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Accepted paper:

Activist knowledge production through digital rights activism in Myanmar

Author:

Benedict Mette-Starke (University of Constance)

Paper short abstract:

This panel contribution focuses on collaborative knowledge production as both a means and a limitation to an engaged media anthropology of digital rights activism in Myanmar. Can knowledge production through alliances mediate inequalities in knowledge production?

Paper long abstract:

Working as an anthropologist in relation to digital rights activism in Myanmar necessitates engagement, in both the sense of direct participation and critical studies. Digital rights activism both works through digital media as well as critically on the digital.

My interlocutors produce knowledge as a support for activism and to grasp processes otherwise subject to interpretation, like who disseminated which news for what reason. Through collaboration, I get to critically engage and contribute to their activist knowledge production. The facticity of their research helps activists, for instance, in carving out spaces for ‚free speech' and against ‚hate speech'. Through their campaigns and advocacy, they try to build sustainable non-violent infrastructures.

The freedoms they envision in the process are sometimes encompassed within human rights, e.g. freedom of expression. Addressing human rights could land people in jail until the recent so called 'opening up' (Wiles 2015; Chua 2018). What kinds of privileges rights entail today and who accepts them is not fixed, both when it comes to social media companies and locals. Therefore, activism depends on relating through difference. While they are envisioning an inclusive future through their relations and alliances, who is supposed to be included in what on a larger scale remains an issue.

As a remainder, those alliances, with others and me, potentially disrupt the encompassing (compare Strathern 1988) or totalising (compare Rio and Smedal 2008) tendencies in knowledge production. They can contravene empire building locally, through leaders who accrue fame, as well as in knowledge production.

panel P015
Engaged media anthropology in the digital age [Media Anthropology Network]