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Processing Citizenship: Digital registration of migrants as co-production of citizens, territory and Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ProcessCitizenship (Processing Citizenship: Digital registration of migrants as co-production of citizens, territory and Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-08-31

"How does migration change Europe? This question can be answered legally and politically, as most policy makers, sociologists and journalists do. Or, it can be answered technically: how do data infrastructures and practices for migration management shape Europe while they process Alterity?

Current migration waves are changing not only European policies, but also the way knowledge about individuals, institutions and space is produced. Interoperable data systems are key enablers of this knowledge. They materialize security, humanitarian, administrative and technical dynamics that compete to define what “alterity”, “citizenship”, “state” and “Europe” are. This is the main insight of ""Processing Citizenship. Digital registration of migrants as co-production of citizens, territory and Europe"", a five-year research program involving a team made of ethnographers of technology, software developers and political sociologists.

Thanks to the support of an ERC Starting Grant (2017-22), we are studying registration and identification of third-country nationals in Europe as inter-governmental, supra-national, socio-technical practices. Such practices challenge our established notions of “alterity”, “citizenship”, “state”, “Europe” and “territory”. This evidence raises pressing technical and crucial long-term issues.

Technically, migrant data circulation requires infrastructural standardization and integration among agencies at European, national and local levels. Gaps and misalignments in data collection, classification and circulation can lead to major drawbacks not only in the European migration regime, but also in European multi-level governance. Processing Citizenship studies such gaps and misalignments from the perspective of semantic interoperability and data quality.

At the same time, Processing Citizenship aims to develop a “history of the present” that accounts for contemporary material practices of registration and identification of Alterity as activities of long-term governance transformation. As historians of technology have shown, modern institutions like the nation-state are the result, not the cause, of efforts to handle information about populations and territory. The nation-state can be conceived of as the most powerful socio-technical machine for knowledge handling. More recently, European integration has been shown to be the result of multi-level and multi-sector activities of infrastructure building. As a consequence, we wonder which new orders of authority are emerging from contemporary European data infrastructures and practices for population management. In other words, Processing Citizenship investigates the infrastructural “re-making” of Europe through data systems for population management, one of the most fundamental re-making since the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago.

Processing Citizenship asks how data infrastructures and practices for migration management shape Europe while processing Alterity. To answer this overarching question, it pursues three interrelated objectives.

1) To understand how migrants’ identities are shaped by registration and identification infrastructures and practices, and how migrants adapt or resist them.

2) To understand how institutional relationships (e.g. between Member States and Europe, authorities and contractors, humanitarian actors and international organizations) are shaped by data infrastructures and practices for alterity processing.

3) To understand how modernist conceptualizations of space are challenged by data infrastructures for population management."
"Processing Citizenship was collectively launched in September 2017, when the first team members joined the PI. In the previous months, the PI had created the Project’s operational infrastructure: a website; a shared Zotero library featuring hundred items; an international Advisory Board featuring scholars in Science and Technology Studies, semantic interoperability, digital governance, political sociology, digital migration, ethics, as well as experts and practitioners (; external and internal PGP-encrypted communication channels; scientific, ethical, data and administrative resources and guidelines to facilitate the kick-off of incoming team members; the overarching research and methodological frameworks; the overall project planning.

From September 2017 to February 2018 the team took part in weekly training, with the goal to develop individual and communal knowledge of relevant literature and shared research methods for fieldwork. In this period, 2 workshops and a departmental colloquium were organized. One article was published on EASST Review, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, setting the field for “Alterity Processing” as a conceptual innovation.

Between March and December 2018 fieldwork was conducted in Italy, Greece and Germany. Fieldwork concerned the collection of technical and legal documents, interviews with migrants and with officers, observation of administrative procedures.

In 2019, fieldwork in Italy brought to the publication of an article in Science, Technology and Human Values. Fieldwork in Greece brought to the publication of 2 book chapters, one in the book ""Secrecy and Methods in Security Research"", another in the book ""Sensing Security. Sensors and the Making of Transnational Security Infrastructure"".

In the period January-August 2019 new team acquisitions were carried on, followed by intensive training of the new team members, analysis and translation of data collected up to that moment, outreach activities.

In summary, from the inception of the Project to late August 2018, the Processing Citizenship team benefitted from 41 ad hoc training sessions, organized 4 workshops, convened 5 panels, delivered more than 20 presentations (most of which as keynote speeches), participated in 14 workshops, participated in 7 events jointly organized with other European projects, delivered interviews to 2 international radios (one in the Netherlands and one in Australia), published more than 20 press releases on its website and around 100 posts through social media."
"Up to now the Project has been successful in shifting the debate on migration management, security and institutional agency towards considering data processing of individual identities from a socio-technical, empirical and inductive perspective. Most existing work indeed either adopts a deductive perspective or avoids opening the ""technological black-box"". To avoid so, the Project has adopted the method of ""infrastructural inversion"" as established in the Science and Technology Studies field, and has adapted it to the context of informational population management.

Most notably, the Project has introduced a conceptualization of migration management as “Alterity Processing”, that is, the data infrastructures, knowledge practices, and bureaucratic procedures through which populations unknown to European actors are translated into “European-legible” identities. One of the main advantages of such conceptualization with respect to the state of the art is that is allows accounting for the simultaneous enactment of individual “Others” and emergent European orders.The pubblication of the ""Processing Alterity, Enacting Europe: Migrant Registration and Identification as Co-construction of Individuals and Polities"" article on Science, Technology and Human Values has marked a key moment in this shift, with a number of total downloads which is approaching 1,000.

Drawing on empirical research at the Hotspots, the Project has up to now shown that different registration and identification procedures compete in legitimizing different chains of actors, data and meta-data as more authoritative than others. Such competing procedures have governance implications, with some institutions and actors being included and others being excluded. We have also shown that migrants themselves develop more sophisticated forms of reaction than usually thought: they do not merely resist identification, but propose alternative chains of actors, data and meta-data that are more meaningful to them. By the end of the Project we expect to show that data practices and infrastructures for alterity processing are seeding emergent orders that do not only involve individuals and authorities, but also socio-technical and trans-national actors."