Technicisation of Exclusionary Practices in the Context of Migration


Laura Lambert: (Re)Doing Asylum in Externalization Policies: The Case of Niger
Individual Profile: here
Individual Project: here

Margarita Lipatova: Bordering Europe, Resistance and Governance in Greek Refugee Camps
Individual Profile: here
Individual Project: here

Stefan Millar: State Transformations in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement
Individual Profile: here
Individual Project: here

Dr. Timm Sureau, group leader: Technicisation of Migration in the Context of South Sudanese in Sudan
Individual Profile: here
Individual Project: here

Dr. Tabea Scharrer, member of thesis advisory committees: Belonging nowhere or everywhere? Somalian return migrants in East Africa
Individual Profile: here
Individual Project: here


The governance of mobility has become increasingly sophisticated, advancing in the technological, legal, and border enforcement practices of ordering. The European Union is externalising its migration control into the Mediterranean and to states in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, as well as to private and international actors. This process entails new forms of technologies and co-operation, creating new configurations of exclusion and criminalisation. So far, few studies have analysed the technicisation of externalisation and its effects on local contexts. For this reason, the research group studies these on-the-ground practices through in-depth, long-term ethnographic fieldwork. 

Spanning legal, discursive and technological dimensions, our research studies the implementation of exclusionary practices in mobility control and the lifeworlds of the people affected by them. Practices of exclusion consist of legal and bureaucratic ordering tactics that keep people out of the EU, the securitisation of borders and migration routes, encampment and detention, as well as procedures of biometric registration and data gathering, which are part of the humanitarian biopolitics of care and control. Looking at those multiple modes of governance, we aim to analyse the complex relationship between states and law, agency and bureaucracy, spatiotemporal control mechanisms to migrants’ and locals’ imaginaries of future and hope. At the same time, we seek to enrich the discussion about the global condition of excluded populations and their efforts to exert control over criminalisation and uncertain futures. We trace how migrants experience the increasing securitisation and technicisation of mobility control (in Niger, Kenya, Sudan or along the Greek-Turkish border), and compare the various ways in which people on the move negotiate, adapt and react to the disempowering governance tactics.

Our project critically examines technicisation in relation to EU externalisation in four different sites: Chios island and mainland camps in Greece (Margarita Lipatova); Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps in Kenya (Stefan Millar); refugee management in Sudan (Timm Sureau); and, refugee protection in Niger (Laura Lambert). Each locality represents a unique socio-material and cultural configuration of the EU borderlands. These policies are, however, also stipulated and appropriated by local actors – policy-makers, bureaucrats, security officers, refugees and migrants – and thereby transformed in their local contexts.

EU Externalisation

Since the 1970s, the externalisation of borders has become a central pillar of EU migration, development and foreign policies. At the core, these policies consist of an off-shoring and outsourcing of migration control to third states and private actors as well as of keeping refugees in the regions of origin (Bialasiewicz, 2012, Lemberg-Pedersen & Moreno-Lax, 2019). Current policies include: the militarization of borders and humanitarian agencies (Garelli & Tazzioli, 2017); the channelling of asylum-seekers to bureaucratic spaces termed “hotspots” (Heller & Pezzani, 2016); the creation of indefinite limbos in in-between places (Eule et al., 2019); and, the nurturing of a (semi-)private migration industry (Andersson, 2014a). The 2015 Valetta Summit and subsequent EU Trust Fund for Africa have created closer ties with African states like Kenya, Sudan, and Niger. EU projects in these countries are often implemented through international or humanitarian agencies and involve the formation of governing structures in refugee protection, containment and migration control as well as the development of complex databases and surveillance techniques, such as the use of biometrics.


From our ethnographic data we observe how the global emergence of migration control and refugee protection reflect an understanding of migration as a problem that needs management through technological means. To understand this, we use the concept of technicisation (Blumenberg, 2015[1963]). Technicisation in this sense is not only the multiplication of technologies in an increasingly technological world, but also the interlinked social ways of being in the world and changes in society. This includes also techniques of governance and perceptions on migration. In the scope of this project we look at the proliferation of technologies at the EU border and beyond, examining how exclusionary practices that are designed to govern, contain and administer mobile populations shape lifeworlds, lead to socio-political changes, and influence legal categories and social identifications.

Within the theoretical framework of technicisation we use three different theoretical approaches. First, we observe technologies as “travelling models” (Behrends et al., 2014), the transfer of globally replicable norms and techniques to a local context. This can be widely observed in the domain of humanitarian interventions and developmental projects, where the examples of travelling models are refugee camps, emergency response infrastructures, or vulnerability assessment guidelines. Second, we look at tangible adaptation of technologies such as machines, weapons, border fences, tools, algorithms to computer programs. These material objects and infrastructures of migration control and refugee management create new ways of thinking and feeling about migration and potential forms of contestation (cf. Mol, 1999, Barry, 2013, Harvey et al., 2017). Third, we consider technologies as practices, practice meaning the adaptive performance of people subjected to and profiteering from these technologies. In particular we explore coping mechanisms, how people gain knowledge of their rights and options through the internet or interpersonal networks. This agency is co-shaped by the new accessibility of social media (mobile phones and internet) which has been instrumental to displaced populations themselves, who, in their own right, are seeking personal security to organize their lives, hopes and plans for the future and try to position themselves in favourable positions (in life, but also for example in databases). People on the move also gain knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages of such categories as ‘refugee’, ‘internally displaced persons’ or ‘in need’, about further routes, in both physical and imagined senses. They also keep in touch, exchange money, and organize charity or relief to families in conflict areas.

Time, Hope and Future Making

We give importance to the temporal aspects of migration and analyse both how time is a technology of control and ordering, as well as a resource and framework in which people on the move navigate and shape their life projects. In places of “temporal control” (Andersson, 2014b), such as hotspots, refugee camps and asylum offices, states of protracted limbo, waithood and temporary recognition are created. We examine how the numerous temporal forces are designed to slow down, interrupt and structure migrants’ journeys according to these technologies.

Looking at actions of personal improvement also means studying positive efforts of seeking well-being and highlights sometimes immaterial and intangible factors that guide people’s actions, such as hope. Thus, the research looks at the importance of hope as fundamentally human motivating emotion in situations of crisis and its complex relation with the external host of institutions, networks and knowledges that come into play. Hope has been theorized by anthropologists as one manifestation of insecurity that can lead to action (Appadurai, 2007; Miyazaki, 2004, 2006; Pedersen, 2012; Zournazi, 2002). Hope is an enacting and transformative agent, since acting on improbable possibilities instead of probable likelihoods avoids the “risk [of] being imprisoned by the present” (Pedersen 2012, 13).

The State

States and their actors are key to understanding the technicisation of externalisation. We examine the different state institutions and the political actors involved – be it the UNHCR, EU, (I)NGOs and national or regional state bureaucracies. While the different states and institutions involved in the technicisation of externalisation may appear unified and coherent in their “moral regulation” (Abrams, 1988) of migrant externalisation, they also have their own interests and aims for enacting such policies. Such as in the case of the Kenyan state, it may appear unified in its objective in maintaining refugees in camps, yet each institution and actor has its own interests. This is prevalent with travelling models (Behrends et al., 2014; Bierschenk & Olivier de Sardan, 2014), when a policy or project is conceived in Geneva and then enacted in Niger, Greece or Kenya it becomes entwined with the local political context and enacted by local actors. How that model is enacted and through whom can shape how the state is understood. In some circumstances it has led humanitarian organisations such as the UNHCR to be imagined as a “surrogate state” (Slaughter & Crisp, 2009) or the nation state to appear all encompassing and totalitarian through the use of imported biometric and surveillance technologies.

We are concerned with how in different contexts the state is constituted through relations (Thelen, et al., 2017), practices (Nustad & Krohn-Hansen, 2005) and representational “affects” (Laszczkowski & Reeves, 2017) by local powers and their negotiations over ideals of legitimacy. By critically challenging the objectification of the state, we explore how local actors negotiate power through prevailing state symbols and practices in order to access unequally distributed resources. This enables us to see how institutions and actors utilise particular technologies to include or exclude others from resources or categorical identity frames (Eidson et al., 2017). This is important when we consider the technicisation of protection, particularly how technologies shape and reshape the idea of the legitimate state.


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