria Georgiou and Radhika Gajjala, and currently he is writing Digital Migration Studies (Sage, 2022).


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