Refuge(es) in digital utopias: from 'ethnically cleansed' villages to 'cyber villages'
Paper short abstract:
Based on multisided and digital ethnography, this paper discusses the ways refugees in diaspora use ICT and the internet in the contexts of their new emplacement and home-making practices. The paper shows how ICT enables them to reclaim their identities and create ‘cyber villages’.
Paper long abstract:
Based on multisided and digital ethnography, this paper discusses the ways Bosnian survivors of 'ethnic cleansing' and genocide use ICT and the internet in the contexts of new emplacements and home-making practices. In the process of adopting the internet as their preferred medium of communication and re-connection with the members of their shattered communities, many of the refugee groups have been able to reclaim, reimage and reimagine their 'erased' local identities by creating vibrant 'cyber villages' as an alternative to the places lost. Usually starting as an individual exchange of scanned photographs, documents and other records between people coming from the same place or neighbourhood, many such grassroots initiatives have grown into sophisticated portals and online repositories of documents, images and stories about local places. Some of the places destroyed during the 1990s Bosnian war now only exist in cyber space and as a part of the digitally mediated social relations of those who identify with the lost places.
As with the groups described in this paper, for many refugees, cyber space and digital social networks do not only act as an extension of the places and networks in real space, but often their replica and the only possible alternative. Hence, when it comes to research into contemporary forced migration, I advocate for a 'mixed ethnography' approach integrating elements of both conventional and digital ethnography—or 'on-site' and 'on-line' fieldwork—and interpreting 'sites' and interactions in cyber space in relation to actual places, issues and actors in real space.
Real and/in virtual: from on-site to on-line ethnography