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2017 Conference - Asylum Going Digital: Language and Power Technologies in the Asylum Process
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Using ethnographic evidence from asylum cases in Italy, this paper explores the problematic role played by digital agents during asylum hearings—one of the most complex adjudication procedures performed by contemporary bureaucracies. For the past decade, asylum courts have coped with limitations on the availability and capabilities of resources by relying on computing power to solve many of the intercultural communicative issues they face. Yet these human-computer interactions have received relatively little attention from asylum scholars, despite the fact that, with the introduction of digitalization, we are witnessing the rise of an integrated structure of techno-linguistic mechanisms intended to facilitate intercultural communication. The claim of this paper is that the reliance on digital agents (such as mobile phones, translation machines, and search engines) shapes, both negatively and positively, asylum decisions. However, “going digital” blurs the line between human intuition and machine algorithmic processing, leading asylum officers to prefer simple and functional codes over complex, fuzzier, but possibly more relevant ones—with potentially critical consequences for the credibility of asylum seekers.
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