Public Lecture (in collaboration with Digital Humanities and the Language Acts & Worldmaking project at King’s College London)

Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

Mobilizing New Digital Worlds: The Stakes of Postcolonial Digital Humanities

As the emergence of digital cultures have been celebrated for openness, accesses, and the democratization of knowledge, they have simultaneously led to a rise in inequality with respect to race, gender, sexuality, disability, nation, and other axes of oppression. In response, this talk examines how postcolonial digital humanities offers a viable approach to understanding, uncovering, and remediating inequalities in one dimension of digital culture: digital knowledge production. Drawing from her book New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy (Northwestern University Press, 2018), Risam explores how the full supply chain of knowledge production – from research to service to teaching – is implicated in an information-age politics of knowledge that has not only reproduced but also amplified dominant cultural values. She further considers solutions that redress this challenge, arguing for the mobilization of cultural workers who are poised to create new digital worlds that more fully realize what it means to be human in the 21st century. 

Keynote 1

Mirca Madianou (Goldsmiths)

Technocolonialism: Digital humanitarianism as extraction

Digital innovation and data practices are increasingly central to the humanitarian response to recent refugee and migration crises. In this talk I introduce the concept of technocolonialism to capture how the convergence of digital developments with humanitarian structures and market forces reinvigorates and reshapes colonial relationships of dependency. Technocolonialism shifts the attention to the constitutive role that data and digital innovation play in entrenching power asymmetries between refugees and aid agencies and ultimately inequalities in the global context. This occurs through two interconnected processes: by extracting value from refugee data and innovation practices for the benefit of various stakeholders; and by materializing the intangible forms and ‘debris’ of colonial legacies. By reproducing the power asymmetries of humanitarianism, data and innovation practices become constitutive of humanitarian crises themselves.


Keynote 2

Jannis Androutsopoulos (Universität Hamburg/Multiling, University of Oslo)

Mediational repertoires and diasporic connectivity: from Senegal to Oslo and back again

Based on on-going research on multilingual practices and digital communication in Senegalese-Norwegian families, this paper introduces the notion of mediational repertoire to examine the performance of diasporic connections and relationships in digitally mediated interaction. The four families in this research use smartphones and other digital devices to text and talk with family members and close friends, in Senegal and elsewhere, thereby drawing on Norwegian, Wolof, English, French, Arabic, and other linguistic resources (Androutsopoulos /Lexander in prep.). Their media practices fit in well with the notion of polymedia (Madianou 2014) as they can choose from several media for digital interaction, these media choices being meaningful to their relationship to particular interlocutors. This paper argues for the need to extend the sociolinguistic notion of repertoire (Busch 2015, Blommaert/Backus 2013, Androutsopoulos 2014) beyond the dimensions of spoken and written language to account for the semiotic complexity of utterance production that contemporary digital devices afford their users. Adapting the notion of mediational means (Scollon 2001), a mediational repertoire can be thought of as a conglomerate of linguistic resources in various modalities (speaking, writing, or signing), sets of pictographic and multimedia features (e.g. emojis, memes, animated gifs, videoclips), and digital applications that afford the building of message sequences (e.g. WhatsApp, Viber or Telegram). Mediated repertoires are structured socially (they rely on globally-spread technologies and semiotic features, thus enabling comparability and norm-building) and individually (people can tailor their choices to local interactional circumstances). In this talk I use this notion to examine how both adult and adolescent family-members in our research perform (Jaffe et al. 2015, Bell/Gibson 2011) their affiliation with Senegalese culture and construct themselves as members of Senegalese diaspora. Drawing on ethnographically collected excerpts of digital interaction and interviews with family members, I discuss (a) how peripheral membership in the Senegalese speech community is performed through practices of impromptu teaching and learning Wolof, and (b) how political and religious messages circulate transnationally in various modalities and genres, enabling people in Norway to display and sustain affiliation to Senegal politics, religion, and pop culture.

Androutsopoulos, J. 2014 Moments of sharing: Entextualization and linguistic repertoires in social networking. Journal of Pragmatics 73, 4-18.
Androutsopoulos, J. / K.V. Lexander (in prep.) Snakke wolof, skrive fransk – the interplay of mode, language and media choices in transnational family communication.
Bell, A. / A. Gibson 2011 Staging language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15:5, 555–572.
Blommaert, J. / A. Backus 2013 Superdiverse Repertoires and the Individual. In: Ingrid de Saint-Georges, Jean-Jacques Weber (eds.) Multilingualism and Multimodality. Current Challenges for Educational Studies, 11-32. Rotterdam: Sense.
Busch, B. 2015 Expanding the Notion of Linguistic Repertoire: On the Concept of Spracherleben – The lived Experience of Language. Applied Linguistics 2015, 1-20.
Jaffe, A. et al. 2015 Introduction: Heteroglossia, performance, power, and participation. Language in Society 44, 135–139.
Madianou, M. 2014 Polymedia communication and mediatized migration: an ethnographic approach. In K. Lundby (ed.) Mediatization of Communication, 323-348. Berlin, De Gruyter.
Scollon, R. 2001 Mediated Discourse: the nexus of practice. London: Routledge.


Plenary Panel 1: Digital Media and the Diasporic Self

Alex Georgakopoulou (King’s College London)

The digital curation of diasporic selves: Technological affordances, algorithms & the role of language

The study of digital diasporas in the 1st generation of new media presented a clear focus on the (re)formation of (largely supportive) communities, where belonging and membership were mainly signalled with the use and mixing of language varieties. Since then, the multi-semioticity of resources has been emphasized, especially in relation to the construction of hybrid, cosmopolitan, trans-localised identities. What is still lagging behind especially in sociolinguistic research is the shift away from a focus on community and group membership to the construction of diasporic selves, as part of individual users’ tapestry of self-presentation and life-sharing practices. This is a much needed focus in the context of the dominance of ego-centred social media (e.g. Facebook and Instagram), on the one hand, and, on the other hand, of the increasing media-design and engineering of communication. This ‘curation’ of self by media affordances and algorithms directs to specific self-presentation projects, while constraining others. In my talk, I will draw on my latest work on how apps curate self-presentation (, to put forward three directives to users for communicating a ‘diasporic self’: localizing experience; templatizing experience; showing life-in-the-moment. I will specifically discuss the connections of these directives with specific types of portable language and with specific relational processes that navigate the, often competing, demands of attention with ‘affection economy’ (Abidin 2017).

Sandra Ponzanesi (Utrecht University)

Digital Diasporas: Migration, Media and Affect

Diaspora figurations provide new possible cartographies to map the self in relation to increasingly complex patterns of globalization and localization, avoiding closures and the negative effects of identity politics. This talk explores how these new worlds on the move are mutually shaped by the affordances and possibilities offered by new digital technologies and the transformation of border politics. What are digital diasporas and how do they come to encode transformed notions of home, transnational belonging and postcolonial spatiality? How is difference rearticulated online and how is affect reshaped through connectivity, by remediating distance and intimacy? This intervention proposes a critical overview of the notion of the digital diaspora, and its many disciplinary takes and media-specific variations, in order to grasp contemporary human mobility as shaped by and constitutive of an unevenly interconnected world and new patterns of belonging.


Plenary Panel 2: Polish Communities in the UK: Diasporic Spaces and Media in the Past and Present

Janet Zmroczek (British Library)

Polish diaspora communities in the UK 1830-1863: Re-examining diasporic identities, cultural spaces and cultural heritage creation

This paper will build on my previous research into the Polish diaspora communities in the UK in the period 1830-1863, which has focused on the social and cultural lives of these communities, their role as writers, editors and publishers and their attempts at image management through their interventions via the contemporary British press and popular culture. Given that the impetus for Polish migration at this time was primarily political, understandably, the major focus of research into Polish communities in the UK during the mid- 19th century has been on their political engagement. My research is concerned rather with the social and cultural activities, formal and informal diaspora groups and institutions through which these Poles expressed, developed and maintained their cultural identities. These groups also helped them to maintain strong cross-border relationships and connections, especially with the far larger diaspora communities in France, as well as the population which remained in partitioned Poland. While the predominant expectation of this diaspora was to return home, they also went to considerable lengths to record and preserve diasporic heritage and cultural memory, demonstrating their commitment to the continuation and development of independent Polish culture in the face of oppressive cultural policies imposed by the partitioning powers.

The paper will seek to revisit research on these mid-19th century Polish diaspora communities through the prism of more recent research into translingual and transnational diaspora communities and their cross- border communications and relationships, looking also at their cultural and linguistic spaces, and their role in cultural heritage creation in an analogue world.

Caroline Tagg (Open University) and Agnieszka Lyons (Queen Mary, University of London)

Digital dynamics: the development of Polish migrants’ inter-semiotic repertoires in mobile messaging interactions

Our paper explores the ways in which migrants develop their digital inter-semiotic repertoires through interaction with others as they respond to varied and shifting communicative contexts. Our research data come from a large AHRC-funded project called Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities. In this paper, we focus on the digitally mediated communications of two women of Polish origin living and working in the UK, looking specifically at their use of mobile messaging apps including WhatsApp and Viber. We take a discourse dynamics approach to the digital data in order to trace how multilingual and multimodal semiotic resources are taken up, re-appropriated or resisted by these two Polish women and their interlocutors in the course of their everyday interactions. We focus in particular on the ways in which interlocutors collaborate in – or challenge – the co-construction and curation of inter-semiotic repertoires and the various social relationships that these reflect, enable and constrain. Building on the work of Pennycook (2017), Androutsopoulos (2014) and others, we detail how emergent inter-semiotic repertoires take shape in processes of repertoire assemblage, and highlight the importance of everyday interactional encounters in understanding how migrants exploit digital technologies as they adapt to changing circumstances.

Androutsopoulos, J. (2014) Moments of sharing: entextualisation and linguistic repertoires in social networking. Journal of Pragmatics 73: 4-18.
Pennycook, A. (2017) Translanguaging and semiotic assemblages. International Journal of Multilingualism 14/3: 269-282.


Plenary Panel 3: Mapping Migrations

Dana Diminescu (Télécom ParisTech/DiasporasLab)

e-Diasporas Atlas. Exploration and Cartography of Diasporas in Digital Networks

Recent trends in the migratory phenomenon show that, today, the migratory path goes through digital territories simultaneously with – and sometimes before – physical territories.

The e-Diasporas Atlas project, with I coordinated since 2008, intends to explore, map, archive and analyze the occupation of digital territories (in a quasi-geopolitical sense) by “connected migrants” (Diminescu, 2003, 2008).

The e-Diasporas Atlas project is different from a standard atlas on migrations, which is traditionally focused on flux, trajectories, or the dispersal of moving populations in physical territories. Our atlas map presences, links, configuration of different diasporas’ networks on the web. It is grounded on the assumption that studying the web involves a commitment to technology: the digital matters not only as object/field of investigation but also and inseparably as means/tool of research.

The project is based on a methodological or sociotechnical chain composed of the following intertwined steps: 1) semi-automatic exploration and web corpus ; 2) automatic crawl for “prospecting” and validation of the corpus; 3) network visualization and corpus cartography; 4) archiving. Such a chain is completed by a digital toolbox for geolocalization, content analysis, language identification, web 2.0 data mining, etc.

Eighty social and political scientists and developers were involved in the conception, development and improvement of such methods, tools and contents.

I propose in my intervention to provide an overview of this project by drawing on the outcomes of 30 case studies of researches conducted for the e-Diasporas Atlas. I will conclude by focusing on one of the crucial goals of the project, namely to generate an interface between human and social sciences on the one hand, and computer sciences on the other hand; in other words, to introduce digital methods in diasporas studies, and promote a “digitally equipped” sociology, as well as to develop an engineering informed by social sciences.

Funda Ustek-Spilda (London School of Economics)

Ethics of Refugee Statistics and Social Imaginaries of Migration

Migration numbers have been on top of the political agenda in the last five years. From reducing the net migration rates to capping numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees, number seem to become the single most important matter of concern. But how are these numbers produced? In this paper, I will look at the production of refugee statistics with a particular focus on ethics and data practices in order to analyse the social imaginaries of migration that come to be enacted through them. I will present five data practices: 1) collection, 2) compilation, 3) verification, 4) analysis and 5) dissemination. I will argue that each of these practices contribute to the social imaginary of refugee statistics as certain, objective and representative, obscuring the known issues with them. Here, I will focus particularly on ethics of refugee statistics, and responsibility for ensuring the privacy and security of the individuals which might entail contradictory outcomes for individuals to be represented in data and policy.

Tobias Blanke (King’s College London)

Migration, data, humanitarian apps and platform economies

This paper explores the performative effects of digital humanitarian technologies developed for refugees in the wake of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe since 2015. Drawing on the work of Michel Serres, we develop a method of ‘acts of parasitism’ as distinctive from ‘reverse engineering’. We have seen a proliferation of digital technologies and data processing in the work of humanitarian actors. NGOs operate globally and rely on data infrastructures to connect, gather information and reach out to their target communities. ‘Digital humanitarians’ have tended to concentrate on the success or failures of their digital projects. Have digital infrastructures really helped the communication in organisations? Have migrants taken up the digital offerings of NGOs? In this paper, we propose to focus on the performative effects of digital humanitarian technologies developed for refugees in the wake of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe since 2015. To this purpose, we develop a series of methodological experiments in interdisciplinary collaboration to research digital technologies. We show how ‘hacking the blackbox’ of digital technology has led to us to approach digital technologies as ‘parasitic’, drawing on the work of Michel Serres. We thus develop earlier suggestions to conceptualise the digital as parasitic in a methodological direction through ‘acts of parasitism’. We start with a discussion of the key methods used to open blackboxes and then show how we deploy ‘hacking’ as a collaborative method distinctive from reverse engineering. In a second stage, we discuss the insights that this method has yielded and their limitations. Thirdly, we argue that the understanding of refugee apps as ‘parasitic technologies’ allow us to develop a critical method as ‘acts of parasitism’.