Asher Boersma: Tracking Santa and Sinterklaas: Operators, Folklore, and the Pedagogy of the All-knowing Center

Although popular culture is the primary realm of control room representations – which is where scholarly attention has been drawn to (Deane 2015, 2021) – actual control rooms have been made public throughout their existence. The public role of control rooms in schemes of state legitimacy has even profoundly shaped their design (Boersma, forthcoming). In this paper two practices by control room operators are compared in which they insert their workplace and their expertise into existing pop folklore. In doing so the paper marks a further step in the integration of the two largely separate discourses of control room practice (in workplace studies) and promise (cultural studies). Ultimately, it shows that the pedagogy of the control room as all-knowing center operates in a continuum of patriarchal, disciplinarian societies. Moreover, the popularization of centralized monitoring of movement is part of state-legitimating efforts post-interventionist, behavioral turn in infrastructuring (Star 1999, Boersma 2018).

Asher Boersma is a postdoctoral researcher at Konstanz University. He focusses on the history and practice of nautical and maritime mobilities, and mediated control of waterway networks (Rhine, Danube, Northeastern Passage).


Claudio Coletta: The Moving of the World on Fire. A New Sensitiveness for the Circulation of Climate Objects and their "Control Rooms"

The paper draws on the well-known metaphor of “landing” by Bruno Latour discussing the relation between mobility and climate around the issue of the “moving of the world on fire”. By adopting a speculative approach, I propose the following thought experiment: could a control room for the mobility of climate objects exist? If so, how would that look like? I argue that a mobility approach to climate change must achieve a new sensitiveness to take into account the circulation of large scale and tiny scale climate object that so far have been represented as the background for the circulation of things. As the earth below our feet is shaking and burning, such sensitiveness should emphasize the temporal over the spatial aspects in order to follow the “invisible other” of climate objects. I conclude introducing the concept of “time magnifiers” as a conceptual and epistemic tool to reinvent a hypothetical control rooms for the planet.

Claudio Coletta is senior assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies at the University of Bologna. His main interest of research is the infrastructuring of ecological and digital timescapes as enacted by urban climate transitions.


Marta Macedo: Control on the ground and from afar: plantation written records across the Atlantic

Cocoa plantations in 1900s São Tomé, a small island in the Gulf of Guinea, were fairly sophisticated colonial enterprises. Sharing some attributes with modern corporate governance, such as the separation of ownership from management, several of these plantations were superintended in loco by professional administrators but governed remotely from the directors' desks in Lisbon. This paper examines plantations’ paperwork flows across the Atlantic. It shows how the exchange of information was central to systems of feedback and control that allowed for the functioning of these productive machines.

Marta Macedo is a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. Her research focuses on São Tomé plantations, colonialism and empire, linking approaches from the history of science and technology, environmental history and labour studies.


Veronika Nagy: Late Modern Surveillance in Europe: Self-censorship in a Digital Asylum

In the last decennia, affective aspects and perception-based policies dominate global mobility control and digital surveillance measures. However, these practices are increasingly challenged by new user strategies, in particular in the daily use of connected phone devices. Following the critical surveillance studies tradition of qualitative data analyses, this paper explores how conflict refugees – associated with terrorism and organized crime by national migration and border control authorities – are increasingly circumventing mobile surveillance mechanisms within and even outside the virtual walls of Fortress Europe. Due to tech literacy and surveillance awareness, digital policing practices are increasingly challenged by ›smart‹ user incentives, altering the remotely governed interactions between newcomers and border control authorities. Most studies are focusing on the content and techniques of these countersurveillance activities, including data transmission and shared social media content. Yet, there is hardly any attention paid on the ›silences‹ and social filters that are instrumentally used to ensure safe travel and to protect social networks in digital proximity.
These data modifications can be traced by ethnographic studies that are able to interpret the situational understanding of self-censorship in daily practices of smart phone users migrants. Using multisited analysis of migrants surveillance, this research addresses countersurveillance incentives in the EU and how surveillance subjects as forced migrants from conflict countries use smartphone applications to prevent legal expulsion. By implementing the mobility paradigm in criminological studies, this project includes methodological techniques in which online and offline interactions are intertwined to fully trace spatial, social aspects of participants’ decision-making. The central question of this paper is: Based on the imaginaries of safe connectedness- , how can the different silencing methods of smart phone user refugees can be classified, that is also interpreted as digital self-censorship practices on the move?

Veronika Nagy is assistant professor in criminology at the Law Department at Utrecht University. Her main research interest includes surveillance, digital inequality with a focus on the connection between mobility and technology, criminalization and digital self-censorship.


Christina Reimann: Public discourses on mobility control? Newspapers and the making of public opinion about migration to and through the port cities of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the early twentieth century

The late-nineteenth-century transport revolution and mass mobility it entailed prompted new forms of migration control on the national and local level. Historians have studied port cities as portals of steam-driven globalization, analyzing them as hubs of mobility and as spaces where movements came to a halt. We have solid knowledge about administrative practices of mobility control in port cities and about the securitization of migration by city and national authorities. Yet, we are almost entirely ignorant about the extent to which the authorities’ discourse on mobility reached the general public. Preliminary findings in Antwerp and Rotterdam local newspapers suggest that the press did not second the authorities’ securitization of mass migration from Eastern Europe that took off in the 1880s. This paper investigates digitized newspapers to give an appreciation of the public framing of mass mobility and its control in Rotterdam and Antwerp at a time when migration to and through the port cities was at its height.

Christina Reimann is a postdoctoral researcher in History at Södertörn University in Stockholm. Her main area of research is european transnational history in the nineteenth and twentieth century with a focus on port cities from a migration-, gender- and cultural historical perspective.


Willem Schinkel & Rogier van Reekum: Accounting for Migration

What we seek to propose in this workshop is that 'migration' is not the mobility of people, but a form of accounting. And this accounting is not merely a form of registering and narrating, it is also accounting in the economic sense of the term: counting is a form of national accounting. It is to manage outstanding debts and credits. In this economy of migration, a migrant appears as someone equated to a form of debt, and migrants are tasked with repaying this unpayable debt. In order for this accounting to work, migration needs to be enacted as an abstract phenomenon consisting of net flows. That is a very recent achievement that we trace to the work of Ernst Ravenstein. We thus argue that migration must be uncoupled from mobility, and that it is an anachronism to speak of 'migration' prior to the technical achievement of registering net flows.

Willem Schinkel is professor of social theory at the Department of Public Administration & Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His main areas of research are social theory and social philosophy, the sociology of art and STS.

Rogier van Reekum is assistant professor of social theory at the Department of Public Administration & Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His main areas of research are border visuality, nationalism, place making, citizenship and migration politics, immigration policy and education.


Tom Ullrich: "Regulation Mania": Rail Traffic and Station Control around 1850

In order for the trains to come to the towns and the townspeople to come to the trains, railway stations were designed as an architectural solution for infrastructuring mass transportation. Because early rail travel was an expensive and dangerous endeavor, the operation of tracks, machinery, and stations was governed by strict requirements for safety and security. In mid 19th century France, in particular, early stations were highly controlled places of order and discipline, where travelers were viewed as a chaotic human mass of mixed social classes, genders, and origins. In order to facilitate a smooth flow of traffic, procedures were established to sort and regulate people, which involved not only special personnel and architectural structures, but also a complex set of media and paper technologies.
This paper examines the extent to which the control of railway traffic and stations depended on these hitherto neglected paper media. As the prestigious Parisian stations were characterized by a bureaucratic obsession with monitoring and sorting various forms of mobility, different actors (politicians, civil servants, engineers, police, employees) tried to manage the ever-increasing traffic from their desks as well as on the ground. Based on archival material, the article analyzes their promises of controllability and measures to enforce order, which, however, created new problems and often led to disciplinary-bureaucratic excesses ("too much paper"). Three specific circulations of people, things, and signs in railway traffic and station organization are at stake: first, the control of the mobility of travelers through notices and ticketing systems; second, the control of the mobility of documents through administrative regulations, reports, and manuals; and third, the control of the mobility of trains through the invention of operational images for monitoring circulation in the railway network.

Tom Ullrich is a postdoctoral researcher in the project "Urban Control Regimes. Railway Stations as Infrastructure of Human Categorization" of the CRC 1482 "Studies in Human Categorization" and lecturer in media and culture studies at University of Mainz. His main areas of research are media history of revolution and protest, urban mobility infrastructures, and surveillance, safety and security.


Diane Vaughan: Boundaries, Boundary Work and Repair: Resilience and Institutional Persistence in Challenging Times. The Case of Air Traffic Control

Over the life course, the system persisted and increased in safety despite actions of powerful social actors in the system’s environment that created periods of decline when risk increased. More recently, the system survived two crises: President Reagan’s firing of over 14,000 striking controllers in 1981 and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Surprisingly, even these two most extreme shocks were absorbed by the existing structure rather than eliminating or destroying parts of it, changing its basic direction, or being taken over by privatization or single corporate ownership. So – what makes the system so safe – or is it? And, what do controllers do that technology can’t replace?

Diane Vaughan is professor of sociology at the Columbia University, New York. Her research focus is on institutional persistence, change, culture and cognition, and agency. She relies on cross-case comparison to understand how things go wrong in organizations: most recently, the production of scientific and technical knowledge in complex socio-technical systems across time and social space.


Sebastian Vehlken: Virtual Ship-Bridges and Digital Dockyards: Digital Twins as Maritime Training and Construction Environments

"There is no doubt that the digital twin is the future" – such and similar claims from the field of engineering and scientific research & development certainly serve an epistemologically mostly uncritical and little reflected hype - and authors like Michael Batty have long since comprehensively deconstructed the clichédness of the digital twin concept. However, apart from epistemological discussions of model concepts, digital twins may well be understood as a form of intensification of older approaches: A digital twin includes both the hardware to acquire and process data and the software to represent and manipulate these data. Digital twins are more powerful than models and simulations because they leverage digital data streams to bridge the barrier between the physical entity and its representation.
In the fields of seafarer’s training and ship design and construction, the digital twin approach is increasingly coming into play: In the first case, the focus is on immersive real-time interaction and human-in-the-loop-structures. Simulations of this kind link the ship’s dynamics and its steering behavior to other elements of maritime infrastructures such as docks and cranes, and influence factors of the natural environment.
In the second case, strategies of 'predictive manufacturing' in ship design and construction promise great cost-saving potentials and optimized process management. The ability to use high-performance computing infrastructures in computer simulation models to calculate the hydrodynamic properties of full-size ships in great detail is already assessed as not less revolutionary than the advent of scale models and experimental procedures for ship design in the late 18th century, as described by Simon Schaffer and others.
My contribution deals with the phantasma of comprehensive computer control and controllability, which is revived in the concept of the Digital Twin, by means of these complementary examples from the field of maritime training and construction.

Sebastian Vehlken is professor of knowledge processes and digital media at the German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute of Maritime History in Bremerhaven and at Carl-von-Ossietzky University Oldenburg. His main areas of research are media history of digital media and computer simulation, material cultures, and oceans as spaces of knowledge.


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