Forced migration & digital connectivity in Europe

Dear list members,

Kevin Smets (postdoc, University of Antwerp, Belgium) and Koen Leurs (assistant professor Gender & Postcolonial Studies, Utrecht University, the Netherlands) are sending out this email to see whether there are people on the list interested in submitting a panel / roundtable proposal on ‘Forced migration & digital connectivity in Europe’ for the October 16 AoIR conference taking place in Berlin.

Daily, Europeans witness Syrian asylum seekers arriving on the beaches of Greek and Southern-Italian islands. TV news footage shows how freshly arrived migrants use smartphones to take selfies or use Skype to happily announce their safe arrival on European soil to loved ones elsewhere. In response, prejudicial discourses about migrants have centered on smartphones; for example, anti-immigrant politicians and various social media memes frame refugees who own ‘luxury’ smartphones as less deserving of asylum. Forced migrants, who are digitally connected, embody Europe’s Janus-faced character in an age when advanced technologies are celebrated for increasing communication speed and economic prosperity.

As a result of different conflicts worldwide, forced migration has become a major challenge for Europe. The enormous death toll of migrants at Europe’s borders, the reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen Area, and the violence and hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers in several European countries published across various social media platforms all attest to the way in which the current influx of forced migrants is overturning European society and political structures. At the same time mainstream media have devoted significant attention to the situation of refugees along their migration routes in(to) Europe. Interestingly, these instances often included digital technologies as central anchoring points in the lives of refugees. Detailed reports were made of refugees using smartphones, keeping in touch with their relatives, or documenting their journey through social media. Other accounts, albeit less frequently, focused on the ways in which governments seek to deal with forced migration via digital technologies, for instance by making use of GPS tracking in smartphones, or by setting up online deterrence campaigns to discourage refugees to migrant to specific countries.

Topical urgency:
While it is clear that forced migration and digital connectivity are increasingly intertwined, there is still a lack of in-depth, critical research into this topic especially in the context of Europe. With this roundtable/panel we seek to bring together cutting-edge research on forced migration in(to) Europe and the way in which digital technologies and digital connectivity and in particular social media play a role in the lives of forced migrants. The roundtable/panel aims not only to present empirical evidence for discussions about forced migration and digital connectivity, but also to offer new theoretical perspectives on the issue. Approaching forced migration as a complex societal, political and cultural phenomenon, we seek to consider different aspects of digital connectivity, such as the affective use of social media by migrants themselves as well as activists and trolls, political economy, as well questions related to gender, media literacy, policy, legislation and human rights.

In dialogue with possible participants we will decide on submitting a pre-constituted panel or roundtable.

We envision contributions may for example address the following issues:
*connected migrants in Europe
*social media use in refugee camps and asylum seeker centres
*migration and digital communication rights
*forced migration and selfie citizenship
*transnational communication and affectivity
*encapsulation & cosmopolitanization
*differences and similarities different migrant groups (class, gender, age, generation)
*digital migrant identities
*alternative migrant cartographies
*migrant recruitment and radicalization online
*governmental surveillance systems
*digital deportability and algorithmic sorting
*migrant networked learning
*migrant acculturation online
*affective digital connectivity practices
*trolling, extremism and anti-migration protest online
*political economy of migrant digital connectivity
*communication rights

Kindly register your interest in joining a panel / roundtable on the topic with Koen Leurs and Kevin Smets by emailing a 250-300 word abstract and short biographical statement to both<> and<> by 15 February 2016. This gives us 2 weeks to decide upon the format (either a panel or roundtable).

*This proposed panel/roundtable seeks to build momentum for the colloquium on ‘Connected migrants: cosmopolitanization & encapsulation’ organized by Koen Leurs with Sandra Ponzanesi from 14-16 December 2016 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This colloquium is funded by the Royal Netherlands Organization for Arts and Science, and will bring together 50 scholars working on the topic, see (

*The organizers are also co-editing a special issue on the topic for a forthcoming issue of Social Media + Society ( A CFP for this special issue and the colloquium will be circulated shortly.

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