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Ethnography and the (geo-)politics of digital infrastructures 
Bernd Kasparek (Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-University Berlin)
Karin Krifors (REMESO Ethnic and Migration Studies)
Alexander Harder (Humboldt-University Berlin)
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Wednesday 24 July, -, -
Time zone: Europe/Madrid
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Short Abstract:

The panel invites contributions that empirically discuss the politics of digital infrastructures. The aim is to organise a conceptual and methodological discussion concerning the relationship between ethnography, digital infrastructures and the contemporary geopolitical conjuncture.

Long Abstract:

Digital and programmable infrastructures (Gürses, Poon et al. 2020) have become ubiquitous in our world. Submarine cables, radio antennas, data centers and network protocols were traditionally considered the hidden framework for instantaneous communication and exchange. In recent years, they have emerged as objects of anthropological study (Parks and Starosielski 2015, Hogan and Vonderau 2019) but increasingly also as topics of global political concern: Telecommunication networks such as 5G, the supply-chains for semiconductors, the standardization of internet protocols, digital financial infrastructures from SWIFT to Bitcoin – all have become battlegrounds for geopolitical and -economic conflicts over spheres of influence and sovereignty. Such examples highlight the entanglement of our digital lives with global interdependencies and conflicts. They also shed light on an emerging landscape of power, where influence is wielded through the control of data flows, the production of microchips or the establishment of communication standards.

Such an observation poses two challenges that this panel will tackle. Conceptually, we want to ask how contemporary political power evolves when it is exercised through and over digital infrastructures. Are we witnessing the production of new modes of governance and political collectivity, or a re-emergence of the old? Methodologically, the situation presents the challenge for anthropology to link these developments and everyday lives beyond tech-subcultures. How can fieldwork be designed in such a way that it avoids producing neat connections between large scale infrastructural projects and popular senses of integrity, financial agency, labor autonomy and more, maintaining the possibility of articulating political subjectivity “from below”?

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -
Session 2 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -