Hacking the shelter: infrastructural “counter publics” and the management of forced migration
(University of California, Irvine)
Paper short abstract:
This article examines hacker technologies that aim to expand subversive infrastructural publics to German refugee shelters and camps, focusing particularly on wireless internet access and network surveillance.
Paper long abstract:
Since the summer of 2015, European hacker collectives have included issues of forced migration to their political agenda and technological projects. Conceptualised by STS scholars as enacting “counter publics” or “recursive publics” (Kelty 2008), the critical purchase of alternative technologies and infrastructures has yet to be examined in light of contemporary border regimes.
Therefore, this article examines hacker technologies that aim to expand subversive infrastructural publics to German refugee shelters and camps, focusing particularly on wireless internet access and surveillance. My point of departure is an ethnographic case study of “Freifunk”, a free mesh network initiative whose participants provide anonymised internet access to over 350 refugees shelters and receptions centres in Germany. The empirical data is gathered through participant observation and interviews with activists, social workers, and migrants, covering the negotiation of how wireless equipment is installed, configured, and cared for. First, the material makes visible how Freifunk manages to publically problematize ongoing forms of sociotechnical neglect and counter attempts at surveillance. Secondly, it highlights the asymmetries and unintended consequences and the need to learn from everyday infrastructural practices already employed by forced migrants. Together, both aspects open the discussion on how STS research can conceptually and methodologically account for the expansion of infrastructural “counter publics” to domains of forced migration.
Publics shaped and enacted by surveillance, border and post-crisis management technologies: encountering "phantom publics", "non-publics" and "counter publics"