Call for Papers

Data matters: Digital technologies and the politics of bordering

International Workshop at ETH Zurich / University of Zurich

23–24 May 2019

Convenors: Matthias Leese (ETH Zurich), Simon Noori (University of Zurich) and Stephan Scheel (University of Twente)

How does the use of digital technologies reconfigure contemporary border and migration regimes? In which ways does the related production of new types and unprecedented volumes of data affect the sorting of people on the move? Which concepts allow us to capture the increasing dispersal of border security practices across space and time? How does the deployment of innovative identification and surveillance technologies and related inscription devices such as fingerprint scanners or satellite imagery change how migration is enacted and negotiated as an object of government? How does the emergence of new actors promoting these technologies change the topography of the field of insecurity?

The two-day international workshop Data matters: Digital technologies and the politics of bordering invites papers that discuss these and related questions. We are looking for cutting-edge contributions based on original empirical research that intervene in ongoing debates in critical border and security studies in a theoretically informed way. Possible conceptual frames include (but are not limited to) Science and Technology Studies (STS), surveillance studies, Foucauldian genealogies, critical geography, cultural and media studies as well as feminist and post-colonial theory, which seem particularly well-equipped to grasp and critique the epistemic violence facilitated by innovative technologies and digital data collection.

Analyses of identification, information and surveillance technologies in border and migration management might cover heterogeneous sites and situations such as surveillance with satellites and UAVs at land and maritime borders, pre-departure collection of passenger data for purposes of risk profiling, the build-up of biometric databases or the production of ‘better’ migration statistics through new types of ‘Big Data’ like mobile positioning data. They could also comprise more ‘humanitarian’-minded applications such as the distribution of cash cards to asylum seekers at EU ‘hotspots’ in Greece or the use of biometric identifiers to streamline food distribution and social services in refugee camps in Lebanon. These examples all involve the production of new types and unpreceded volumes of digital data, which can be stored, linked and matched by computerized algorithms. Beyond that, we are interested in contributions that attend to the emergence and growing importance of actors like eu-LISA, to the orchestration and labour needed to make complex data assemblages work, to the moments of friction and breakdown haunting them, and to the practices of subversion and ‘resistance’ that migrants mobilise to escape, negotiate and challenge these systems.

As we are aiming to turn selected workshop proceedings into a special issue, participants are expected to submit a first draft of their papers (4.000-6.000 words) prior to the workshop, in order to facilitate an informed, in-depth discussion. Please note that participation in the workshop does not guarantee inclusion in the planned special issue.

For all participants, we will be able to cover the costs of two hotel nights in Zurich. Beyond that, a few travel bursaries for PhD students and junior scholars without sufficient funding are available, too (up to 250€ for participants from Europe and up to 400€ for participants from overseas). Please indicate in your paper proposal whether you might ask for a travel bursary.

Please send your abstract of 300 words and the tentative title of your paper to Matthias Leese ( and Simon Noori ( until 1 December 2018 at the latest. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us beforehand.

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