“STS-MIGTEC circle” is a small format which takes place once a month and which serves to reflect jointly on work-in-progress contributions related to the themes of interest to STS MIGTEC. The idea is to create a safe space for probing and experimenting with ideas, arguments, attempts of analysis, sense-making of empirical material. It’s the right space for you if, you already invested substantial energy and dedication into that work, but you still feel the piece to be raw and fragile. We invite individual scholars – of all career stages – to take other interested scholars on board to jointly reflect and discuss with care and constructive feedback.

Interested participants can join after registration until 1 week before the event via email. Participants will be provided with the meeting link and the text/material the presenter shares for discussion. The number of participants is limited to 15 participants to maintain the conditions for a fruitful discussion.

Dates / Via Zoom

June 23, 2021, 15:00-17:00 (CET)
Neither opaque nor transparent: Algorithmic power at EU’s datafied borders.
Ana Valdivia (King’s College London), Claudia Aradau (King’s College London), Tobias Blanke (University of Amsterdam) and Sarah Perret (King’s College London)
Abstract: In 2020, the European Union Agency for Large-Scale Information Systems (EU-Lisa) announced the award of their most valuable the contract for the new Entry Exit System (EES) and the shared Biometric Matching System (sBMS) to two companies: IDEMIA and Sopra Steria. Little is publicly known about the companies and the AI-based technologies that they develop and implement at European borders. In this paper, we propose an interdisciplinary methodology to analyse the companies that have been awarded contracts to implement data interoperability and AI at EU’s borders. Rather than opacity or transparency, we work with disperse forms of visibility and invisibility to trace the contours of datafied borders. We start from EU-Lisa procurement to map the companies that have been awarded contracts. After a systematic analysis of all the contracts awarded by EU-Lisa since it was established in 2012, we retrieve and investigate the patents of the companies awarded contracts to develop and maintain the three main border and migration databases – VIS, SIS and Eurodac – as well as recent contracts for interoperability projects and the new databases such as EES. Our methodology combines computational methods (machine learning, natural language processing and graph theory) with qualitative methods of ‘thick analysis’. This interdisciplinary methodology helps shed light on the epistemic and political assumptions of algorithmic power, thus raising new questions of accountability at EU’s datafied borders.

September [date], 2021, 15-17:00 CET
Making Populations for Deportation: Bodies, Bureaucracy and Belonging
Lieke Wissink (University of Amsterdam)
Abstract: It is through bureaucratic practice that European immigration policies and the administrative categories that they are built on, can mobilize deportation as a legalized state intervention. This makes bureaucracy key to the act of deportation within the architecture of the rule of law in European states. But how exactly these practices collaborate in shaping a deportee often remains obscure. Drawing on long-term fieldwork this article explores the everyday file work in a European deportation unit by attending to deportation files’ procedural trajectories. It shows how deportation file work unfolds in ever shifting relations that are (un)made, as file work gathers not only case-workers and files but also databases, police, whiteboards, racial categories, detention capacity lists, stamps, embassies, airlines, legal calls, and more. In these relations not only the individual deportee can gain shape: the bureaucratic categories of populations wherein deportable subjects are being sorted constantly need to be made, too, in order to keep deportation files going. It follows that the deportee as a bureaucratic subject is formed as a constellation of situated deportation populations, empirically undermining the individual deportee. This leads to the insight that the populations that deportation bureaucracy as a knowledge practice mobilize, are volatile. Yet, or maybe because of their volatility, violent sovereign acts can be legitimized through them.


Previous Events

May 25, 2021, 17:00-19:00 (CET)
Automating border security in Canada: inclusion/exclusion through algorithmic tools.
Philippe M. Frowd (University of Ottawa)

April 23, 2021, 15-17:00 CET
Participatory detention: digital technologies and asylum seekers’ unpaid labour.
Martina Tazzioli (Goldsmiths University of London)
Abstract: This presentation introduces and develops the notion of “participatory detention” to conceptualise the cooptation of refugees into their own governmentality and control.  Asylum seekers are treated as deceitful and untruthful subjects and yet, at the same time, they are constantly interpellated by humanitarian agencies and nudged to speak about their use of technologies as well as about their life coping strategies.  The talk critically engages with “digital innovation” in refugee governance, by investigating the digital unpaid labour activities  that asylum seekers are pushed to do in the name of their own good. It focuses on  digital unpaid labour activities that asylum seekers do in  different sites, drawing particular attention to refugee camps in Greece and Jordan.  In the conclusion, I reflect on the centrality of extractive operations in refugee governance, with a specific focus on knowledge extraction activities.

March 24, 2021, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Perceiving and Controlling Maritime Flows. Technology, Kinopolitics and the Governmentalisation of Vision
Georgios Glouftsios (University of Trento, IT) and Panagiotis Loukinas (Trilateral Research, UK)
Abstract: In this paper, we explore how satellites and drones co-produce the capacity to make Europe’s maritime borderzones visible and controllable. We synthesise Thomas Nail’s work on kinopolitics with ideas inspired by Foucauldian studies on governmentality to develop the following argument: satellites and drones are technologies of power embedded within a kinopolitical regime of maritime surveillance which strategises vision in attempts to govern subjects and objects on the move – attempts that challenge any clear-cut distinction between security controls and humanitarian interventions in the field border management. We forward an understanding of kinopolitics as a governmentality that has as its referent object neither the territory of the state (as in the case of sovereignty) nor life processes at the level of population (as in the case of biopolitics), but transboundary flows. In our empirical context, such flows are desperate migrant journeys in the Mediterranean Sea, but also mobilities associated with criminal activities, like drug smuggling and trafficking. In this puzzle, we unveil the power of the machinic vision generated by satellites and drones. Machinic vision, we suggest, comes to be governmentalised, in the sense that it produces knowledge that informs programmes of security-humanitarian action related to the regulation of maritime flows.

February 23, 2021, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Digital migration – work in progress
Koen Leurs (Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University)
Abstract: During my fellowship stay at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS, september ’20 – June ’21), I will work on a monograph titled “Digital migration”. With digital migration studies I refer to an interdisciplinary research area emerging at the intersections of media, migration and technology studies. Digital migration addresses ontological implications of the growing digitization and datafication of human mobilities within countries and across borders. It is also concerned with epistemological, methodological and ethical questions emerging from digitally studying these mobilities. Ontology, epistemology, and ethics are inherently related as “migrants” come into being as a category through spatial, legal, symbolic and technological moves including crossing borders, work visas, refugee status determination and monitoring, surveillance and control. In the book I address digital migration from the following perspectives: histories, infrastructures; connectivities; identities and representation; human rights; health. In particular I will seek to explore 1) how digital migration includes some and excludes other mobile subjects; 2) how different scholarly disciplines address migration and the digital and 3) what methodological concerns and ethical questions emerge when studying mobility through the digital. In this talk I hope to share my main argument, as well as main doubts.

December 16, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Design, development, implementation and usage.
Studying App infrastructures and their shaping of migrants’ practices of navigation
Olga Usachova (Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education and Applied Psychology (FISPPA), University of Padua)
Abstract: Considering the increasing ubiquity of digital technology in people’s everyday life and particularly the emphasis on the digitalization of migration governance, scholars working in the field of media and digital migration studies argue that the use of mobile phones during and after the migration journey influences the whole migration experience. This paper contributes to such work by focusing not only on the usage of such technologies but also on the processes of design, development, and implementation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Germany including in-depth interviews, document analysis, observations of mobile application use this paper follows different traces, that is developers and the process of design, municipalities and the process of implementation, social workers, and migrants and their navigation through the often confusing and complex terrain of state administration. By this, the paper studies the relational entanglements of a mobile application infrastructure and critically analyses the impact of design, development, and implementation practices on migrants’ practices of usage and navigation – such as the selection and limitation of accessible information, not updated content, or the absence of app dissemination strategies. In this way, the paper goes beyond the rhetoric of mobile applications as enablers and supporters and critically discusses its ordering effects on migrants’ navigation practices.

November 25, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Race dis/continued: what does migration name?
Rogier van Reekum (Department of Public Administration and Sociology/ Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Abstract: This paper approaches the entanglements of race and migration by considering how the social fact named migration was and is composed through knowledge infrastructures that extend between state administrative practices, social scientific methodologies and politico-economic accounting. Like race, migration can be understood as a socio-technical fabrication that takes shape in and comes to have effects for orderings of space, life and value. Europe/whiteness instates the view from nowhere through which ‘migrations’ and ‘races’ become discernable. As such, the composition of migration has been crucial for the transformation from European imperialism to a system of postcolonial nation-states and the further construction of EUropean borders. It is argued that contemporary forms of knowledge production do not merely bear the marks of colonial legacies still to be amended but constitute ways of dis/continuing race in the infrastructural relations between state administrations, research methods and economic accountings. First, while it can be shown how ‘migration’ has come to replace ‘race’ – purportedly instating universalist and disinterested forms of knowledge production -, these shifts should rather be understood as dis/continuations of race into new stratifications of worthy and unworthy lives in and for Europe. No longer doing race is, precisely when we consider the infrastructural work of composing migration as a matter of European concern, a crucial way of continuing its effects and extending its colonial legacies. Second, composing migration into a knowable and governable phenomenon was always already crucial for the colonial apparatus of race. Far from a mere, postwar shift from ‘race’ to ‘migration’, the dis/continuation of race also means that the historically intricate entanglements of race and migration have been re-organized into knowledge practices that seem remarkably capable of both hiding and highlighting race.

October 21, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Ontology Explorer: A method to analyse data models for identifying and registering border crossers

Wouter van Rossem (Department of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS), University of Twente) & Annalisa Pelizza (Department of Philosophy and Communication, University of Bologna) 
Abstract: Numerous new developments are under way to make visible who is travelling to Europe. Such developments concern technologies used to monitor and control mobility and borders in Europe, to make known presumed invisible phenomena of border crossings. Research on technologies of bordering however have a tendency to focus only on the invisibility of people. Less attention has been given to the invisibility of those same infrastructures that allow the informational management of mobility, migration and border. Yet bringing the infrastructure itself to the foreground is needed, as infrastructure has a major role in how people are not only represented, but enacted. We therefore propose a new method and tool to address the invisibility of digital infrastructures used at the border. Our focus is on the ontologies, the semantic classifications implemented in the information systems deployed for bordering. The method and tool allow us to compare how migrants are enacted by different authorities in different countries, including European authorities, and were assessed against some criteria drawn from the literature on (data) infrastructures.
This research is part the research project Processing Citizenship.

September 23, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
Cracks in the security wall: unexpected lessons from researching the “field”
Nina Klimburg-Witjes, Paul Trauttmansdorff (Department of Science & Technology Studies, University of Vienna) & Matthias Leese (Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich)
Abstract: Ethnography is hard. While this is true for any given research domain and its “field”, ethnographic work in security fields has been branded as particularly challenging. Security ties to characteristics of secrecy, hard-to-access, or hyper-masculinity. Our initial research interest was to empirically reconstruct these challenges by conducting interviews with social scientists who have conducted ethnographic research in and on various domains of security. Our material very much reflects the well-established assumptions about the characteristics of security as a field. Throughout our analysis, we did however come across several surprising “cracks” or “fissures” in the alleged monolithic and impenetrable security surfaces that our informants had dealt with. In particular, we were surprised by interviewees’ accounts of how sites and actors of security temporally dissipate, reveal fissures, open up ambiguities, or create spaces of in-between-ness. In this paper, we are going to sketch out these “cracks” and “fissures” to complement the predominant perspectives about security as a field with a slightly different picture. To illustrate how the field of security not always appears composed by encapsulated institutions and actors, we outline five dimensions that show how security research can take place in much more mundane, porous and less exciting ways: (1) carelessness; (2) repair and maintenance; (3) absences of security; (4) ambiguities of information and data; and (5) commonalities between social scientists and security professionals. Extending our understanding of the possibilities of field-work with security communities, we propose that these cracks, fissures, and ambiguities render security much more “research-able” and potentially direct attention to less traveled paths and new grey zones.

June 24, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
“Disentangling Assemblages of European Border Control through Praxeographic Mapping”
Silvan Pollozek (Digital Media Lab, Munich Center for Technology in Society, Germany)

Abstract: Conducting an ethnography of a state assemblage of migration and border control faces the problem of tackling an extensive, complex and rhizomatic ecology and brings the question to the fore how to reassemble its multiple worlds, entities, practices and issues. Referring to work on ontological methodology and based on a praxeography of the Moria Hotspot this paper suggests to use various mapping strategies that study heterogeneous actors, multiple worlds and their entanglements in a symmetrical and situated way. While mapping may situate and trace multiple borderings and their forms of in-/exclusion, they also produce borders by following particular trajectories, assembling particular representations and bringing particular alternative forms of becoming into play. Therefore, this paper suggests to invert the orderings of each mapping and to look out for variations of enactments, tensions between actors and translation errors within the trajectories of circulation. It also opts for reaching out to further arenas that keep the critiques and issues raised by the researcher contestable and productive for other initiatives beyond academia. Through this ongoing process of re- and de-ordering the empirical inquiry remains a reflexive endeavor of ontological politics.

May 27, 2020, 14-16.00 (WET) = 15-17.00 (CEST)
“Infrastructure and Imagination: learning from practices of interventionist infrastructuring and capacity building”
Eric Sodgrass (TEMA-T, Linköping University, Sweden)
Abstract: This text considers the pairing of infrastructure and imagination, looking at how the two have been explored in studies of infrastructure to date, and working to explore them further through a set of examples centered around both imagined and actual instantiations of interventionist infrastructures for freedom of movement within and around the Mediterranean Sea. It does so by engaging with current discussions within studies of infrastructure, and also through closer study of the interventionist-oriented infrastructural projects Watch the Med and Alarmphone, as well as architect Adrian Lahoud’s speculative Project for a Mediterranean Union (2010). These examples work to challenge certain longstanding and ongoing colonial and post-colonial projects, with their imaginaries and active projects of infrastructural violence enacted against different groups within and connected to the Mediterranean region. The hope in putting these examples and concepts in dialogue with one another is to attempt to highlight some of the questions, tensions and possibilities that are central to questions of interventionist-oriented practices of infrastructuring. Especially for those hoping to constructively engage with the study and pursuit of building alliances and infrastructures that challenge some of the dominant and oppressive paradigms of the present.