Sam Merrill on “Mapping Maps and Gaps: A Critical Digital Cartography of the ‘Mediterranean Refugee Crisis'”

Over on his blog, a little while ago, Sam Merrill blogged an excellent write-up of his participation in the 2016 Digital Methods Initiative Winter School (something I would’ve liked to do but didn’t know about[!] and anyway didn’t have time/funds to do). There’s a lot to think about from Sam’s blogpost, from the politics of different uses of maps in different phonic communities to the discursive politics of ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ and the complex representational politics of different media organisations. Definitely worth a read!

Mapping Maps and Gaps: A Critical Digital Cartography of the ‘Mediterranean Refugee Crisis’

Last month I attended the 2016 Digital Methods Initiative Winter School led by Richard Rogers and his team at the University of Amsterdam. Organised in the format of a data sprint the event saw participants attend a day of keynote talks presented by the likes of, among others, Lilie Chouliaraki, Mathieu Jacomy, Carolin Gerlitz and Rogers himself before turning their attention to a hands-on digital project for the remainder of the week. With the rather clever title of, Otherwise Engaged – Critical Analytics and the New Meanings of Engagement Online the Winter School set out to problematize online engagement and develop new methods by which to measure, visualise and interpret that engagement. The group I joined, which was made up of Natalia Sanchez-Querubin (University of Amsterdam), Rik Smit (University of Groningen), Belal Islim (University of Amsterdam), Quentin Lobbe (Telecom Paris Tech), Gabriele Colombo (Density Design), Suzanne van Geuns (Utrecht University) Jasper Bol (University of Amsterdam), Lars Dellemaan (University of Amsterdam), Hadewieg Beekman (University of Amsterdam) set out to create a digital critical cartography of the so-called ‘Mediterranean Refugee Crisis’ (although this phrase formulation arguable shifts attention from the true location of the crisis in the Middle East) .

Our pilot study compared the maps, images, locations and texts returned by Google searches for the queries ‘refugee routes’ and ‘migrant routes’ in seven languages: Arabic, English, French, Italian, Dutch, German and Spanish. As we expected the result showed the different levels of empathetic distance, dehumanization and solidarity associated with the two terms (refugee and migrants) and reinforced the relevancy of the recent debates in the European press about the responsible use of these terms and the campaign by the UNHCR about the degree to which, in this context particularly, word choice matters. It would take too much space to explain in detail all of the different hybridized digital-human methods that we explored and used over the week not to mention all the multi-leveled findings suggested (but not necessarily confirmed) by our initial interpretive forays. So instead I direct those interested to visit our project wiki, which although still being updated, gives a good idea of what we got up to during the week.

Read the full blogpost.

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