About The Migrant Steps Project

The Migrant Steps Project is conceived as a mobile application, website, and installation that connects daily users of fitness tracking devices to narratives about migration between Central America and the United States. In the course of their daily movements, users of the mobile application will receive haptic feedback that connects their walking, jogging, or other movements to the act of walking in a migrant caravan. By achieving milestones, users gain access to stories and resources that expand and diversify stories about migration currently found in mainstream media. This project intends to intervene in popular narratives about migration, countering media rhetorics of xenophobia and racism, by mobilizing walking as a tool for embodied reflection. It provides users an opportunity to learn more about the conditions of migration, the agency of those migrating, and the community care-work that takes place in this journey while developing creative data literacy by revealing the complexity of data that is messy and refuses easy presentation.

The Migrant Steps Project draws inspiration from the popularity of step tracker applications and the overabundance of migrant narratives in mainstream and social media. The project bridges these two by mobilizing step tracking applications as the point where users come into contact with re-contextualized narratives and popular archives. As an add-on to these applications, the app aims to draw attention and incite critical reflection on the user’s practice of walking as the entry point to engaging with narratives about migration. Migration scholars warn that narratives about migrants often rely on the trope of “flows,” which occludes the essential physical dimension of migration (Pallister-Wilkins). In our previous work Words Matter, we engage critical making to produce installations that encourage audiences to interact and reflect on how language influences our knowledge about a topic. In the project Black Ribbon for Mourning, Knight and collaborators connect the audiences’ bodies to data about police killings of Black persons in the United States, asking users to sit with the data for up to four hours to enact “quantified self-in-kinship.” The Migrant Steps Project draws on these previous works for inspiration. By relying on the user’s walking as the point of interaction with digital narratives about migration, the project will draw attention to the physical dimension of migration and to the importance of words and concepts to making sense of social phenomena.

The Migrant Steps Project is currently supported by a UT Dallas Proposal Resubmission Program grant.

Current Project Personnel

Co-Principal Investigators: Kim Brillante Knight (SJSU Dept of Humanities) and Juan Llamas-Rodriguez (U Penn Annenberg School of Communication).

The Humanities project team: Mohammed Mizanur Rashid (lead; UPenn); Nusrat Chowdhury (UT Dallas), Kasif Rahman(UT Dallas), Hayden “Bucky” Lemons (UT Dallas), Nhi Bui (SJSU).

The Design and Technical project team: Atanur Andic (co-lead; Ozyegin U) and Nishanshi Shukla (co-lead UT Dallas), Avi Rhakiola (SJSU), Lilou Sicard-Noel (SJSU).

Advisory Board:

  • Sumita Chakravarty, Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School;
  • Julia Curry, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San José State University;
  • Linda Garcia-Merchant, Public Humanities Data Librarian at the University of Houston;
  • Lorena Gautherau, Digital Programs Manager for the US Latino Digital Humanities program at the University of Houston’s Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage;
  • Roberto G. Gonzalez, Richard Perry University Professor of Sociology and in the Graduate School of Education at University of Pennsylvania;
  • T-kay Sangwand, Librarian for Digital Collection Development at UCLA;
  • Cesár Torres, director of The Hybrid Atelier and an Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington.