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Saturday, June 10 • 9:50am - 10:10am
Critical Walking, Data Visceralization, and the Politics of Migration

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How can we introduce the physicality of walking into the critical analysis of the material conditions of human migration? This question lies at the heart of “The Migrant Steps Project,” a mobile application that transforms data produced by users of fitness tracking devices into the entry point to engage with narratives about migration between Central America and the United States. This critical making project was designed and created collaboratively by members of the Fashioning Circuits Lab. Unlike digital exhibitions that engage users in stasis, this project connects narratives about northward migration with an activity tracker that counts steps or wheelchair pushes. Only after traveling certain distances can users unlock subsequent parts of the interactive archive consisting of excerpts from novels, poems, films, music, and news reporting.

In this presentation, we will introduce the technical and theoretical foundations of The Migrant Steps Project. We will present key issues and questions at the heart of the project and describe how the project team has worked to address them: how to critically engage with an interactive medium to share stories about migration in a way that foregrounds an ethics of care and avoids exploitation; how to design an interface that facilitates both a communal and a personal experience interacting with these stories; how to mitigate concerns around security, privacy, and data ethics while relying on user data from fitness trackers.

By drawing attention to the geo-infrastructural dimensions of migration, the project’s social justice goal lies in countering xenophobic rhetorics in mainstream discourse invoking “hordes” and “flows,” terms that assume a frictionless glide across borders. This application is a critical making project engaging in “data visceralization”: by emphasizing the physical experience of walking as a mode of accessing stories and resources about migration, the project makes data visceral, or materially felt on the body. The “texture” of data becomes messy and resists easy presentation by virtue of multiple narratives, contradictory discourses, and situated experiences that shape migrant journeys differently. Ultimately, our aim is also to foment creative data literacy in the users, drawing attention to both their own quotidian practices of data capture and the harmful uses of similar data tracking technologies on migrant populations.


Kim Knight

Associate Professor and Director of Fashioning Circuits, The University of Texas at Dallas

Juan Llamas-Rodriguez

Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Nishanshi Atulkumar Shukla

PhD Candidate, The University of Texas at Dallas

Saturday June 10, 2023 9:50am - 10:10am EDT
ARC E-02