Roundtable Discussion - When alterity and polities are made together: Theories and methods to address an old dilemma

Tuesday, 27 June, 16:00–17:50

Chair: Annalisa Pelizza


Noortje Marres

Lucy Suchman

Aristotle Tympas

Sally Wyatt


Over the last six years, one of the main tenets of the Processing Citizenship project has been the co-production of people as European alterity and of Europe as a multi-level but also multi-value polity. When third-country citizens become "migrants" by being registered in border management databases, it is also a specific idea of Europe that is prompted. When security is given priority over health in identifying people rescued at sea, it is some specific values that are given priority. When national and supranational databases entail a division of labour between national and supranational agencies, it is a specific architecture of Europe which is enacted.

To kick-off this round-table, Processing Citizenship's Principal Investigator will illustrate and interpret some evidence from the Project, which shows how enacting alterity goes hand in hand with enacting Europe(s). Drawing on their own research, participants will be asked to reflect on the following questions: How can we theorize and research the sociomaterial co-production of asymmetrical actors? Notably, where does asymmetry lie?

In the 1980s, the second wave of STS have invested quite some efforts in theoretically and  methodologically bridging macro and micro levels of analysis. This investment was carried out by both the anthropological feminist community questioning that early sociological distinction and introducing the conceptualization  of "situatedness", as well as by the ANT group proposing a flat ontology made of chains of translation. And yet contemporary dynamics like the ones addressed by Processing Citizenship repropose the question of where asymmetry lies not so much in terms of scale, but in the sociomaterial terms of contigency vs. stability. On one hand, asymmetries are seen as the transient outcome of intersectional and situated power dynamics. On the other hand, power relations are well inscribed in the infrastructures that mediate encounters and that stabilize identities beyond contingency. Being enacted as an "alter" can have consequences in the longer-term, and polities are difficult to change.

To a close look, the co-production of alterity and polity is a lens through which looking once more at the dilemma exemplified by the debate between critical theory of technology and STS: while the exercise of critique requires a locum of power, this locum seems to continuously liquefy in analyses of myriad contingent arrangements. Are asymmetries the explanantia or the explananda?

This roundtable aims to address this dilemma by encompassing heterogeneous fields of investigation, not only in the management of migration in Europe, but in manifold settings where (political) organization is produced by enacting alterity. Participants will be asked to elaborate on which kinds of alterity and polities are enacted in their own fields of investigation, through which sociomaterial means, and which methods they have found more productive in their experience. Insights and findings from Processing Citizenship will thus enter in a dialogue with ongoing and future research on the concomitant production of others, enemies and alterities, and we will jointly scrutinize the political organizations that we come to inhabit.