EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Technologies, bodies and identities on the move: migration in the modern electronic technoscape
Location U7-12
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Karen Fog Olwig (University of Copenhagen) email
  • Heather Horst (The University of Sydney) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Karen Fog Olwig and Heather Horst
Discussant Vered Amit

Short Abstract

Since Appadural coined the term "technoscape" electronic technologies of communication and information have developed at a rapid pace. The panel examines how this complex technoscape of cell phones, social media, GPS-systems and biometric technologies shapes and is shaped by human movement.

Long Abstract

Since Arjun Appadural in Modernity at Large (1996) suggested the term "technoscape" to point to the impact of modern technology on cultural interactions and exchanges on a global scale, new electronic technologies of communication and information have been developed at a rapid pace. These technologies have a profound, but contradictory influence on voluntary and forced migration. On the one hand, cell phones, social media and GPS-systems enable individuals and families to orient themselves and communicate across vast distances and thus to acquire the information necessary to travel in foreign territory and maintain social relations with dispersed friends and family; on the other hand, biometric technologies are increasingly being developed in order to enable the identification and registration of individuals and groups, with a view to monitor and control their movements. This panel invites theoretical and ethnographic papers that discuss how this increasingly complex electronic technoscape shapes and is shaped by human movement. Key questions include:

• What sort of knowledge of people, paths and places is generated by electronic technologies and how do they open up for certain kinds of movement and hinder others?

• What kind of local and long-distance social relations do electronic technologies enable and sustain, and how do such relations inversely shape electronic technologies?

• How are new technologies developed, put into use and interpreted in the cross-field between politics, national and commercial interests, border patrol practices and mobile lives?

• How do these technologies shape ways of thinking and practicing bodies, identities and local lives?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Ageing in place in a mobile world

Authors: Loretta Baldassar (University of Western Australia)  email
Raelene Wilding (La Trobe University)  email

Short Abstract

Studies of ageing focus on the benefits of 'ageing in place' and typically overlook the ways in which new technologies make it possible for people to stay connected across distance. This paper examines mobilities and technologies as a new paradigm for reassessing approaches to healthy ageing.

Long Abstract

Research on ageing and on studies of new technologies have each prompted important research literatures. However, the intersections of the two remain surprisingly under-acknowledged. While current studies of 'mobile lives' investigate how social relationships are sustained across distance, they generally focus on young and middle-life adults (e.g. Gershon 2010) with little attention to the experiences of elderly people. In contrast, studies of ageing frequently focus on the benefits and requirements of 'ageing in place' (Vasulinashorn et al 2012) however, they typically overlook the ways in which new technologies make it possible for people to stay connected and remain socially engaged across distance. This paper examines mobilities and technologies as a new paradigm for reassessing approaches to healthy ageing, with a particular focus on the impact of new media on elderly migrant ties to homeland. Access to social networks and a capacity to belong with and engage with other people is emerging as particularly important, with recent research indicating that the notion of ageing in place may be putting too much emphasis on attachment to 'place', and insufficient attention to the desire to 'attach' to people (Hillcoat-Nalletamby & Ogg 2013; Wiles et al 2011). We argue that the strategies people use to maintain contact across distance are transforming the very nature of relationships and the foundations of human relatedness, inter-subjectivity, autonomy and interdependence (Madianou and Miller 2012:2; Ling 2008), including those that are the basis of the care, support and personhood of older people.

When the phone stops ringing: on the meanings and causes of disruptions in transnational communication between Eritrean refugees and their families back home

Author: Milena Belloni (University of Trento, Italy)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores disruptions in communication between some Eritrean refugees in Italy and their kin back home to highlight contradictory implications of widespread technologies for interpersonal transnational relationships.

Long Abstract

Migration studies have recently showed that technology plays a crucial role in facilitating the circulation of information and images, which are not only practically useful in the organisation of migration journeys, but are also reinforcing the desire of migration itself (e.g. Panagakos&Horst, 2006). Whereas most studies focus on the impact of information and images transmitted through technology, less attention has been paid to the social circumstances which obstruct these flows, with few exceptions (Lindley, 2010; Tazanu, 2015). Based on a multi-sited ethnography in Italy and Eritrea, this paper first describes the role of ICT technologies and mobile phone communication in migration from Eritrea. Then it shows that, in spite of technological possibilities to communicate, contacts between Eritrean refugees in Italy and their families back home are often extremely limited. This is not the result of infrastructural underdevelopment, but the consequence of a bundle of social and family expectations perceived by my informants as overwhelming. While revisiting the literature on the moral economy of transnational families (Parry&Bloch, 1989; Baldassar&Merla, 2014) and recent works on refugees and technologies (Leung, 2009; Tazanu, 2015), my study aims to highlight the contradictory implications of new technologies for the interpersonal relationships between refugees and their kin back home.

Erotic enterprises: the impact of technology on the lives of female sex workers in Dublin, Ireland

Author: Emma Heffernan (National Cancer Registry Ireland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper provides an ethnographic account of female sex work in Dublin, Ireland. The sex industry has been dramatically transformed by globalization and technological innovation, impacting not only on the migration of sex workers, but also on how they strategize to sell sex.

Long Abstract

This paper provides an ethnographic account of female sex work at the height of the Celtic Tiger, in Dublin, Ireland, when sex like other consumables, saw an insatiable increase in demand. Like other service industries, the sex industry has been dramatically transformed by globalization and technological innovation, including the proliferation of mobile phones and Internet. The increasing fluidity of the global economy and the permeability of national borders within Europe especially, coupled with advances in technology, has facilitated the mass movement of people seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families. As well as increasing the mobility of sex workers, these changes have also altered the way sex workers engage with the industry and how they contract for sex work. In the recent past, covert advertisements in magazines, offering a mere hint at what carnal delight might be on offer, have given way to explicit Internet websites, allowing potential buyers to view an array of women in various locations around the city, as well as a menu of services and price lists. Indeed, far from looking like an exotic enterprise, the sex industry, especially in the escort sector of the market, resembles many other branches of the service industry in the formal economy, in dealing with the effects of globalization by finding new and innovate means of accessing potential markets. Indeed this virtual community of buyers, sellers and organizers shape the state of the online sex market, in terms of what is sold, how it is sold and by whom.

Electronic technologies, context and the shaping of multiple movements: a Portuguese case study

Author: Marta Vilar Rosales (Instituto de Ciências Sociais)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the role of electronic technologies in the migration movements between Portugal and Brazil in the last 5 years. It explores the knowledge generated in Portugal, the targeting strategies and the uses of the information displayed to discuss this specific two way migration route.

Long Abstract

For the last five years, Portugal is experiencing significant emigration flows due to the economic crisis and an aggressive political campaign aimed at attracting specific immigrant groups from all over the world potentially interested in investing in the country. Electronic technologies play a significant role in these processes, by strategically producing and displaying knowledge, not only about opportunities abroad, but also about the attractiveness of Portugal for high middle class families and businessman from all over the world. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the last three years, this paper will explore the particular case of the Atlantic crossings between Portugal and Brazil, a country with which Portugal shares long and intense emigration and immigration experiences. It will focus on:

a) The knowledge generated and made available concerning Portugal as an attractive immigration context to the Brazilian high middle classes;

b) The knowledge generated and made available concerning Brazil as an attractive emigration context to the Portuguese young middle classes;

c) The targeting strategies at play which allow the simultaneous exploration of Portuguese pulling and pushing aspects;

d) And how prospective Portuguese and Brazilian migrants interact with and use the information displayed to feed imaginaries and expectations and plan their future movements.

Biometric border worlds: technologies, bodies and identities on the move

Authors: Perle Møhl (University of Copenhagen)  email
Kristina Grünenberg (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

In this presentation, we will discuss the development of biometric technologies and their entanglements with migration, identity, subjectivity, policies and social relations, and sketch out modes of addressing these entanglements anthropologically and through digital collaboration.

Long Abstract

As global migration continues to rise, large investments are being made in the development of biometric security measures and border control techniques, in order to track the movements of migrants and refugees, and register or verify their identities. Biometric technologies produce representations of bodily properties defined as specific to particular individuals, e.g. fingerprints, iris patterns, retina shapes, voice patterns, facial shapes, DNA, etc. Borders crystallize or dissolve as these technologies are connected to particular bodies, which either match or do not match existing digitally coded body images, and thus provide or prevent passage across borderlines. Biometric technologies then seem to fixate and stabilize the borders premised upon the idea that 'bodies do not lie' (Aas Franko 2006). In this context technology developers and stakeholders often portray biometric technologies as objective and incontestable, thus overlooking the specific societal contexts of their production and the ambiguity and uncertainty attached to their use. Biometric verification of identities in border control, however, depends on substantial human interpretation, social connections, politics, enskilment, and migrants and migration brokers may furthermore become biometric specialists in their own right, developing techniques to circumvent biometric technologies.

In this presentation we discuss how we as anthropologists can address these issues theoretically and ethnographically, and what a collaborative perspective might add to such anthropological explorations.

Coming of age in x-ray rooms and offices: on practices of (forensic) age assessments of young refugees in Germany

Author: Sabine Netz (Free University of Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

What is an "unaccompanied minor refugee" made to be when x-rays, bodies, forensic scientists, and standards are drawn together in the practice of forensic age estimation? This ethnographic paper delineates how technologies become crucial in the making of political subjectivities of young refugees.

Long Abstract

Recently bodies, (forensic) medicine and technologies gained importance in decision making processes on asylum seekers in Europe. Where does this belief in the truth derived from bodies and technologies come from? I examine ethnographically what kind of truth, objectivity and body is achieved in forensic age estimation practices carried out in young refugees in Germany: there X-rays of hands and teeth of them are taken to estimate their age. I investigate how this technologically assisted truth relates to the making of new political subjectivities and identities: while some refugees are assessed under age, others come of age in the x-ray room. The former are declared "unaccompanied minors", a status entailing a lot of rights and privileges like being secured from deportation, the latter cannot claim these rights as adult refugees and often move on to other cities and countries to try and claim childhood again.

I theoretically and methodologically draw on the ethnography of practices, science and technology studies and the anthropology of citizenship to investigate what child- and adulthood are made to be for refugees when laws, x-rays, individual bodies, forensic scientists and statistics and standards from different times and places are drawn together in forensic age estimation. I argue that the concrete study of practices is important because it attends to the multiple ways in which categories of in-/exclusion like 'age' are done - in this case, the statistically and technologically assisted enactment of "the normal child" is neither purely 'biological' nor 'social'.

'Did you get your fingers taken?': Somali migrants in transit and their encounters with biometrical technology

Author: Anja Simonsen (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the interpretation and social navigation of biometric technologies, such as fingerprinting, among young Somali migrants en route to Europe.

Long Abstract

Based on fieldwork in Somaliland, Turkey and Greece, this paper explores the ways in which electronic technologies influence young Somali migrants en route towards a desired destination. For Somali migrants, life and death en route are closely linked to divulgence up-to-date information, shared through mobile phones, that helps guide them in their movements through landscapes of continuous border controls characterized by constantly developing biometric technologies. Doing fieldwork among young Somalis in Greece who desired to move further into Europe in the search of a worthy life, I would often hear them ask each other: 'Did you get your fingers taken?' This question was motivated by the migrants' fear of having their fingerprint registered electronically in a country where they did not want to settle. In this paper I discuss how the Somali migrants interpreted, and sought to avoid, biometric registration in Greece. I am particularly concerned with the ways they attempted to get around the problems confronted due to receiving a biometric stamp (e.g. a fingerprint) that hindered their onward movement, quelling their hopes for a better life abroad (Amoore 2009).The paper thus explores the paradoxical relation between electronic technology as a way to manage uncertainty through the sharing of information, and electronic technology as a source of uncertainty through the involuntary divulgence and registration of information.

Technoscapes: navigating the infrastructures of mobility

Author: Heather Horst (The University of Sydney)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the differential use of digital technologies in the experience of migration and the factors that shape the emergent technoscapes of mobility through a comparison of two different migration trajectories and conditions of movement.

Long Abstract

Digital media technologies have expanded, becoming part and parcel of our everyday lives in many parts of the world. This transformation has been particularly significant for transnational migrants who are actively in the process of movement and world making, whether these worlds involve the creation of new livelihoods and spaces of belonging in their country of migration or the maintenance of transnational families and connections across borders. This paper examines the differential use of digital technologies in the experience of migration and the factors that shape the emergent technoscapes of mobility through a comparison of two different migration trajectories. The first journey focuses upon the processes of 'bordering' (Long 2011) for Haitian migrants living on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the role of mobile phones in facilitating and mitigating physical movement. The second journey focuses upon migration across New Zealand, Tonga and Niue and the use of social and locative media to create, view, distribute, modify, archive and communicate a sense of belonging and being across national borders. Whereas the first example involves everyday mobility across a porous, yet surveilled border region, the Pacific examples foreground digital over physical mobility. Engaging with Vertesi's (2014) metaphor of 'seams' and 'seamfulness' to describe the ways in which people navigate the technological and infrastructural heterogeneity in their everyday lives, I conclude by reflecting upon the contemporary technoscapes migrants stitch together through different conditions of mobility and the meaningful use of digital media technologies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.