Issue Mapping for Diasporic Crossings: Towards Cross-platform and Cross-diaspora Studies

Team members

Donya Alinejad, Olga Boichak, Aleksander Bern, Laura Candidatu, Simone Griesser, Marlijn Meijer, Melis Mevsimler, Claudia Minchilli, Domitila Olivieri, Sandra Ponzanesi, Fernando van der Vlist, Mundo Yang

Initial project pitch (abstract)

The main aim of this project is to operationalise issue mapping for studying digital diasporic crossings in Europe – crossings as in cross-platform as well as cross-diaspora. Following the central theme of the Summer School, we are interested in understanding digital connecting practices of so-called “connected migrants” (Diminescu 2008) who actively develop a culture of bonds in which their everyday digital communication practices activate remote relations (both within and outside of Europe’s boundaries) as though they were relations of proximity. Our main methodological objective is to operationalise ‘cross-platform’ issue mapping for ‘cross-diaspora’ studies.

On the one hand, our project engages with certain issue-specific research questions: What are the of meanings of these connections in the context of “connected migrant” lives? What qualities do these digitally mediated connections have? How can we characterise the kinds of engagements we find? How can we best study the nature or characteristics of these (apparently new) forms of social connection? At the same time, our project is open and welcomes methodological experimentation: How one might operationalise what could be called ‘cross-platform’ and/or ‘cross-diaspora’ studies? Can we distinguish ‘cross-diaspora content’ from content that is specific to a given diaspora? And if so, what characterises such content (e.g., what kinds of subjects lend themselves to cut across diasporas? What formats do they follow: are they typically images and videos’, Facebook posts, news articles, memes, …)? How can we understand and operationalise the study of affect within the broader framework of issue mapping (e.g. by taking into account temporal signatures: intensities and durations of engagement around a certain issue)? Can we complement place-oriented approaches (e.g. comparing countries or nationalities) with a temporal perspective (e.g. looking into how issues evolve over time)? We propose three sub-projects or cases by which we engage with these overarching questions.

Introduction and Broader Context

The way Europe is reached, experienced, and given meaning to is rapidly changing. This is also due to the intensified and transformed ‘connecting’ practices of transnational migrants who cross its borders and develop new forms of belonging, maintain relationships and create new interactions within and outside it boundaries. Their digital media usage is a key means for doing this, and the concept of the “connected migrant” has been proposed as one important step toward encompassing this phenomenon (Diminescu 2008). This notion refers to a culture of bonds that migrants actively develop in which their everyday digital communication practices activate remote relations as though they were relations of proximity.

Building on this idea, the key questions that we raise are:
  • What are the of meanings of these connections in the context of migrants’ lives?
  • What qualities do these digitally mediated connections have?
  • And how can we best study the nature or characteristics of these (apparently new) forms of social connection?

Diminescu and Loveluck (2014) notice that most of the humanities based approaches to digital diasporas are descriptive. These approaches also import tools and methodologies developed for offline phenomena, and concentrate on small samples of individual websites, thus failing to account for the main feature of the web, namely its connectivity (25–26). The authors propose a new approach that can do justice to the specific ways in which diasporas are formed by studying online worlds through “digital methods.” However, we notice that in most existing research on digital diasporas and e-diasporas that do use such web-data oriented methods, researchers have previously taken hyperlink analyses as their starting point, treating hyperlinks as social objects – markers of association between institutions and organizations. Diminescu’s work, which has has culminated in the seminal e-Diasporas Atlas (http://www.e-diasporas.fr/), takes such an approach. However, this relies on the researcher defining a corpus of websites as the relevant “migrant”/”diaspora” sites, which has the risk of reifying and/or overstating the importance of ethnic and national categories. It also favours institutional actors over the everyday and practices of “doing family” (Madianou and Miller 2012) and presumes rather than investigates the social significance of the links themselves.

In response to these limitations, we propose a project that engages with these topics through an issue mapping approach (Rogers, Sánchez-Querubín, and Kil 2015), which takes into account online activity concerning specific issues that are relevant to the diasporic communities and that circulate (at least partially) on social media platforms. First, we take an issue mapping approach with the intention of beginning from a point of understanding what kinds of issues actually matter to migrant web users, to what degree, and why. This should allow us to then trace what kinds of social spaces migrants actively produce through their actual media practices, while also allowing us to make arguments about the affective layers of a social phenomenon - what is it that moves migrant actors to act/engage. In this way, we treat particular forms of engagement as an indicator of certain kinds of (emotional) connection. Furthermore, mapping how an issue develops across different platforms – spatially as well as temporally – allows us to understand which platforms are taken up most saliently and for which purposes. This would allow us to make arguments about how the particular affordances – or, if you will, the medium or platform specificities – of certain platforms take shape through usage.

Second, an issue mapping approach aims to access social processes reaching beyond or cross-cutting ethnic and national categories. It is an effective way of allowing us to encompass important racial (Nakamura 2002; Gajjala, 2002) and gendered (Chow 2008) axes of differentiation online, as well as observe the ways in which different diasporas might be connecting with one another in unexpected ways via a specific issue. For instance, a place-based issue might mobilize multiple diaspora actors living in the same city, with the implication of possibly mobilizing feelings of belonging or social categories of participation that become more salient than national or ethnic identities. Such mobilizations also potentially have an important temporal dimension, such that mapping a particular issue’s temporal signatures or patterns would allow us to analyze how feelings of belonging are shaped through the particular engagement with issues via specific media practices. This temporal aspect could also help to reveal, for instance, a moment at which an issue moved from one platform to another (and perhaps back again).

Starting from an issue mapping approach offers potentials for further conceptualizing what particular “connections” mean by opening up an analytical space for understanding the range of possible different qualities of a digitally traceable action. In line with the intention to understand how migrants’ connections matter to them, this project aims to situate the issue mapping method within a wider ethnographic approach to study migrants’ digital media practices within the context of their everyday lives. Additionally, as a challenge to both issue mapping and studies of diaspora and migration, one of our central aims that cuts across the three sub-projects (see below) is to explore and experiment with the question how one might operationalise cross-platform and cross-diaspora studies. For example, we expect to find interesting results by mapping the resonance of certain issues – topics or events that matter and make a difference for certain social groups such as migration, tragedies in the Mediterranean, the EU-treaty with Turkey, the refugee crisis, or the word “Europe” itself – across the different diasporic groups and identify issue profiles based on how such concepts and words appear/are engaged with in different contexts. Will we be able to find any ‘cross-diaspora content’ (and if so, are they images and videos, news articles, memes?) or is content typically rather ‘diaspora-specific’?

Full project description

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L9ENxjS1t4WRSAeSupbxsnLs_4QAwLxh4RUggXguA9I/edit?usp=sharing

Presentation slides

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15b9x6RREhp-vVgQuX9So95ombYhc9xGYYOr_PbPFylw/edit?usp=sharing

Subprojects

Topic revision: r3 - 12 Jul 2016, FernandoVanDerVlist
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