skip to content

The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement


Unruly Speech: Displacement and the Politics of Transgression 


Communication and media practices are a useful starting point for exploring the production of social realities, including the constitution of communities, displacement, and spaces in which hierarchies of meanings can be challenged. Specifically, the talk, which is based on a recently published monograph (Stanford University Press, 2023), introduces the audience to the highly mediatized group of the Uyghurs and their human rights advocacy practices. The talk addresses embodied and digital eye-witnessing and the ways those practices increase international awareness about the group’s struggle for basic rights. The discussion shows how the affordances of digital technologies enable a testimonial infrastructure with connective logics, referring to mediated visibility, inter-platform circulation of witness accounts, and intertextual hashtag chains. While embodied testimonios use the language of affect, digital testimonios shift toward the language of quantification and verification. The talk further illustrates how transgressive speech can be identified through its strategic control, referring to the discursive and technological configuration of communicative acts by relevant stakeholders, including activists, donor organizations, the diasporic leadership as well as governments. Moreover, the discussion highlights the implications of a shift from embodied to datafied transgression and how transgressive speech aligns with a politicized humanism by Western governments and supranational organizations. Overall, the longitudinal, multi-sited research in China, the United States, and Germany encourages conversations about fieldwork in challenging settings, the conditions that enable and restrict transgressive speech, and how transgression creates spaces for intervention in contexts of displacement. 



Saskia Witteborn is Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). She specializes in critical technology studies and migration, with a focus on understanding the lived experiences of transnational migrants. She has worked with migrants in the United States, Europe, and East Asia. She researches the geopolitics of identity, the datafication of migration, and the link between migration, mobilities, and immersive realities. She was a visiting scholar at Free University of Berlin, at the Berlin Institute for Migration and Integration Research at Humboldt University, and Télécom Paris. Currently, she is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research has appeared in leading journals and in edited collections. She is author of Unruly Speech: Displacement and the Politics of Transgression (Stanford University Press, 2023), co-editor of The SAGE Handbook of Media and Migration (Sage, 2020), and co-author of Together: Communicating Interpersonally. A Social Construction Approach (Oxford University Press, 6th ed., 2005).  



Discussant: Andrew Fallone (University of Cambridge)

Andrew Fallone is a PhD researcher at the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology, providing a critical, postcolonial, and pro-feminist lens on the interactions between social capital, clandestine migration, and the impact of migration management policies. He has published research on transnational migration with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Before joining the University of Cambridge, Andrew completed a master's degree at the European University Institute School of Transnational Governance. Andrew also completed a fellowship with the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State, researching the market for human smuggling. Andrew also previously worked with the United Nations, the General Delegation of Palestine to the United States, and the Embassy of the Principality of Liechtenstein, among other organizations. Andrew completed his bachelor's degree at the American University School of International Service.

Tuesday, 14 March, 2023 - 13:00 to 14:30
Event location: 
Small Lecture Theatre - Department of Geography, Downing Suite