A city of recognized international influence, Geneva is the birthplace of international humanitarian law (i.e. the Geneva Conventions) and the meeting place of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as well as a financial and diplomatic center with a political and economic role in the world.
Geneva. Photo by Mario A. P.
Geneva is a city of recognized international influence. It is the birthplace of international humanitarian law (i.e. the Geneva Conventions) and the meeting place of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as well as a financial and diplomatic center with a political and economic role in the world. It is arguably one of the most influential cities due to the overwhelming presence of institutions, meetings, and congresses.
At the same time, as the Geneva historian Alfred Dufour suggested, Geneva was, and continues to be, a city of contradictions: simultaneously provincial and cosmopolitan, conservative and daring, tradition-bound yet innovation-friendly, well-to-do yet humble, business-like but hopeful in its humanitarianism. A city with a long-standing tradition of hospitality, and cultural exchange that shaped its identity.
Geneva’s status as an international city, its prominent position on the global stage, its influence on geopolitics, the multi-ethnicity of its population, and its history as a city of refuge and exchange, made it a relevant choice for study and intervention.
Our Edgelands Method starts with foundational research. We conducted a deep literature review of reports on Geneva’s current security policy and surveillance landscape, as well as the current events and hot-button issues in the city. Most importantly, we also conducted interviews with more than 40 key stakeholders with a wide range of professional and academic experiences—security and technology professionals, privacy advocates, academics, community organizers, public servants, police, and journalists.
The aim of these interviews was to understand, from their perspectives, the main challenges that people in Geneva face due to the digitalization of security, and more generally, due to the constant growth of the surveillance society. We heard a great diversity of stories and experiences that painted the picture of a city full of paradoxes and dualities. In this picture, security is a broad but central concept, and encompasses issues and challenges around both physical and digital insecurities.
While the mainstream narratives painted a picture of Geneva as a physically safe, digital privacy-friendly, and democratically responsive and accountable city, our interviewees complexified this picture. They pointed out how the adoption of digital technologies is changing the social fabric of the city, sometimes challenging the appearance that Geneva, as an international hub, wants to portray to its residents and to the world.
We distilled these stories to identify and compile an analysis of trends and challenges which are discussed in our (forthcoming) Geneva Diagnostic Report. In May we will hold a series of participatory discussions with different stakeholders in Geneva, to find points of both consensus and difference on our initial observations. We will integrate these discussions into a Diagnostic Report that we will publish in June 2022. With this, we will conclude phase 1 of Edgelands Geneva and begin with phase 2—in person workshops and events.
Edgelands had the chance to speak to a dozen female migrants in Geneva to hear their thoughts on the findings of our report.
Edgelands had the opportunity to engage with the senior community in Geneva to understand how the advent of digital technologies has impacted the social fabric of the city.
Edgelands was joined by politicians, journalists, privacy advocates, social workers, and experts in technology and society issues to discuss the digitalization of security and the impact of surveillance society in Geneva.
In Fall 2022, the Edgelands Institute and the Geneva Graduate Institute will host a Research Sprint, to explore the intersection between the issues of security, digital surveillance, and the urban social contract in Geneva.
International Geneva, as we call the cluster of foreign delegations and international organizations massed on the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva, hides a much darker side.
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