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Processing Alterity, Enacting Polities

Thu, August 30, 9:00 to 10:30am, ICC, C2.3


This paper introduces data infrastructures for alterity processing as a field of inquiry for Science and Technology Studies, concerned with the infrastructural construction of polities. Drawing on fieldwork conducted at Hotspots involved in registration and identification (R&I) procedures on the Northern side of the Mediterranean Sea, it suggests that institutional practices, (meta)data and procedures designed to translate unknown people into European-readable identities co-produce migrant people and polities. On one hand, what get materialized at each disembarkation on European docks are attempts to establish order by creating (non)population registers. The first case focuses on bracelet-coding as analogue metadata. Despite its apparent simplicity, NGOs bracelet coding is a sophisticated system that translates a chain of violence and vulnerability into an artefact, while at the same time preserving privacy and excluding unauthorized observers. This case shows that procedural choices on how health conditions and vulnerability are coded into data and rendered readable through metadata co-produce migrants and Europe in different ways. The second case discusses how non-European people on the move towards Europe normatively redefine the meaning of European citizenship in their interaction with R&I procedures. Migrants and refugees enact themselves as political subjects by doing what they are not supposed to do: to make claims on what European citizenship should be. They do so not by mere speech acts, but when filling forms, providing answers to be entered in databases, refusing to take X-rays to establish age. By so doing, refugees and migrants enact an interstice in which they become subjects and not mere objects.