AoIR October 2018

We will be presenting our work at The 19th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, Montréal, Canada / 10-13 October 2018.

Here is the abstract of our talk:


This presentation will argue that the ‘material turn’ in internet research must include an analysis of how contemporary practices of data extraction and processing replicate colonial modes of exploitation. Using a macrosociology of capitalism as our research method, we present the concept of ‘data colonialism’ as a tool to analyze emerging forms of political control and economic dispossession. Regardless of how evocative metaphors like “data is the new oil” might be, we argue that data colonialism can in fact be empirically defined and studied. To this effect, our analysis engages the disciplines of critical political economy, sociology of media, and postcolonial science and technology studies to trace continuities from colonialism’s historic appropriation of territories and material resources to the datafication of everyday life today. We argue that while the modes, intensities, scales and contexts of dispossession have changed, the underlying function remains the same: to acquire resources from which economic value can be extracted. Just as historic colonialism paved the way for industrial capitalism, this phase of colonialism prepares the way for a new economic order. In this context, we analyze the ideologies and rationalities through which data relations—social relations conducted and organized via data processes—contribute to the capitalization of human life. Our findings hold important implications for how we study the internet, and how we may advocate for the decolonization of internet research in the future.