Acts of digital parasitism: data, humanitarian apps and platform economies
(King’s College London)
Tobias Blanke (Kings College London)
Paper short abstract:
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'.
Paper long abstract:
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'.
Data worlds? Public imagination and public experimentation with data infrastructures