Accepted paper:

CTRL+ALT+DEL: software sorted exclusion of asylum seekers in European population statistics and emergent subjectivities


Marja Alastalo (University of Eastern Finland)
Funda Ustek-Spilda (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the asylum seeker category in population and migration statistics in Europe. We argue that, how the "boundaries" are set for inclusion and exclusion are not merely software practices or decisions, but they have important political implications for the groups they are set to count.

Paper long abstract:

To be able to govern, administrative bodies need to make objects of government legible (Scott 1998). Migrant persons do not fall neatly into categories used by administrative agencies, and this is illustrated in the tendency to exclude asylum seekers from the population statistics, even when [legally speaking] they should be included. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Norway and Finland, and in Eurostat and UNECE, we study how practices of population registration and statistics compilation on foreign-born persons can be beset by differential, and at times contradictory outlooks. We show that these outlooks are often presented in the form of seemingly apolitical software infrastructures, or decisions made in response to software. Using STS and specifically "double social life of methods", we seek to trace how software emerges as both a device for administrative book-keeping, but also enacting the "migrant" categories. We argue that, even if all statistical production necessarily involves inclusions and exclusions, how the "boundaries" are set for who to be included and who to be excluded has immediate impacts on the lives of those implicated by these decisions (Bowker and Starr 1999), as such, they are onto-political (Law 2009; Mol 1999). In view of this, we show that methods enact their subjects and subjectivities; especially in detailing how the methods set to identify and measure refugee statistics in Europe end up enacting refugees as a particular collective group, which takes on a wider definition of refugee than used in official categories.

back to panel E03
Assembly, silence, dissent
Software sorted subjectivities