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Datafication of Borders and Migration

May 25, 2023
9:30 AM EDT - 4:00 PM EDT
Hybrid (In-person at CERC Migration office / online via Zoom)
A security guard looks at a monitor with surveillance technology being used

Co-convened by Anna Triandafyllidou, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University, Koen Leurs, Utrecht University, Kaarina Nikunen, Tampere University, Younes Ahouga, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Lucia Nalbandian, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University and University of Toronto.

Digital technologies and datafied systems are increasingly used to surveil, control and manage migration, shifting the balance in the humanitarianism-securitization nexus. New automated systems from facial recognition to language detection have profoundly intensified and changed migration and border policies. Data driven technologies have rendered borders ubiquitous, multi-layered and mundane: the outside border control has become increasingly mobile, now travelling with and tracking migrated bodies after border crossings.

Datafication is often framed as a phenomenon that concerns everyone: in a highly networked digital world, datafication cannot be escaped. However, datafication does not treat everyone in the same way. Critical data studies have highlighted that automated social sorting is often based on categorizations and assumptions that echo existing social biases and historical power structures, as well as pervasive and accumulative surveillance of the already marginalized. While at the same time, data driven technologies also provide systems that support new forms of resistance and activism for people who are seeking asylum or who are on the move.  

This workshop brought together scholars from different disciplines to introduce their research on digital technologies and datafication in migration and to discuss its ambivalent and contradictory role for migrants compared to refugees, as well as the unsettling consequences of the use of datafication in bordering and policymaking. This workshop was organized in collaboration with CERC Migration TMU; Intimacy in Data Driven Culture (IDA) project, Tampere University; the Co-Designing a Fair Digital Asylum Research Project; and the Digital Migration Special Inter Group, Utrecht University.

9-9:30 AM EDT Welcome reception
9:30-9:40 AM EDT Welcome remarks from Anna Triandafyllidou, Koen Leurs and Kaarina Nikunen
9:40 AM-12 PM EDT

Datafication and borders

Chair: Younes Ahouga, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

  • Deterrence and ignorance: agnotology at the border | Rine Vieth, Independent scholar  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Varieties of failure in the datafication of international borders | Philippe M. Frowd, University of Ottawa, and Benjamin J. Muller, King's University College at Western University  (PDF file) Abstract
  • The datafication of anti-trafficking: border securitization, automation, and the politics of ‘rescue’ | Rob Heynen, York University  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Humanitarian experimentation with predictive technologies | Alphoncina Lyamuya, University of Southern California  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Voice biometrics and the value of the sounding voice at the border | Daniel Leix Palumbo, University of Groningen  (PDF file) Abstract
12- 1 PM EDT  Lunch Break
1-2 PM EDT

The history of datafication at the borders   

Chair: Koen Leurs, Utrecht University

  • Industrializing migration management in Canada and its implications for automated decision making | Nicholas Lee-Scott, Independent scholar  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Smart Ellis Island? Tracing techniques of automated border governance | Philipp Seuferling, London School of Economics and Political Science  (PDF file) Abstract

2:30-4 PM EDT

Datafication and the agency of refugees and migrants

Chair: Kaarina Nikunen, Tampere University

  • Coded as criminal: gang databases, border technologies, and colonial subjectivity | Michael Lechuga, University of New Mexico, and Sergio F. Juárez, Loyola Marymount University  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Digital refugees? Displaced youth’s lives in and against the digital border | Myria Georgiou, London School of Economics and Political Science  (PDF file) Abstract
  • Datafication and digital witnessing infrastructure | Saskia Witteborn, Chinese University of Hong Kong  (PDF file) Abstract