AoIR2022 Keynote • Plenary Panel
Each year the Association of Internet Researchers brings individuals to our conference who focus on exciting and emerging areas of Internet research.
When: 2 Nov 2022, 18:30 – 20:00 UTC
Where: The Round Room at The Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin, D02 XK40 Ireland
Synchronous Live Stream will be available.
Nanjala Nyabola is a writer and researcher based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work focuses on the intersection between technology, media, and society. She has held numerous research associate positions including with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and other institutions, while also working as a research lead for several projects on human rights broadly and digital rights specifically around the world. She is a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), the Digital Forensic Lab at the Atlantic Council, The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology (CIPIT) at Strathmore University, and the Centre for International Cooperation (CIC) at NYU. She has published in several academic journals including the African Security Review and The Women’s Studies Quarterly, and contributed to numerous edited collections. Nyabola also writes commentary for publications like The Nation, Al Jazeera, The Boston Review and others. She is the author of Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming Politics in Kenya (Zed Books, 2018) and Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move (Hurst Books, 2020).
Decolonizing the internet
Decolonisation is a weighty word that often gets used in academic circles without due consideration of what it means to undo systems that have been built to alienate societies from their indigenous contexts, to extract labour and resources for the benefit of one region to the detriment of another, and to undo the often unseen power structures that enable these patterns. Based on her experiences in contending with the language question in the context of digital rights, specifically through the Kiswahili Digital Rights Project and efforts to create a linguistic context for digital rights in Kiswahili language communities, Nanjala Nyabola’s talk will explore the political and social implications of what it means to decolonise the internet. We are increasingly conscious that the work is urgent and necessary: are we prepared to commit to its demands?
When: 3 Nov 2022, 18:00 – 19:30 UTC
Where: TU Dublin, Grangegorman Campus
Synchronous Live Stream will be available.
This panel brings together a set of scholars who engage with questions of digital colonialism in diverse ways – from the colonisation of space by tech companies to using digital media to build anticolonial social movements. They also draw on different forms of critique offering us a wide view of how we might continue to decolonise the internet.
Technocolonialism: when ‘technology for good’ can be harmful.
Prof. Mirca Madianou, Goldsmiths University of London
In my talk I will put forward the notion of technocolonialism which I’ve been developing to explain the ways that digital innovation, automation and data practices revitalize colonial legacies in the humanitarian and international development sectors, which often exemplify ‘technology-for-social good’ initiatives. Technocolonialism refers to the convergence of digital developments with the structures of the aid sector and market forces and the extent to which they reinvigorate and rework colonial genealogies. Technocolonialism shifts the attention to the constitutive role that data and digital innovation play in entrenching power asymmetries in the global context. Drawing on eight years of research in the aid sector, I observe that colonial genealogies are reworked by extracting value from the data of affected communities; by experimenting with untested technologies in humanitarian settings; by materializing racial discrimination and dehumanizing suffering; and by justifying these practices under the context of ‘emergencies’. As always, colonial structures are met with resistance. Even if contestation is asymmetrically structured, it contains the seeds of future decolonial struggle.
Prof. Mirca Madianou is Professor in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her current research focuses on the social consequences of communication technologies, data and automation in the global south especially in relation to migration and humanitarian emergencies. She is the author of Mediating the Nation: news, audiences and the politics of identity and Migration and New Media: transnational families and polymedia (with Daniel Miller).
Imperial technologies: Marconi, data centres and anti-colonial politics
Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, Maynooth University
In Ireland today, climate and energy discourses are grappling with the presence of multinational tech companies and their data centres. As the data centre industry grows, and along with it an infrastructural system of gas generators, wind turbines, overhead pylons, battery farms, and fibre-optic cables to support it, the rural character and politics of these infrastructural developments are surfacing in new ways. This talk situates debates over foreign direct investment, state development policy, rural politics and climate change within an earlier history of energy-intensive media infrastructure in Ireland. In 1907, the first commercial transatlantic radio service from Clifden, Connemara, to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, was established, ushering in the age of wireless transatlantic communication. Wireless but not immaterial, the signal was powered by peat extracted from the surrounding bogland landscape in Connemara. The Clifden station was the private venture of the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, and one of many test-sites that would enable the Marconi Company to develop, commercialise and extend wireless communications across imperial territories. Attacked by Republican forces in 1922, the Marconi Company abandoned the Clifden station soon after amid a wider and epochal shift in the country’s infrastructure and economy in the postcolonial era. In this talk, I will address the theme of decolonising the internet by discussing Ireland’s role in facilitating the growth of the global tech industry and how this emerges from longer colonial histories and imperial geographies of media technology.
Dr. Patrick Bresnihan is a lecturer in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University. He works across the interdisciplinary fields of political ecology, science and technology studies, and environmental humanities. His research looks at different but related concerns around water, land, and energy in Ireland and how these speak to broader questions of colonial and postcolonial development, environmental politics and the ‘green’ transition.
South-to-South Media Activism and Artivism: Critiques, Possibilities, and Alternatives to Technocolonialism
Dr. Andrea Medrado, University of Westminster
Drawing from ethnographic research, this paper analyses how creative digital media practices can be used as tools for movement building in the Global South. It shares experiences from favela collectives in Brazil and artivist hubs in Kenya, evoking decolonial and intersectional feminist perspectives. It proposes an understanding of media activism that privileges (plural) Global South contexts by connecting it to two axes: a) establishing dialogical spaces and b) mobilising memories and histories. This conceptualisation of South-to-South dialogues builds upon notions that stem from Latin American and African thinking, such as pluriversality (Gudynas, 2011) and conviviality (Mano and Milton, 2021); incompleteness (Nyamnjoh, 2017) and humility (Freire, 2017; Suzina and Tufte, 2020). Inspired by an “us by us” philosophy articulated by “crias de favela” (favela offspring) in Brazil, the paper demonstrates how studies of digital media and social movements sometimes take the “us” for granted, neglecting that building a “we” is a key part of movement building. “We” doesn’t exist unless it is imagined, created, and nurtured via South-to-South dialogues. In this way, people manage to transform a mark of stigma into a source of pride, reshaping the identity that is supposed to erode their self-worth into a basis for South-to-South solidarity. One way to maintain the legacy of those who fight for social justice is to share their stories from the margins. These stories are connective. These connections can be transformative. These transformations can be powerful.
Dr Andrea Medrado is a Lecturer at the University of Westminster. She also worked as an Associate Professor at the Federal Fluminense University. Andrea is the P-I for the project “AI for Social Good?” and was the Co-I for the “e-Voices Redressing Marginality” Network (AHRC). She is currently IAMCR’s Vice President. Her book “South-to-South Communication”, co-authored with Isabella Rega, will be published by Routledge in 2023.