Accepted paper:

The edges of vitality: race, infrastructure, and the moral boundaries of the state


Norma Möllers (Queen's University)

Paper short abstract:

Analyzing political discourse on cybersecurity in Germany, this paper explores how states use race to draw moral boundaries around themselves in cyberspace.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how race figures in making what I call "digital territory," that is, the ways in which states use race to draw moral boundaries around themselves in cyberspace. Drawing on an analysis of political discourse on cybersecurity in Germany, I show how government officials draw on familiar colonial tropes of civilizing 'primitive' and 'uncivilized' peoples and spaces both internal and external to the nation-state. My analysis reveals a pattern which follows familiar historical geopolitical lines. Shrinking global infrastructure into a few geopolitical blocks plus the entirety of the Muslim community (what one official calls "the digital ummah"), race, gender, and sexuality serve as important organizing principles of drawing moral boundaries around who and what should be protected: the urgency of threats to German sovereignty are emphasized through gendered and racialized constructions of feminized softness, purity, openness, and vulnerability of infrastructure on the one hand, and masculinized, and racialized aggressors on the other. These discourses are far from contained: After 2015 - the height of the so-called 'migrant crisis' - German politicians begin switching effortlessly between cybersecurity, Islamic terrorism, and issues around migration. The centrality of race as biopolitical technology in territorializing cyberspace raises troubling questions about when, where, and how data traces to bodies, and how cyberspace traces to place.

panel E08
Topologies of race: bringing a touchy object in STS