Technocolonialism: digital innovation and data practices in the humanitarian response to refugee crises

Madianou, Mirca. 2019. Technocolonialism: digital innovation and data practices in the humanitarian response to refugee crises. Social Media and Society, 5(3), pp. 1-13. ISSN 2056-3051 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Digital innovation and data practices are increasingly central to the humanitarian response to recent refugee and migration crises. In this article I introduce the concept of technocolonialism to capture how the convergence of digital developments with humanitarian structures and market forces reinvigorates and reshapes colonial relationships of dependency. Technocolonialism shifts the attention to the constitutive role that data and digital innovation play in entrenching power asymmetries between refugees and aid agencies and ultimately inequalities in the global context. This occurs through a number of interconnected processes: by extracting value from refugee data and innovation practices for the benefit of various stakeholders; by materializing discrimination associated with colonialism; by contributing to the production of social orders that entrench the ‘coloniality of power’ and by justifying some of these practices under the context of ‘emergencies’. By reproducing the power asymmetries of humanitarianism, data and innovation practices become constitutive of humanitarian crises themselves.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


colonialism, displacement, refugee / migration crisis, humanitarianism, digital innovation, big data, biometrics, hackathons

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


16 June 2019Accepted
26 July 2019Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Jun 2019 13:42

Last Modified:

16 Apr 2021 14:47

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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