Panel #1. Digital urban borderlands – datafication, spatial inequalities, migration and the city

Udipta Boro and Fran Meissner, University of Twente, Netherlands

Cities have traditionally been places where migrants play a crucial part in the local economy and where non-citizen rights are protected. As we see an increasing datafication of both urban life and of migration it is unclear if this special role of cities will be enhanced or diminished. Data about migration and migrants and the ability to analyse that data is driven both by policy narratives and market logics – two trends that are central to urban debates. In urban areas we are seeing an increasing use of big data technologies to streamline and optimise service provision and to keep a tap on urban populations – migrants and non-migrants alike. We are witnessing the emergence of digital urban borderlands and we might witness processes of datafied segregation. Where migrants are in the city will become ever more important as new data analytics – often geo-analytics – are being incorporated into how cities are run, how urban economies function and how non-citizen residents are counted, categorised and how their movement is controlled within cities by those new systems. A growing literature suggests that data technologies tend to exasperate existing social inequalities and those inequalities are bound to be spatial and potentially infringe on migrants’ rights. At the same time, we have initiatives such as the cities for digital rights that aim to foster human and digital rights at the local and global level.[1] What do these developments mean for the position of migrants in cities and for the spatial organisation of inequalities in cities? What kind of city might the datafied migrant city be and what will the topographies of digital urban borderlands look like? Maybe more importantly what do we want them to look like? The proposed panel seeks to collate authors engaging with these or related questions to highlight how the urban, bordering processes and the spatial organisation of inequality and difference are starting to matter in new or altered ways in the smart city of tomorrow and today.

While not limited to these topics we would welcome papers that touch on:

  • Urban surveillance systems that have a disparate impact on (urban) mobilities
  • The implications of data technologies registering location and movements (e.g. Uber and other migrant labour)
  • Automated decision-making systems that hinder or facilitate migrants’ access to the city and its services
  • What conditions expediate the emergence digital urban borderlands
  • How cities are countering the framing of migration as risk (and how they might partake in it)
  • How migrant cities are being mediated through data and location technologies
  • Theoretical deliberations of what the just digital migrant city might be and how to achieve it in practical terms
  • Empirical investigations of urban bordering processes and how these relate to non-citizens.