With a success rate of approximately one in ten, receiving an ERC Starting Grant is an honorable achievement only attainable by few scientists. Anna Pelizza, who is an Associate Professor at the University of Twente’s department of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS), is one of those lucky few. Only recently, the European Commission announced her successful application for the project Processing Citizenship.
Processing Citizenship is a five year project with a maximum of 1.5 million euros available from the ERC. The project focuses on the ‘Digital registration of migrants as co-production of citizens, territory and Europe’. The project combines globalization and border studies and surveillance studies in IT and migration with a materialist, constructivist approach derived from science and technology studies (STS) and media geography.
Pelizza: “The research is ground-breaking in three ways: 1) by focusing on alienage and on the technicalities of data infrastructures, it sets the basis for detecting incipient changes in the order of authority; 2) it develops brand new software methods for web services analysis that is expected to set a new promising field of techno-sociological research; 3) by combining contiguous disciplines rarely interacting, it amplifies their ability to understand the co-production of technology, society, knowledge.”
Intensifying migration waves are changing EU policies―with hotspots being set up in frontline countries―but also the way knowledge about migrants, institutions and territory is created. Information systems are key enablers of this knowledge. They materialize legislative, political, administrative dynamics in which citizenship, state and territory are co-produced.
The project Processing Citizenship aims to establish information systems as “interfaces” that make visible changes in the modern nation state. It aims to develop a history of the present that accounts for contemporary materially-embedded practices of registration of migrants at Hotspots as activities of governance formation. The project addresses three research questions, Pelizza explains: “How are migrants’ identities shaped in information systems-mediated registration practices, and how do migrants adapt or resist it? How are Member States and Europe re-enacted by data infrastructures for migration processing? How is territory reshaped?”
The ERC Grants are awarded each year by the European Union to researchers who undertake groundbreaking research with a firm base in fundamental research and, at the same time, research with an expected societal relevance. The grant can be used to set up an own research team or programme. Only European researchers who received their PhD a maximum of seven years ago qualify for the grant.
After successful application, final negotiations between ERC and the researchers will lead to an approved project plan. A project team of seven members will be formed, in which 3 PhD candidates, 2 postdocs and 1 student assistant will participate. This project is establishing collaborations with universities and research centers in other European countries (e.g., Paris Institute of Advanced Studies and CNRS, University of Edinburgh, Technical University of Munich, University of Rotterdam), but also with government agencies and policy organizations.
Annalisa Pelizza, who joined at the University of Twente in 2013 as an assistant professor at STePS (BMS), obtained her PhD at the University of Milan-Bicocca and is an EU Marie Curie Fellow. Her main research interest in the last three years has corresponded to what she calls “Vectorial Glance”: the idea that following governmental information flows allows uncovering broader but yet invisible transformations in the order of authority, that is, in the governance network.
Working with an ERC Starting Grant is an exciting prospect for Pelizza: “Up to now I developed the “Vectorial Glance” approach by analyzing data about citizens (i.e., civil registers) and about territory (i.e., I analyzed data integration at the Dutch Kadaster). Now, with the Processing Citizenship project I plan to work on data about not-yet citizens, that is, what bureaucratic language labels as “aliens”.”
The grant has also proven to be a great award for years of hard work. “An ERC Starting Grant poses heavy responsibilities on relatively young grantees’ shoulders, not least because they have to be able to follow a mix of curiosity, freedom and excellence, while at the same time nurturing curiosity, freedom and excellence in a new generation of researchers”, she stated. “At the same time, those who are granted similar funding are rarely acting in a vacuum. I myself was supported by lovely, sharp and forward-looking colleagues at my university and other universities in different countries, and by an ever present EU grant office.”