Accepted Paper:

Economies of appearances: information technology and the management of (in)visibility in the Brazilian Amazon  


Theodore Vurdubakis (Lancaster University)
Raoni Rajão (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais)

Paper short abstract:

The paper draws upon an on-going study of the technologically mediated management of Amazonian deforestation. Focusing on its sociotechnical apparatuses of visibility it seeks to explore and highlight how the various labours of making-(in)visible are actually performed and with what consequences.

Paper long abstract:

It is by now commonplace, that Atlantic Modernity routinely seeks solutions for problems of social order and organization in technologies of visibility.

There is an already large, and growing, body of work that seeks to understand how various such technologies of 'visibility' (whether this is glossed as "transparency" or its evil twin "surveillance") emerge as self-evident solutions to problems of manage-ability. The satellite en-visioning of Amazonia is instructive in this respect. In many ways the 'jungle' appears to stand, literally as well as metaphorically, as the Other of Order and Organization. It can be rendered manageable only insofar as its opacity is penetrated and is made transparent in particular ways. At the same time, there is a need to focus on how envisioning technologies function in practice rather than merely on how they are supposed to function. That is to say, to study institutional visibility and transparency in terms of situated performances; as products of specific, potentially unstable, sociomaterial configurations of instruments, practices and counter-practices. Particular 'visibility regimes' typically make their objects visible in some ways but not in others. Anthropologists have used the term "unknowledge" (Mathews, 2011) to describe such present absences: specific forms of intimate local and organizational knowledge which must as it were, be kept out of sight in order to ensure the success of particular organizing projects and systematizations.

Panel V07
Data infrastructures: practices and consequences