Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Borders
Secondary Theme: Technology
Digital technologies have had a profound, but contradictory influence on processes of mobility and immobility that anthropologists are only beginning to address through ethnographic research. One trend that deserves more ethnographic attention concerns the rapid development and usage of increasingly sophisticated biometric technologies in the context of migration. By identifying and registering border crossing individuals and groups, migration authorities aim to monitor and control movements. This biometric border management is motivated by the two-pronged interest in making border crossing as seamless as possible for the privileged travelers, while curbing or even putting a stop to the transnational mobility of what is perceived as potentially dangerous or “undesirable” bodies. At the same time, cell phones, social media and GPS-systems enable migrants to orient themselves and communicate across vast distances and thus to exchange vital information that can assist them in their border crossing endeavors and their onward journey in foreign territories. This ease of communication across vast distances also makes it possible to keep in close contact with friends and family left behind, however, their high expectations of the opportunities afforded by migration can present a burden that may restrain the migrants’ mobility.
This session discusses the complex and changeable technological border world that shapes and is shaped by human movement, with a view to exploring some of its constitutive elements and how they may be approached conceptually and empirically through ethnographic research. Key questions are: What sort of knowledge of people, paths and places may be generated by digital 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 digital technologies enable and sustain, and how do such relations inversely shape these technologies? How do national and commercial interests influence the development of new technologies and the ways in which they are put into use and interpreted in border control practices? Finally, how do these technologies challenge anthropological conceptualizations of mobility, bodies and identities?