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Scales of mobility of Afghan migrant youth in the digital era

PhD Supervisor and Co-Supervisor: Alessandro Monsutti, Till Mostowlansky, and Zuzanna Olszewska
Funding Organisation: Swiss National Science Foundation, Doc.CH scheme
Timeline: March 2021–August 2023
Budget: CHF 170,499
Keywords: Afghan, digital, mobility, migration, Persian, technology



I focus on the links between new technology and forced migration to better understand migration trajectories in Europe. Events at the borders of Europe in 2015–16 have demonstrated the entanglement of mobility and digital connectivity. For people on the move (refugees, migrants), smartphones and social media are key to maintain social relations à distance and to navigate a way to safety en route. Media attention has either insisted on the empowering capacity of new technologies for migrants – even conceiving them as a solution to the “migration crisis”, or on the threats of online surveillance for border control. In contrast, everyday digital practices demonstrate a more ambiguous reality. To shed light on these dynamics, I do my research among young Afghans on the move. As Afghans are a highly deterritorialised and dispersed population due to a long history of conflict and migration, young Afghans are marked by high levels of media use and presence in Southeast Europe. 



To move away from technological and cultural determinism, I engage with the concept of digital infrastructure of mobility. This infrastructure is made of sociotechnical flows including actors such as migrants, officers, support-groups, and technologies such as smartphones, SIM cards and social media platforms. My research questions are related to debates in digital anthropology (the anthropological study of online platforms and digital devices), migration studies and Persian studies. How do new technologies shape migration trajectories? How, in turn, do migration trajectories shape new technologies?



To answer my research questions, I conduct a multisited and multimedia fieldwork to observe the articulations of the digital infrastructure in different cities on the so-called “Balkan route”. My methodology involves digital ethnography (applying participant observation to online fields), in-person open ended interviews, and participant observation in cities that form important points on migration trajectories in and between Serbia, Italy, and Switzerland. Regarding the online field, I concentrate my analysis of online digital practices in Persian language (Persian is one of the main languages in Afghanistan and the main language in Iran). 



The goal is to advance technosocial understandings of mobility, a vital endeavour at a time marked by increasing digitalisation, forced migration and border violence. The aim is also to develop new methodologies to bridge online and in-person research, to consider the virtual, political, and material aspects of new technologies, and to keep ethical commitments at the core of such research.


Recent publications