Is the smartphone always a smart choice? Against the utilitarian view of the ‘connected migrant’

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This article challenges the widespread view of mobile connectivity as a purely utilitarian resource that refugees use at their individual discretion to resolve problems and cover needs. It explains that while this approach fits into well-intended humanitarian efforts, it carries important empirical and political costs. Both sets of costs are examined. Cues from existing research and an exploratory study among Syrian refugees in the Netherlands reveal the empirical costs: They point to various ways in which mobile connectivity can be both a desired toolkit and an uncomfortable imposition. Although these are novel findings in relation to migration, they resonate with the broader literature on non- utilitarian as well as paradoxical uses of mobile phones. We interpret this gap – between the generalized conceptualizations of the ‘connected refugee’ and people’s experiences of ‘perpetual contact’ more generally – not just as empirically, but also as politically problematic. When refugees’ experiences with mobile phones are simplified, refugees themselves are othered. Critical debates about humanitarianism underscore the dehumanizing politics of this approach and the need to replace the underlying logic of compassion with the defense of refugees’ rights.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation, Communication and Society (online)
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2019

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