Collage of Philadelphia

October 2021 • Virtual Event

The 22nd annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), a transdisciplinary gathering of scholars interested in the place of networked technologies in social processes, will be held Virtually.  The conference theme is: Independence.

Historically, independence has galvanized anti-colonial movements across the world. Yet, who benefits from independence? In 1776, it was in Philadelphia that the US “Declaration of Independence” was signed. However, that meant nothing for the humans kidnapped from Africa and brought to America as slave labor; or for the Lenni Lenape people whose land was stolen via a series of violent, coercive, and bureaucratic moves in the creation of the city. In more recent history, movements for justice faced state violence for their calls for independence. In 1985, for instance, the Philadelphia police firebombed the compound of the Black liberation communal living group called MOVE, who were attempting to live independent of white supremacist legal and social institutions. It is the acknowledgement of the internal contradictions and historic hypocrisy of independence we wish to evoke with the conference theme: Independence for whom, from what, where, and under what constraints?

AoIR 2021 asks participants to consider and critique the relationship between “independence” and the internet and how that plays out in countries around the world and transnationally. In the internet’s early days, independence was wrapped up in promises to break from the constraints of traditional media and embrace novel forms of connection and community. While much of the early-internet hype around radical independence has failed to materialize, the desire for independence remains a powerful driver of global digital culture. Activists committed to social justice rely on the internet for movement building and coalition work. Net neutrality and antitrust policy makers use independence as a rallying cry to push back on the power hold of Big Tech. Media makers and critics take advantage of lower barriers to entry to engage online without facing visible gatekeepers like publishers, editors, or costly publishing/distribution equipment. People trapped in oppressive relationships, from families to sites of employment, have used the internet to gain emotional, intellectual, and material independence. At the same time, hate and/or hateful communities use assertions of independence and “free speech” to organize harassment and misinformation campaigns on the internet. While independence is frequently assumed to be about progressive politics, it can also reveal an attachment to corporatism, libertarianism, exceptionalism, and/or individualism.

Aiming for a complicated understanding of how independence has shaped digital technologies, this conference theme asks: How might the notion of independence help situate social dynamics on the internet today? What role does the internet play in contemporary revolutions and struggles for independence worldwide? How do internet discourses about independence feed into imaginaries of exceptionalism and individualism or erase material realities of interdependence? What new forms of independence are emerging on the internet and how might they challenge preexisting power relationships and struggles? How have online communities forged links of interdependence that are perhaps more meaningful than independence itself? What forms of social and technological independence have emerged in terms of internet politics, infrastructure, and messaging?

The AoIR 2021 committee calls for proposals for papers, and panels events that engage with the conference theme or the field more generally. Submissions will open in January 2021. Topics could include (but are not limited to):

  • Network independence and interdependence
  • Geopolitical webs and independent internet in the Global South
  • Independence and online activism including abolition movements, Black Lives Matter, and social movements writ large
  • Independence from surveillance and algorithms
  • Independence and interdependence of online social communities
  • Narratives of independence and the gig economy and digital labor
  • Codependent relationships and social media
  • News independence, misinformation, and coordinated fact-checking
  • Independence and online publishing and advertising
  • Independent media making practices (including games, music, film, and television), distribution, and platforms
  • Independence and digital/networked art
  • Independence and interdependence in play and game spaces
  • Independence/interdependence and research methods and methodologies
  • Interdependence, health information, and COVID-19
  • Critiques of individualism and exceptionalist discourses on the internet

We welcome submissions that engage with or challenge the conference theme in new and exciting ways, are innovative, or present a novel approach to the topic. We also welcome submissions on topics that address social, cultural, political, legal, aesthetic, economic, and/or philosophical aspects of the internet beyond the conference theme. The committee extends a special invitation to students, researchers, and practitioners who have previously not participated in an AoIR event to submit proposals, and to scholars from the Global South, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Globally, L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ peoples, and people outside or adjacent to the academy.

Important Dates
15 Apr – Extended deadline for abstract submissions to #AoIR2021
15 June – Conference acceptances
1 Aug – Video presentations and SPIR Submissions due
1 Aug – Presenter registration deadline

The authors of all accepted abstracts must upload a video presentation of 3 minutes or less to be included in the conference this year, and to be included in our conference proceedings, Selected Papers of Internet Research (SPIR). As with last year, there will be no live presentation of papers; rather, the videos will be available to view for several weeks before the conference itself, and the conference will include a number of sessions and spaces to discuss papers anchored around themes (as well as the capacity to comment directly on individual videos).