A very special thanks to the Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences for co-sponsoring the workshop and Singapore Internet Research Center for organizing the workshop.

 

The 3M workshop is one of the significant events of its kind that brings together leading scholars on ICTs and migration issues, particularly marginalized migrants’ experiences and various impacts of mobile phones. The aims of the workshop are: (i) to gather researchers across disciplines who have been attending the issues of migration and ICTs to share personal and professional experiences, ongoing research programs, theories and methodologies regarding migrants’ lives and roles of mobiles; (ii) to address key/shared problems concerning the mobile phone usage of migrants in different contexts and solutions around mobile appropriation of the marginalized groups; (iii) to facilitate collaborations across borders and contexts; and (iv) to discuss subsequent collaborative research programs and the prospect of a jointed publication addressing the 3M issues. The workshop is conducted on 17 & 18 February 2017 at Nanyang Technological University  in Singapore.

Framed against the backdrop of a resurgent nationalism reacting to the inequalities caused by globalization, migrant mobilities and rights are emergent as the battleground for these polarizing forces. I developed the 3M Workshop to showcase the role of modern communication technologies, such as the mobile phone, in the struggles and negotiations that occur as these historic forces engage. While primarily being a showcase of academic research about the communicative strategies of marginalized migrants, refugees and trafficked people, the parallel aims of the workshop include public education, media dissemination, and legislative inputs for the nascent social movement to end migrant discrimination. The REINFORM network is a platform to connect researchers and academics with shared interests, disseminate findings to the public and media, and allow for conversations that bridge scholarly and social consciousness.
— Assoc. Prof. Arul Chib, Director, Singapore Internet Research Center, Nanyang Technological University

Participants

Arul Chib, Nanyang Technological University

Carleen Maitland, Penn State University

Dana DiminescuTélécom ParisTech, Paris

Hannah Thinyane, United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society, SAR Macau

Hoan Nguyen, Singapore Internet Research Centre

Juhee Kang, United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society, SAR Macau

Karen Fisher, University of Washington, Seattle

Laavanya Kathiravelu, Nanyang Technological University

Mark Latonero Data & Society Research Institute, NYC

Mirca Madianou,  Goldsmiths University of London

Nina Springer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich

Pei Xin, Nanyang Technological University

Rich Ling, Nanyang Technological University

Saskia Witteborn, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Sina ArnoldHumboldt Universität zu Berlin

Veronika Karnowski Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich

Vivian ChenNanyang Technological University


summary video

presentation

Abstracts

 

THE RISE OF THE DIGITAL REFUGEE: AN IMPETUS FOR NEW FORMS OF PROTECTION?

Carleen Maitland, Penn State University

The rise of the ‘digital refugee’ (Jacobsen, 2015) is a result of two important forces affecting both individuals as well as organizations. Among individual refugees, access to and use of ICTs increasingly is becoming a critical part of their everyday lives. Most media accounts of their use focus on refugees fleeing to Europe, where network coverage is fairly extensive and reliable. However, as mobile use has spread across the globe, so to have refugees across the globe begun to rely on these devices and associated services. At the same time, organizations serving refugees are being implored to make greater use of mobile devices in their service delivery processes. Pressure comes from refugees themselves, as well as from donors seeking greater efficiency and accountability. Together these two forces have created a multifaceted digital refugee, with diverse data protection needs. As protection is an important mandate of refugee service providers, including UNHCR, how are data protection services being conceptualized, implemented and managed? What barriers to protection do digital refugees face?

While there is certainly scope for such an analysis to be undertaken from an international legal perspective, here the approach is at a more granular level, that of individuals and the refugee service providers.  As organizations collect, store, manage and share increasing amounts of refugee data, they are compelled to devise specific policies, or simply apply policies used in other areas of their broader data management processes. Further, through daily interactions, service providers are more likely to be aware of the individual data protection needs of refugees. Applying an organizational informatics frame, one that focuses on multi-level governance (A. H. Tapia, Tchouakeu, Maldonado, & Maitland, 2013; Maitland, Thomas, & Tchouakeu, 2012; A. Tapia & Maitland, 2009)., spanning organizational and individual data management practices, this research provides insights into the issues of protection for the digital refugee.

For individual refugees, issues of data protection can be analyzed in two domains. The first examines the effect of digital self-construction on the lives of individuals and on the refugee community as a whole. This paper will examine how, when, where and why refugees are documenting their lives and creating their digital selves. Important questions include how network access and previous experiences with surveillance and censorship affect refugee ICT use and digital construction. A second issue is the potential interaction of this individually constructed self with refugee service systems. For example, data are integral aspects of the refugee status determination (RSD) process, which could potentially be affected by data such as geo-tagged video and photographic evidence of lived experiences. Also, as the refugee registration process includes extensive individual data collection, it might be feasible for service providers to supplement registration data with data collected from publicly available sources.

While many, but not all, refugees are busy creating their digital selves, their service providers are starting to generate equally and in some cases more elaborate versions of the digital refugee. Driven largely by accountability concerns (Jacobsen & Sandvik, 2016), organizations, both individually and through shared systems, are creating digital refugees through standard databases, but also increasingly through digital media embedded in a variety of programs.

As with all data management processes within organizations, digital refugee protection will be an enormous challenge. The multifaceted nature of the digital refugee casts ‘digital shadows’ in numerous areas of operations, each with their own data collection and management systems. Whether centralized or decentralized, systems of protection will require careful development and implementation. 

HOW REFUGEES HELP THE AID AGENCIES: INNOVATION AND DATAFICATION IN DIGITAL HUMANITARIANISM

Mirca Madianou, Goldsmiths, University of London

The so-called refugee crisis in Europe has prompted an explosion of applications and digital innovation projects to help displaced people. This is part of a wider phenomenon called ‘digital humanitarianism’ understood as the convergence of social and institutional networks, technologies and practices which are aimed to support individuals and organizations to collaborate in response to emergencies. Authors have claimed that communication technologies and big data are changing the face of humanitarian response forever (Meier, 2015). Influential reports have been published by major humanitarian organisations which claim the advent of a new phase of humanitarianism ‘in a networked age’ (UNOCHA, 2012). The interactive nature of digital technologies has fuelled the discourse about the so-called ‘participation revolution’ in humanitarian assistance. Mobile phones and social media in particular are welcomed for their potential to catalyze a ‘power-shift’ in humanitarianism by building feedback structures that empower local communities to hold humanitarian and government agencies into account. 

In my talk I will focus on two aspects of digital humanitarianism in the current refugee crisis: the rise of digital innovation, typically delivered through mobile phones; and the role of data. Innovation and data are linked to processes of participation and accountability, both key components of humanitarian reform. While I recognise the occasions when digital innovation offers opportunities for grassroots engagement, drawing on interviews with humanitarian workers and participant observation in the spaces of innovation (for example, hackathons and innovation labs) I argue that on the whole the promise of participation remains unfulfilled. Additionally, apps and digital tools which are aimed at both people in need and improving the work of humanitarians end up serving the latter (for example streamlining the distribution of aid).

Apart from data mined from social and mobile media humanitarian agencies increasingly use their own data collection and aggregation tools to assist with needs assessment and accountability practices. Improving the accountability of aid organisations has been a key component in the ongoing efforts for humanitarian reform. My paper observes that accountability has been largely defined as feedback provided by ‘beneficiaries’. Crucially, this feedback is increasingly collected and processed through mobile phones generating large datasets. Following the trails of data from affected people, to volunteers, humanitarian workers and donors, my study reveals how the power relationships within the humanitarian field are entrenched by datafication (Van Dijck, 2014). The datafication of humanitarianism reveals that the flow of aid is not just directed from donors and agencies to refugees. Refugees, through their data, support and legitimate the work of agencies and donors.

On Mobile/ICT Usage, Access, and Privacy for Syrian Refugees in Greece

Mark Latonero,  Data & Society Research Institute, NYC

I will present preliminary findings from recent field research conducted between Jan 15 – Jan 31 2017 at the Ritsona refugee camp an hour north of Athens, Greece. Ritsona is comprised of approximately 750 Syrian refugees - mostly families and children in addition to some single men and those who have traveled without their families. Residents in the camp are at various stages of the asylum and interview process – from brand new arrivals to those who have lived in the camp over a year.

Of approximately 350 adults living in Ritsona, a standardized questionnaire was administered to a sample of N=120. The survey included questions related to mobile phone and ICT usage/access/cost and information seeking/communication behaviors. Questions about privacy were included to measure the sensitivity of types of content and concerns of sharing personal information. The survey also included scales related to psychosocial health. Qualitative semi-structured interviews supplemented the survey in addition to ethnographic observations.

 

“I AM ALMOST MARRYING MY PHONE”: MOBILE COMMUNICATION AND SYRIAN REFUGEES

Rich Ling, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In this paper, we examine the use of mobile communication among 30 Syrian refugees. These people were interviewed in refugee camps in the Netherlands. The interviews examined the use of mobile communication in preparation for becoming a refugee, during their travel and as they tried to integrate themselves into Dutch society. The findings show that the mobile phone played different roles at different points in the process. During the travel, it was used to communicate information with other traveling groups, as a GPS device and for informing people "back home" of their progress. When the individuals had arrived in the Netherlands, the mobile phone was used to maintain contact with family and friends back home, as a device to help navigate in their new home and as a way to help translate information from Dutch to Arabic. The paper examines the shifting understanding of the mobile phone as a necessity and as a luxury in the eyes of the refugees.

“WITHOUT IT, YOU WILL DIE”: SMARTPHONES AND REFUGEE DIGITAL SELF-ORGANIZATION

Sina Arnold, Humboldt University, Berlin

More than one million refugees have come to Germany in 2015 and 2016, most of them from Syria. Along with their histories, dreams and future plans, there is one item that almost all of the refugees bring with them: a smartphone. It has become indispensable before, during and after the process of forced migration.

The talk will empirically ground some of the theoretical claims about the role of smartphones, thereby contributing to an understanding of “migrant digitalities” (Trimikliniotis/ Parsanoglou/Tsianos 2014: 3) (in)to Europe. Based on an ethnographic study conducted between January and December 2016 in Berlin – where 90.000 refugees arrived in 2015 alone – it will present the findings of 15 qualitative interviews with Syrian refugees as well as a quantitative study in asylum seeker shelters. In that sense, it will analyze the smartphone as a local object that expresses and at the same time shapes global relations and transnational migratory movements both into and within Europe.

Our study shows that smartphones are digital tools that enable self-organization and greater autonomy among forced migrants in two ways: During the process of migration they allow information-seeking about both the country of origin and the country/-ies of arrival; they help in navigating specific routes, thereby avoiding dangers including police, border patrols and robbers; they aid in staying in touch not only with friends and families but with other migrants, creating “digital travel mates”; they can be life-savers through emergency call functions, e.g. at sea; and they reduce reliance on traffickers – by creating systems for comparing and monitoring their prices and services on the one hand, and through being able to navigate land routes without them on the other.

This function of self-organization and increased autonomy also continues after arrival: Smartphones enable learning a language; communicating with the help of GoogleTranslate; staying in touch with friends and family back home; organizing with other migrants against police and bureaucracy; they help in finding new ways to navigate the city and in return shape and alter (urban) space with specific migrant cartographies (Trimikliniotis/ Parsanoglou/Tsianos 2014). “Digital migrant identities” are therefore emerging; they become indispensible for self-representation in social networks as well as in real life. And after arrival, smartphone use also demonstrates the dynamics of contemporary “postmigrant” societies (Foroutan 2016), since the usage patterns of many young male Syrian refugees are quite similar to that of their German demographic counterparts: They chat, watch videos, listen to music and pass the time playing games.

However, the state of being “a connected migrant” (Diminescu 2008) also poses certain disadvantages. If life without a phone is truly “like walking in the desert without water” (Syrian interview partner, 25, male), then the state of “information precarity” (Wall/Campbell/Janbek 2015) becomes a new and imminent threat for today’s forced migrants.

“I WAS MORE OF A REAL PERSON. NOW I'M ALWAYS ON MY SMARTPHONE". SYRIAN REFUGEES' USE OF THEIR MOBILE PHONES IN AND TO MANAGE THEIR JOURNEY TO EUROPE 

Nina Springer and Veronika KarnowskiLudwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU Munich)

Due to the ongoing violent conflicts in Syria, it is estimated that up to five million citizens will have sought protection and safety in the neighbouring countries and Europe by the end of 2016 (UNDP, 2016), with Germany being the most important destination in Europe (Mediendienst Migration, 2016). If the refugees have managed to arrive safely, they still face problems related to integration. These issues can best be conceptualized by using the concept of acculturation, i.e. forming connections towards the host culture while keeping connections to the home community (Berry, 2005). Mobile communication devices are already known to play an important role both in everyday life management and acculturation processes of migrants in various world regions (e.g. Aricat, Chib, & Karnowski, 2015; Law & Peng, 2008; Thomas & Lim, 2011). Syrian refugees, especially younger ones, are nearly all equipped with mobile handsets and more than half of them do use the Internet on their mobile devices (Koons, 2015). Given the immense challenges of the flight and relocation, we’re therefore asking: How do Syrian refugees use their mobiles in order to manage their journey from Syria to Europe and to settle down in European host communities (based on the example of Germany)?

In order to answer these questions we’re conducting guideline interviews with Syrian refugees in the area of Munich (Germany). The interviews explore the refugees’ personal background, their use of the mobile phones in order 1.) to stay in contact with their home community, 2.) to manage and coordinate the journey from Syria to Europe, and 3.) to interact with the host community in Germany. A total of 15 interviews are scheduled to be finished by August 2016.

First results based on the four interviews conducted so far show that the mobile phone is very important to keep in touch with the home community and to stay up to date about the current situation in Syria. But this communication is challenged by failing Internet connections or no electricity in Syria. Regarding the connections to the host community, the mobile phone isn’t considered that important, partly because of the huge language barrier. Consequently, the refugees often feel more connected to their home communities than to the host community: “[Back home] I was more of a real person. Now I‘m always on my smartphone” (male, 24 years). Regarding the journey to Europe, the mobile phone is extremely important first because of its functionalities like GPS to manage the journey and second in order to keep in contact with the family or to coordinate with other refugees. Therefore, it became one of the most important goods during the journey “No, I always took care of it. It was so important, I could not lose or break it.” (male, 23 years). By exploring uses and functionalities of mobile phones, this study not only sheds light on the personal relevance of mobile devices, but also carves out factors hindering communication with home and host communities to assess difficulties that should be addressed by relevant institutions.

Mobile phones and Gender Empowerment: Enactment of ‘Restricted Agency’  

Hoan Nguyen, Singapore Internet Research Center

The capability approach, as developed by Amartya Sen, has been criticized for an overly individualistic approach, while simultaneously being re-framed in alignment with the dominant social structure. We situate individual agency within the frame of social power structures, examining agency and empowerment gained by mobile phone usage from 26 Vietnamese foreign brides in Singapore. We use an intersectionality perspective from gender studies to find that, while facing multiple grounds of discrimination from the dominant group, the women constantly negotiate at the intersections of gender, ethnicity and social class, leading to two active strategies for positive well-being and empowerment: essentialization of gender and aspiration. The mobile phone was found to be an active agent in facilitating their aspiration for individual changes, autonomy, and more powerful decision making roles in domestic and social domains - a variety of communicative practices developed their capabilities. On the other hand, mobiles also mediated the enactment and practices of the foreign brides’ essential beliefs of their own idealized femininity and traditional gender roles, in contrast with the dominant development discourse of women’s empowerment. The socio-cultural contexts influencing processes of technological appropriation is discussed from the perspective of development, particularly re-framing Western notions of gender equality within the agentic framework.

Beyond WiFi: How Syrian Teens Hack Futures at UNHCR Za’atari Refugee Camp

Karen E. Fisher, University of Washington

In 2016 the world faces the worse humanitarian crisis since World War II with over 65 million people forcibly displaced by war and persecution, half of whom are children. While the world watched over one million refugees migrate to northern Europe over social media, in truth the vast majority of refugees (86%) remain in low to middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Syria is most prevalent in the forced migration landscape with over 5 million people remaining in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, with an additional 6.6 million people dealing with internal displacement (UNHCR 2016). The aim of our research is to examine the role of young people as ICT Wayfarers, use innovative field methods at the UNHRC Za’atari Camp to understand how young people hack information and technology to help themselves, families and communities in high constraint, low affordance settings that includes limited access to the Internet, and mobiles for girls. Our hypothesis is simple: invest in youth and one can change the future of the Middle East. Building on extensive pilot work at Za’atari Camp for UNHCR, we deploy diaries, home caravan visits, walk-abouts, design sessions, and community commissioning to understand the information worlds of Syrian youth and how they are assets and can best be supported through education and technology. Data analysis reveals that boys and girls participate in ICT wayfaring in different ways due to different capacities/access. Boys, for example, have much greater access to mobile phones and ride bicycles, they therefore spend much time at camp zones where 2G/3G access is strong and they can carry out ICT wayfaring tasks such as search on behalf of family members and friends, use social media and chat software, while developing their information and technology literacies, and sharing information with other people. Girls, have different social spaces and information access, spending time in home caravans, schools, community centers with libraries, computer access and clubs, developing strong ties with female networks, and mentors. Much opportunity exists for developing girls’ connections to outside world. Our research fills a unique gap across literatures, drawing upon multiple theories from the social sciences to propose a unique, actionable framework for positioning refugee youth as community and world assets. 

power negotiation via the use of smartphones as polymedia: the gender struggles by dagongmei

Xin Pei & Arul Chib, Nanyang Technological University

Grounded in the theory of self-presentation (Goffman, 1959), this study aims to explore how the negotiation of gender power dynamics by marginalized female migrants are taking place in the private and public space of mobile communication via the use of smartphones. The power negotiation is constituted by struggles between their emerging display of agency for free personal choices and reification of traditional patriarchal norms by those in higher social strata. Considering the unprecedentedly large-scale migrant flow of marginalized migrant women across or within national borders in the wave of globalization, an increasing number of scholars have paid attention to these women’s struggling processes of power negotiation (e.g., Dannecker, 2005; Hoang & Yeoh, 2011; Ma & Cheng, 2005; Pun, 2005). In recent years, the deep integration of mobile phone use into their daily lives leads to the extension of their power negotiation, to varying degrees, from face-to-face communication to mobile communication (Chib, Malik, Aricat & Kadir, 2014; Wallis, 2013). As a consequence, a strand of scholars have illuminated the dialectical role of mobile phone use, dyadic calls and messages in particular, that both facilitate these women’s pursuit of autonomy and freedom (e.g., Cabanes, & Acedera, 2012), and expose them further to the gender-related inequalities and exploitation imposed by their family members and employers (e.g., Pei, Chib & Ling, 2016; Wallis, 2011). However, these scholars seem to place their emphasis merely upon the power negotiation in the relatively private space of mobile communication, ignoring the larger landscape of power negotiation beyond private space of mobile communication in the age of smartphones. The use of smartphones does not merely allow dyadic calls and messages mostly within a private space (e.g., Gergen, 2008; Habuchi, 2005), but also provides public space for multisided communication with weak social ties on mobile messaging applications (Ling & Lai, 2016), and self-expression to a broader audience via posts on mobile social media platforms (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Madianou (2014) has proposed that, smartphones, rather than being regarded as a technology that merely allows a discrete pattern of mobile communication, should be explored as polymedia that provide an environment of an integrated structure of affordances for multiple patterns of mobile communication (Madianou & Miller, 2013). Marginalized female migrants can exploit various affordance to meet up with their own goals for emotional and relationship management (Madianou, 2014). Our study aims to step further to introduce the perspective of power negotiation of gender relationships to the use of smartphones as polymedia in the private space, the public space, and at the interaction of both, of mobile communication. Moreover, this study is interested in examining how the various affordances of smartphones can be used by these women for agency display, and by their interactors in higher social strata for the reification of traditional patriarchal norms at the same time.

With an emphasis on Dagongmei – young rural-urban female migrant workers in China, we have done a longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork in a fruit can factory in a booming economic development zone in Dalian, northeast China, between July and August in 2015 and 2016 respectively, with in-depth interview and participant observation as the major research methods. We recruited twenty-one female migrant workers of 20s and 30s, thirteen male migrant workers, three administration staffs, and one official from local government as respondents via snowball sampling. Our study finds the increasingly blurring line between private and public space of mobile communication via the use of smartphones since the gender-related private topics were brought up to the public space while the self-expression of the resistance against male authority was put forward in front of a broader audience. Moreover, as these women tunneled back and forth between the power negotiation at the interaction of private and public space, they gained more autonomy to manage their personal choices, but at the same time, they were also pushed further under gender-related social constraints imbued or even enforced by their strong and weak social ties in the domain of family and work. 

MIGRATION, EXPLOITATION AND TECHNOLOGY

Hannah Thinyane, United Nations University – Institute of Computing and Society, Macau

Worldwide there are an estimated 244 million international migrants, with 105 million of these migrating for the purpose of employment(IOM, 2015).  In our desk based research, we have identified three cases during the migration cycle where migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at work: during recruitment, during employment in home care and domestic work industries, and in cases of forced labour.  In each of these cases, we argue that there is a critical role that technology, particularly mobile devices, can play to help migrant workers improve their own situation and the situation of others.  

One of the first points during the migration cycle where migrants are open to abuse and exploitation is during recruitment.  When appropriately regulated, recruitment agencies insure the efficient and equitable functioning of the international job market, by matching available jobs to skilled workers.  However,  as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants (Crépeau, 2015) found, unethical recruiters exploit migrants through: collection of exorbitant fees and linked situations of debt bondage; misinformation about the nature and conditions of contracts; retention of passports and other identity documents; and threats of violence or expulsion from the country when asking to leave abusive employers.  In this case, we propose that access to information would allow migrant workers to make informed decisions about the agencies that they would like to work with, the conditions of work that they are entitled to, and where to seek help should the need arise.

In the case of employment in the areas of home care or domestic work, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable as their place of work is most often a private home, making it more difficult for authorities to undertake labour inspections than in other places of work.   Abusive employers often restrict the movement of their employees, taking away the possibility of seeking help in person.  This research proposes the use of mobile technology to allow domestic workers to report cases of abuse and exploitation by employers.  It investigates the use of technology to provide ‘balcony support’ by allowing workers to report abuse of themselves and other workers that they may have witnessed.  A core component of this research is to investigate the collection and reporting of information in a manner that maintains the chain of custody of evidence.

Another key role that technology can play is in the identification of victims of forced labour.  In many cases, authorities who come across potential victims of trafficking or forced labour cannot communicate with them due to language barriers.  This study proposes the use of simple mobile technology to allow authorities to help identify potential victims.  It investigates the use of culturally relevant information to allow workers to self identify as a victim, and seek help from relevant authorities.

Across each of these three cases, this research uses a mixed method research design, and situates interventions within the existing communicative ecologies of the respective communities.

MOBILITY & CONNECTIVITY : A VIRTUOUS ASSEMBLAGE  

Dana Diminescu, I3-SES, CNRS, Télécom ParisTech, université Paris-Saclay

The classical view of social integration of migrants (newcomers but also second-generation immigrants) neglected mobility issues and even equated successful integration with stabilisation and the end of mobility. Immobility was thought to be a precondition to the immersion into a community and the subsequent internalisation of its norms and common values.  Recent perspectives have shifted towards an emphasis on mobility (being able to move), social connectivity (staying connected) and autonomy (being able to simultaneously resist and adapt) to characterise social integration.

It is therefore a tenet of contemporary studies of social integration, that the digital resources and skills pertaining to mobility and social connectivity are essential to the achievement of social integration. This will be particularly relevant in a very ‘connectionist’ society, where escaping exclusion requires a creative handling of social relationships and personal autonomy, and a strategic management of mobility and communication resources.

In our communication we want to make empirically observable the role of digital mobile device in the social integration of migrants in a very precarious situation through two social innovations: Téléphonie solidaire and JokaJobs

REFUGEES AND DIGITAL GRAMMARS OF AFFECT

Saskia Witteborn, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This talk develops former theorizing on digital heterotopia and forced migration (Witteborn, 2014). Drawing from Foucault’s concept of heterotopia (2008/1967) the talk starts outlining how forced migrants engage with digital heterotopias through affective grammars that invert the hegemonic languages of suffering and danger, which pathologize the refugee and turn him or her either into a helpless victim or hypersexed predator. In particular, this talk illustrates through fieldwork with asylum seekers and refugees living in Hong Kong how they use mobile technology and social media like Facebook through affective signs and logics, which create a mobile body and link it to signs of global consumption, leisure, and readily available sociality. The talk argues that digital heterotopias that promote the ideology of optimization of the self enable forced migrants to shift the grammar of victimhood and burden and consolidate it with other received grammars and logics of the migrant as a symbol of mobility, promise, and success. The study is based on a current GRF-funded project in Hong Kong and qualitative fieldwork with asylum seekers and refugees from South Asia and African countries. 

Seeking agency: Mobile Use among North Korean Women Defectors in South Korea

Juhee Kang (UNU-CS); Arul Chib and Rich Ling (Nanyang Technological University)

Every year hundreds of North Koreans cross the Tumen River at the China border in the search for a better life elsewhere offering basic freedoms from repressive patriarchal control. While some stray in China, Russia or other Southeast Asian countries, others manage to enter South Korea. These defectors imagine a stark departure from the totalitarian socialist regime to a progressive, egalitarian modern society. ICTs, particularly mobile phones, contribute to this rather dramatic transition from the most digitally disconnected society to one of the most digitally oriented countries in the world.

This study explores how female North Korean defectors use mobile phones beginning with their mobile usage in North Korea, across their migration trajectories, and into their integration into South Korean Society. Framed within structuration theory (Giddens, 1984) from a gender perspective (Svensson, 2016) we inquire into the role of mobile phones in the struggles and negotiation by female defectors for gaining greater agency vis-a-vis the situated social structures.

The methodology consists of in-depth interviews with 20 North Korean women defectors, who comprise over 70 percent residing in South Korea. We find clandestine mobile use across the migration trajectory including restrictedand dangerous access to mobile phones,via smuggled Chinese mobile phones in North Korea,as part of defection process.We find mixed evidence of female defectors social and economic integration into the South Korean society, with mobile phones providing restricted agency (Nguyen, Chib, Mahalingam, 2016; Peter, 2003).

The data suggests that mobile phone usage in the affluent digital environment in South Korea has led to both greater informational capabilities (Gigler, 2011)and empowerment of North Korean women while facilitating their isolation, deception and social segregation caused by perceived discrimination by the dominant group. We discuss theoretical implications of balance created by mobile phones between creating bounded solidarity (Ling, 2008) and bounded cosmopolitanism (Chib & Aricat, 2016). We argue that, despite the increased digital capabilities created by the transit from North to South, North Korean defectors’ use of technology continues to be restricted within the boundary of the social power structures within which they are situated.

TALKING THROUGH WALLS: FRIENDSHIP AND ASPIRATION AMONGST LOW WAGE MIGRANTS IN SINGAPORE AND DUBAI

Laavanya KathiraveluNanyang Technological University, Singapore

Despite being in geographically different parts of Asia, the city-states of Singapore and Dubai share many similarities and affinities. They are both small, paternalistic states that play host to large foreign populations – of middle class migrants from across Asia, as well as an army of low wage transients. The former are desired for the capital, knowledge and networks they bring with them to invest in their host country. The latter group compose an underclass whose presence and contributions often go unacknowledged. Both these non-local populations make up significant proportions of inhabitants of private residential developments in the two cities, as they are typically ineligible for the subsidised forms of housing available to citizens or are engaged as workers within these compounds.

Much of the literature to date has focused on how privatised gated developments reify and augment socio-economic cleavages in the larger societies in which they exist (Atkinson 2006, Caldeira 200;2005, Low 2003; 2006, Wu 2006). The research also focuses on the lack of community in such housing developments, and effectively depicts the atomised and isolated lives of urban residents. This paper, however, complicates that picture in showing how networks of friendship and care exist amongst low wage migrants in gated housing developments, despite constant surveillance and restrictions by employers who often fail to acknowledge the social and emotional needs of this marginalised transient class. Interactions through ICTs such as mobile phones, facebook accounts and facetime videos provide important forms of access to support and knowledge. These affective networks are also performed in public spaces of parks, plazas and shopping malls on Sundays, when many get their only day off, but where their presence is constantly monitored.

In these interactions with fellow migrants, aspirational desires and motives are often encouraged, explicitly, but also stoked by the levels of consumerism displayed in these prosperous city-states. Keen to display the trappings of a growing middle class back home, many low wage migrants engage in processes of remittance, saving and consumption in trying to negotiate and perform their place in the wider city, as well as with family back home. These negotiations are often a source of tension, leading to conflicts with employers, friends and even relatives in the home country. Here again, technology is not just a mediator, but another actor in the pursuit and display of wealth and aspiration.

In examining understudied networks of care and discourses of aspiration amongst low wage migrants in Singapore and Dubai, this research augments and extends our understanding of residential projects and the social lives of residents who live within them. This paper seeks to make contributions to understandings of low wage migrant populations, technologically mediated social networks, and the negotiated identities of the marginalised classes in Asia. 


field trip in singapore

Apart from indoor presentations at Nanyang Technological University, the workshop participants have a half day field trip to visit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), doing primary research with South Asian male migrant workers in Singapore, and a cultural tour of academic significance in town.

TWC2 is one of the major NGOs in Singapore who does advocacy and humanitarian to help low-wage migrant workers, mainly including South Asian construction workers in Singapore, who often experience exploitation and abuses by employers, as well as limited access to medical care and protection of their rightful autonomy. At the TWC2 office at 1C Rowell Road in Little India, the workshop participants have in-depth interviews and discussions with three male Asian workers from Bangladesh and India, and the NGO representatives and volunteers.

Following the discussion session, we have a cultural and academic tour in Little India vicinity. The group of researchers visit some landmarks in Little India, get to know about some common places where low-wage migrant workers often gather in their days off, banks for their remittances of money to their home countries, associated ICT/mobile phone use practices.


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