Annalisa Pelizza is STS professor of at the University of Bologna, and visiting professor at the STePS department, University of Twente. Since 2022 she is vice president of STS Italia. Her research on “governance by data infrastructures” studies how data systems and practices can entail long-term but unnoticed transformations in modern institutions, which are often buried in technical minutiae. She has been the recipient of several European Commission grants and currently leads the “Processing Citizenship” program, funded by the European Research Council.
The Scripts of Alterity: From typified security subjects to hindered users
As the 2022 EASST conference’s theme goes, ‘critical examination of the dynamics by which
knowledge and social orders are co-produced makes visible the normative agendas and
corresponding rationalities that are mobilized to govern in times of collective crisis.’ Similarly,
in this lecture I wish to address the co-production of knowledge about unknown populations
on the move and European orders. The conceptualization of ‘scripts of alterity’ refers to
intended security subjects as inscribed in data infrastructures used in the European Justice
and Home Affairs area. Spanning from the ‘irregular immigrant’ to the ‘settled traveler,’ from
the ‘potential perpetrator’ to the ‘long-term stayer,’ scripts of alterity reveal not so much
identities of actual people on the move to, across and because of Europe, but rather European
normative agendas and rationalities implicated by such enactments.
However, ‘scripts of alterity’ do not only refer to the outcome of boundary-drawing practices,
i.e., typified security subjects, but also to assumptions about the users of data infrastructures
for population management. This raises the question of who the users of such data
infrastructures are. For sure, officers who are instructed by databases on what they must sort
and consider relevant and what they are allowed or even urged to overlook. Yet databases
also instruct people on the move to match their lives with the scripts of alterity, what I call
‘hindered users.’ I thus wonder whether security subjects can be considered ‘users’ of those
data systems that enact them.
The answer to this question opens two analytical possibilities. The first concerns the
enactment of security subjects as proper users endowed with potentialities to action vis-à-vis
apparatuses. The second allows accounting for resistance not in a vacuum, but as disinscriptions
from the possibilities and limitations of the scripts of alterity. Drawing on data
collected at the European border, the lectures will eventually try to contribute to the debate
about how to account for conflict while adopting a sociotechnical perspective.
Amade M’charek is Professor of Anthropology of Science at the Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, where she acts as the director of the research group Health, Care and the Body. M’charek is PI of the RaceFaceID project, an ERC-consolidator project on forensic identification and the making of face and race, and co-PI of the NWA project Pressing Matter: Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums. Her work has centred on the ir/relevance of race in science and society focusing on genetics and forensic practice, exploring issues of post coloniality, temporality and identity. In her research on migrant death, she has developed an interest in forensic methods for studying (post)colonial relations, circulations and extractions. She was recently awarded an ERC-advanced grant to develop this line of research in her project Vital Elements.
Vital Elements and Postcolonial flows: Attending to migrant death and the possibility of life.
Since 2014 more than 23.000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. They have been attended to as “border death” (Last & Spijkerboer 2014), crucially, drawing attention to the militarization of Europe’s borders and its migration policy. But what if we would make a decolonial move and cross the Mediterranean, from Europe to Africa? What if we would attend to death, not in relation to borders that kill, but in relation to life and livelihood?
The starting point for this talk is the beaches of Zarzis, a southern Tunisian harbour town, where dead bodies have been washing ashore since the mid-nineties. I ask “how did these bodies end up here?” A forensic question that I will not engage in any self-evident way. I reconfigure forensics, from an art of finding evince and closure, to an art of paying attention. A mode of opening up and articulating complex entanglements.
Inspired by forensics, its attention to materialities and temporalities as well as its tenet of following heterogeneous traces, I query the relation between death and the possibilities for life and livelihood by trailing vital elements and the relation between them. Vital elements, I suggest, are materialities that are crucial for fostering live or causing death in their absence. Think of phosphorus, salt, water, or, sea sponges. Moving with and being moved by these materialities and the way they have been part of extractivist practices, I will demonstrate how they help us to see the durability of unequal, (post)colonial relation, underscoring what can flow easily and what is being stopped between Europe and Africa. But these materialities also alert us to the fact that rather than “Europe’s migration crisis” what we are witnessing is a chronic situation of producing life and death.
Crisis has become a common term in recent years. We moved from Global Economic Crisis through Debt crisis in Southern Europe, the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis, to Climate crisis and a Global Pandemic. Different situations that have gained relevance in broadcasting headlines and accumulated hashtags in social media worldwide. Currently the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought war to ‘post-war Europe’ -so headlines tell us- and the welcoming reception of refugees at the Eastern EU borders have been overwhelming, by both governments and citizens alike. However, the EU borders have not always been so receptive. Poland’s border with Belarus became a hot spot in the harshest of winter this very year. Borders were reinforced and Poland army mobilized to prevent refugees entering the EU. As terms like “threat”, “avalanche”, or even “invasion” began to circulate, social opinion was not always open to gestures such as, “reception” and “welcoming”. While in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean the surveillance of Europe’s southern borders have been constantly intensified, the work of Frontex extended and the deathrate of migrants alarmingly high, this political situation seldom makes the news. In the meanwhile, migration routes have shifted from the Greek islands to Italy and Malta or Spain, not only at the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar but also in the Atlantic Canary Route from West Africa.
Securitization measures, borders controls, articulations of belonging and exclusion, as well as racist stereotypes are uncannily fueling extreme right-wing discourses throughout Europe. Discourses mobilized and materially enacted in dense displays along with histories of colonization, global extractivist practices, technological, often militarized, modes of surveillance, digital processes for recognition, biometric technologies, and geopolitical categorizations of alterity. All these processes are articulated in an intricate choreography of lives and deaths, of bodies attempting to navigate seas as much as bureaucratic procedures, of recognition patterns, legal requirement and interoperability protocols. A whole set of heterogeneous —somehow independent yet juxtaposed—material-semiotic apparatuses that limit transits composing (sometimes actual) barriers—to try to stop or to control human transits with increasing risk to their lives.
STS has a long tradition of unsettling given truths and unravelling black-boxes by caring about “neglected things” assembled in heterogeneous material-semiotic compounds (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2010). Specially, feminist and antiracist STS along with feminist points of view on epistemologies, have provided unique insights to help disentangling the how of long-term patterns of inequality and to bring to the fore how they are actually produced. This work has attended to inequalities in tangible heterogeneous material interactions that shape bodies and objects alike, situating these in recurrently enacted robust interconnections. If as the saying goes “the Devil is in the details” then, more often than not, attention to those details may allow us for new perspectives, undoing what seems to be made of concrete.
Drawing from this fruitful STS tradition, in this first plenary session we will like to “stay with the trouble” (Haraway, 2016) and address the topic of the conference in a dialogical setting, where Amade M’charek and Annalisa Pelizza will engage in a conversation about the transits of people and bodies at European borders. In these never-ending narrations of “crisis”, “refugees” and “migrants”, such terms become categories of conflict with performative effects. If as Latour stated years ago, “science is politics by other means” (1988) our analyses are political and we share a profound respons-ability to the regimes of life and death currently articulated in this Antropocene pandemic scenario (Haraway, 2016). What will be our responses? How will we engage with such urgent political demands? How can we turn our analyses into fruitful tools to disentangle inequalities and to denounce global bioregimes based in colonial exploitation? And, perhaps most importantly, if we aim for a collective opportunity of future, what kind of STS do we need?