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Colonial Imaginations, Techno-Oligarchs, and Digital Technology

Sun, May 27, 14:00 to 15:15, Hilton Prague, M, Tyrolka

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Proposal

Abstract

The colonial project was able to sustain itself over centuries through the invention of an imaginary public. The colonized were explained as more primal in their needs, wants and desires. White civilization was a universally applied template imposed upon the colonized. This included dismantling and transforming their cultures – values, traditions, habits, religion, dress code, and other ways through which humans seek to set themselves apart. This technique of civilizing involved not just the purging of the so-called wrong values but the recognition of the deficiency of the right values. The rationale was that it was not profit, but care, that drove this mission.
Today, we see how a select number of Western-based technology companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have achieved the monopolization of entire publics. Under the banner of ‘connecting the unconnected’, corporate social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp justify their growing expansion in the Global South. While harvesting our attention for profit is the global template, technology companies’ control over Global South nations has a far more powerful impact as they rule these lands with few laws and regulations impeding them. At times, they collude with authoritarian regimes by adhering to and even strengthening their surveillance practices, fostering an even more fragile state.

This roundtable asks how these techno-oligarchs shape the voices of the vast global south as they get online and inhabit their digital lands. We bring together scholars working on diverse regions such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We will jointly investigate how contemporary global configurations of digital technology reproduce colonial ideologies, social inequalities and forms of unparalleled power. We will touch upon the following topics:

- surveillance of data subjects
- online exoticizing and ‘othering’ of digital natives
- global digital economies of exploitation, extraction and extension
- decolonial computing and colonization of internets
- algorithms and racial bias
- hashtag activism and resistance

The roundtable allows for an interdisciplinary and cross-regional dialogue with different colonial histories and digital economies that engulf the Global South. It is essential we jointly unpack contemporary issues on surveillance, digitization and othering taking place at a global and platform level. We hope to create a collective imagination on possible approaches to these issues that confound us deeply. The Chair will moderate the discussion among the participants through 2-3 rounds of discussion before opening it up to the audience.

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