In April I will be giving at talk at the conference, Migration and Mobility in a Digital Age: Paradoxes of Connectivity and Belonging, held at the Heyman Center for Humanities at Columbia University. Here is the event call:
The image of Syrian refugees with a smartphone shooting ‘selfies’ upon reaching dry land has captured the international imagination (Chouliaraki, 2017; Kunstman, 2017; Risam, forthcoming 2018). It suggests an image of the ‘connected migrant’ (Diminescu, 2008), which is shaped by a profound ambivalence: migrants are expected to be people fleeing from war, violence, and poverty; they are not expected to be ‘digital natives’, equipped with technologies to navigate their difficult journeys.
While smartphones are accessible, affordable, and easy to use, in the realm of the public imaginary the image of the disenfranchised and disconnected migrant remains that of the ‘have nots’, and therefore subject to ‘high tech orientalism’ (Chun, 2006, p. 73). This posits the figuration of the migrant as outside the realm of development and modern forms of communication, disenfranchised and vulnerable in order to be worthy of international aid and pity (Boltanski, 20000; Ticktin, 2008).
And yet smartphones are ubiquitous, and migrants have been early adopters and heavy users of technologies for the simple reason that these technologies are ingrained in their daily practices and everyday lives, which often involve perilous crossings but also the need to keep in touch with the home front and their diasporic communities. The promise of connectivity that is guaranteed even under duress becomes fraught with the profound disconnection brought about by the disciplining gaze of Western media and publics.
It is, therefore, crucial to focus on the specific way in which digital technologies bridge or magnify the gap in migration between geographical distance and digital proximity. How are affect, intimacy, and belonging negotiated online in the face of forced migration and expulsions (Sassen, 2012) but also of circular migration, expatriation, and transnational movements?
This conference aims to cover a broad range of conflict-related issues on migration in a digital age. Using the latest insights from a range of interdisciplinary fields, it will explore theories of displacement such as diaspora, cosmopolitanism, and nomadism, and the transformations brought about by the digital revolution, through the analysis of virtual communities, social media platforms, and digital activism.
It will also focus on media production and the regulation of information on forced migrants in a ‘post-truth’ era: fake news; the humanitarianism-securitization nexus, migration management, social and political conflicts related to migrant and diaspora communities, radicalization and online counter-terrorism, hate speech and racism, but also solidarities, activism, and protest.
For more info e-mail Sandra Ponzanesi: firstname.lastname@example.org