Alex & I: narrative and network resistance

For my artistic-research project Alex & I (2013–2018), I have discussed the media history and lived circumstances of the now former-refugee, Sanjeev ‘Alex’ Kuhendrarajah, to extend his narrative of migration beyond the news cycle. Having worked with images of Alex circulating online, I became interested in his digital profile as one of his many representations; as an actor on social media platforms and as a ‘data body’ (Critical Art Ensemble 1998) stored in networked interoperable archives. For this text, I discuss how the requirement of migrants to submit biometric data to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the purposes of identification is a means of control, drawing on Katja Jacobsen’s (2010) analysis of the risks arising from UNHCR’s deployment of iris scanning technology and Joseph Pugliese’s (2012) work on the genealogies and biopolitics of biometrics. I address Alex’s acts of self-representation on social media, particularly Facebook, as a form narrative resistance, by which he challenges the UNHCR’s modes of ‘institutional interpellation’ (Ajana 2010), but is also susceptible to ‘dataveillance’, data mining and forms of network authority. Drawing on Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s (2015) concerns about user profiling and data capture on social media, I offer possible modes of network resistance and discuss storytelling as a form of ‘narrative bioethics’ with reference to Btihaj Ajana (2010).

Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, August 2018. [Paywall]
A special issue edited by Professor Suvendrini Perera, for the research interest ‘War and Visual Technologies’.


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