Can automation of bureaucracy redefine what it means to be a citizen?

Project Seiche explores evolving notions of citizenship and sovereignty in the context of overlapping jurisdiction, global circulation, and rapid urbanization.

Produced by a group of researchers of The New Normal program at Strelka Institute in 2018, the project suggests automation of bureaucracy as a way to address global issues of citizenship. The project team went to Khorgos, Kazakhstan, a logistic hub on the border with China. They studied cross-border condition and developed a speculative scenario that envisions long-term implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The result of their field trip is a film which introduces Seiche, a platform enabling independent legal entities to safely exchange information.

Learn more about The New Normal speculative urbanism think-tank at Strelka and apply to its third and final year at

Project team: Katya Sivers, Yulia Gromova, Mikhail Anisimov, Andrey Zhileikin, Tomas Clavijo


Rethinking citizenship through infrastructure

In a world of thickening borders, migration crises, and accelerated flows of trade, more nuanced discourses on national identity are required. Citizenship and sovereignty were historically rooted in territorial belonging, but expansion of transnational flows of people, goods, and information undermine those traditional concepts. Motility and access to global infrastructure are becoming key factors defining your status as a citizen. There are supranational systems like the CIS or EU, where citizens can move freely across borders. But, instead of looking at blocks of land arranged into megaregions as a basis for citizenship, researchers suggest thinking of transnational networks of corridors and gateways as supranational entities on their own.


Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Networks of cities, special economic zones, and logistic ports involve more and more of the world's population. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects at the moment. It is a Chinese long-term investment plan to generate a strong Eurasian trade zone around the old Silk Road. The Khorgos dry port plays a major role in the BRI. The new railway route passing through the port connects China to CIS countries. It is the biggest transport hub in Central Asia and a logistic enclave in between two infrastructural and political realities.


Khorgos Dry Port case study

The border condition of Khorgos is a perfect case study for the project, because it amplifies all the difficulties of transnational interactions. China and Kazakhstan use different databases and legal procedures, and speak different languages, so communication between the two sides is a complex task.


How Seiche works

Seiche enables system synchronization. It provides a protocol of data exchange for organizations, which act across jurisdictions. It allows for legislation to be represented as an algorithm and acts as an interface between legal and data workflows. It translates laws into object-notation network structures, a machine readable format.


Envisioned implications

Once implemented, the platform will give users the opportunity to track moving entities and their specific interactions, allowing them to register the sovereign systems an entity has moved across. Seiche can also simulate interactions, providing motility assessment for objects and citizens. By tracking dynamic networks of emergent sovereignties in time and space, Seiche will provide visualizations to map the evolution of these systems. These visual renderings may eventually become the basis for the revaluation of conventional concepts of citizenship and sovereignty from the perspective of global infrastructure networks.

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