Chairing a Masterclass session on migration and social media at KNAW

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The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in Amsterdam 

Yesterday I was happy to chair a fascinating Masterclass session led by Farida Vis, who is Director of the Visual Media Lab in Sheffield. The session was given by Farida at the KNAW as part of an event organized by Koen Leurs and Sandra Ponzanesi on migration, media, and digital technology.  Farida gave an interactive talk about the work she’s doing with her team at the Visual Media Lab about the circulation of images, such as that of Alan Kurdi, and their role in shaping discussions of the refugee debate in the UK.

Farida is joined today by a range of scholars giving talks today in the Academic Colloquium as part of the same event. See below for some background on the event and the speakers.

Connected Migrants: Encapsulation or Cosmopolitanism

Every day, Europeans witness Syrian asylum seekers arriving on the beaches of Greek and southern Italian islands. TV news footage shows how newly arrived migrants use smartphones to happily announce their safe arrival on European soil to loved ones elsewhere. In response, prejudicial discourses about migrants have centred on smartphones; for example, anti-immigrant politicians frame refugees who own ‘luxury’ smartphones as less deserving of asylum.

In sharp contrast, tech-savvy expatriates migrating in more privileged circumstances are welcomed with open arms to help Europe prepare for the future. These two groups embody Europe’s Janus-faced character in an age when mobile technology is being celebrated for increasing communication speed and economic prosperity.

In our contemporary world, migrants should be considered ‘connected migrants’. More than ever before, they can choose between different technologies to be in touch with loved ones living in their country of origin. This colloquium will address how the digital practices of migrants revolve around the dialectic of encapsulation and cosmopolitanism.

Previously, scholars singled out one or another of these processes. Homophily, the assumption that ‘birds of a feather flock together’, is popular among those who argue that transnational communication hinders integration and leads to segregation and radicalisation. However, scholars also contend that migrants can be present in both their host society and their homeland.
Seen this way, migrants can connect with co‐ethnics to form bonding capital and also develop bridging, cosmopolitan capital by connecting with their host society. Although contested, cosmopolitanism is indispensable as a ‘grounded category’ to capture everyday reflexive imaginations of openness between self, other and world among elite and subaltern subjects.

Confirmed speakers

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