Decolonizing ‘Datafication’ Discourse

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

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Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), presented a paper in the panel on ‘Colonising and Decolonising Data’ at Data Justice 2018, an international conference hosted by the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University May 21-22 2018.

Here is the title and abstract:

Decolonizing ‘Datafication’ Discourse

It has been claimed that the ‘datafication’ of society has resulted in the emergence of a new set of power dynamics requiring investigation and critique. While conceding that the paradigm of ‘Big Data’, coupled with other developments such as the Internet of Things, data mining and deep learning, indeed gives rise to changed sociotechnical formations, building on arguments made in connection with the proposal for a ‘decolonial computing’ (Ali 2014, 2016, 2017), I suggest that this claim needs to be interrogated with a view to exploring the continuity through change of power relationships between different groups in the world system. Adopting a critical race theoretical and decolonial perspective, I want to draw attention to certain ‘silences’ / ‘erasures’ in discourses associated with the ‘critical’ literature on algorithm/data studies which tend to be framed, tacitly or explicitly, against the backdrop of a world system understood as capitalist / neoliberal, thereby obscuring its origins in racialized colonialism, a long durée project that continues into the post-colonial era through the persistence of ‘coloniality’ – that is, structuring colonial logics. Notwithstanding a certain rhetorical overkill of the ‘datafication’ discourse by its proponents – a form of deception that arguably affords rhetorical power to hegemonic coloniality – such developments can – and do – contribute to maintaining, expanding and refining modern/colonial domination. For this reason, I argue for the need to consider both the rhetoric and the techno-scientific socio-material reality and affordances of ‘Big Data’ and associated developments engaged by both its proponents and critics alike.

For example, there has been a tendency within critical data/algorithm studies to focus on methods obscuring issues of ‘positionality’ – that is, racialized location within the world system – and resulting in such discourses being framed in tacit Eurocentric-universalist terms. For this reason, such discourses must be complemented with a decolonial ‘meta-critique’ disclosing the abstract, homogenizing biases informing such narratives. Similar problems arise in connection with discourses involving ideas such as the ‘Big Data divide’, ‘data colonialism’ and ‘surveillance capitalism’, the latter referring to an ‘emergent logic of accumulation in the networked sphere’. In this connection, I want to suggest that if the analytic frame is shifted from capitalism to racialized-coloniality, it is more useful to think about such developments in terms of ‘surveillance colonialism’ and an emergent logic of domination in the networked sphere, such logic standing in a (re-)productive relation vis-à-vis historically prior yet persistent logics of coloniality and affecting differently-marked bodies located in different geo-political locations differently. I further maintain that a shift in frame from ‘surveillance capitalism’ to ‘surveillance colonialism’ provides the means by which to decolonially-interrogate developments associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) and their mobilization in ICT4D discourses; on this view, the IoT needs to be understood in terms of a refinement of the logics of domination, an ‘iterative’ shift away from overtly political strategies of control embedded in ‘participatory’ ‘aid’ projects, to one involving domination through the dissemination and embedding of standards and closed-source platforms along with what might be described as ‘data settler colonialism’ via non-human technological proxy, viz. sensor devices as ‘digital settlers’ originating in ‘the core’ of the modern/colonial world system and embedded in ‘the periphery’ – a case of ‘from boots on the ground to bits in the ground’.

Finally, I want to argue for the need to interrogate how justice is framed in calls for ‘data justice’, and the nature of the relationship, if any, between such calls and related calls for compensation / reparations vis-à-vis the ongoing ‘legacy effects’ of European colonialism.

REFERENCES

Ali, S.M. (2017) Decolonizing Information Narratives: Entangled Apocalyptics, Algorithmic Racism and the Myths of History. DTMD 2017: 6th International Conference. In: IS4IS Summit Gothenburg 2017 – Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society, 12-16 June, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Ali, S.M. (2016) A Brief Introduction to Decolonial Computing. XRDS, Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students – Cultures of Computing 22(4): 16-21.

Ali, S.M. (2014) Towards a Decolonial Computing. In Ambiguous Technologies: Philosophical issues, Practical Solutions, Human Nature: Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Computer Ethics –Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE 2013). Edited by Elizabeth A. Buchanan, Paul B, de Laat, Herman T. Tavani and Jenny Klucarich. Portugal: International Society of Ethics and Information Technology, pp.28-35.

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‘White Crisis’ and/as ‘Existential Threat’, or The Entangled Apocalypticism of Artificial Intelligence

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali at the CenSAMM AI and Apocalypse Symposium 2018

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), delivered the following paper at the Conference on Artificial Intelligence and The Apocalypse organised by CenSAMM (Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements), a new initiative of the Panacea Charitable Trust in Bedford, UK, which took place 5-6 April 2018:

‘White Crisis’ and/as ‘Existential Threat’, or The Entangled Apocalypticism of Artificial Intelligence

Interested viewers can watch the presentation which is available on YouTube:

Complete recordings of the two days proceedings (talks, panel discussions etc.) are available here.

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Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #63

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

What happens when the barbarians at the gates either wish to reject pedagogical dependence or elect to construct alternative spatio-temporal horizons? (p.105)

Extract taken from Pasha, Mustapha Kamal (2017) “Decolonizing The Anarchical Society.” In ‘The Anarchical Society’ at 40. Edited by M. Carr, A. Humphreys and H. Suganami. Oxford: OUP.

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TALK: Decolonising Information

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Interested readers are invited to check out the slides accompanying a short invited presentation entitled ‘Decolonising Computing’ given by Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University, UK.

The talk was delivered as part of a workshop on diversity and inclusion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teaching at the 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference: STEM FuturesSupporting Students to Succeed which took place on 25-26 April 2017 at The Open University.

The slides (PDF format) are available for viewing / download from here.

Interested readers are invited to check out the following related materials:

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REFLECTION: Who is in Charge of The Future of The Internet?

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

I’m currently reading a paper entitled “Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big Data and the Global South” (2016) by non-white / Indian female, Payal Arora, Associate Professor, Department of Media & Communication Faculty of History, Culture and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam. The paper is available (in PDF format) here.

On her blog, The 3L Mantra to live by! A mashup of Labor, Leisure & Learning, Arora describes herself as follows:

Payal Arora - About Me.jpg

Suffice to say, I was not too impressed with this rather auto-Orientalising self-description, nor with the following TED presentation she delivered:

Interested and discerning Counter-Racist / decolonial viewers are invited to consider:

  1. how she frames the relation between the non-white / non-Western ‘periphery’ and the white / Western ‘core’ of the modern/colonial world system of global White Supremacy (Racism) in terms of ‘the poor’ and ‘the rich’, i.e. in race-less / de-raced / un-raced economistic terms.
  2. how she assimilates peripheral / Oriental behaviours to (tacitly universalised) core / Occidental behaviours by first talking about the history of ‘leisure’ in a (19th Century) European / Western class-based context, and then projecting categories (leisure and labour) from the core to the periphery on the post-colonial (sic) basis that “they are like us”. Who is this us that this non-white female is associating herself (and other non-white people) with / assimilating herself (and other non-white) to?

While it might appear that such a move is intended to overcome a legacy of colonial ‘othering’ which sees ‘them’ as essentially different to ‘us’, it is important to appreciate that this is being attempted by appealing to Eurocentric / West-centric norms. In short, her project is one of (neo)liberal inclusion within (covertly racialised yet overtly race-less) capitalist logics.

I would suggest that Arora’s discourse is postcolonial rather than decolonial, being economistically-framed in terms of inclusive capitalism. She completely fails to understand the intrinsically racialised nature of capitalist logics of accumulation, something that the late black Marxist scholar Cedric Robinson discussed in detail, as have critical race and decolonial scholars more recently.

Ultimately, while Arora’s critique of Big Data / datafication is useful, it is limited, and as to the question ‘Who is in Charge of The Future of The Internet?’, does that question really need to be asked?

Peace

REFLECTION: Decolonize The New Year

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

DC.jpg

The New Year of the Gregorian calendar, i.e. 2017, is soon to descend upon ‘The World’, and in what follows I should like to offer an extended reflection on why I think (attempted) Muslims – and other people having different calendar systems for which their New Year arrives on a different date – should distance themselves from commemorating – and it is a commemoration – the occasion of “New Year’s Eve”. Continue reading

Is This The Future?

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Is This The Future..JPG

  1. Climate Change Escalating So Fast It is ‘Beyond Point of No Return’
  2. Elon Musk Announces His Plan to Colonize Mars and Save Humanity
  3. UK Military will use Artificially Intelligent Lasers to Expand Britain’s Economic Empire

Despite my researvations about the necessity – let alone desirability – of embracing an ‘apocalyptic‘ outlook, if only to understand the thought, speech and/or action of Racist (White Supremacist) man and woman, I think developments such as these, viz. (1) possibly irreversible climate change, (2) extra-terrestrial expansion of colonial/modernity = systemic White Supremacy (Racism), and (3) the rise of the machines under ‘the megamachine’ that is postmodernity/postcoloniality, need to be considered in terms of their ‘entanglement’ with each other and other related developments.

Beyond this, there is the question concerning the possible relevance of the following somewhat obscure Qur’anic signs / indicators (ayaat) to consider:

(55:37) When the sky is rent asunder, and it becomes red like ointment…

(55:33) O assembly of jinn and ins. If it be that you can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, then pass. Yet not without authority shall you be able to pass.

(27:82) And when the word is fulfilled against them, we shall produce from the earth a beast to speak to them for that mankind did not believe with assurance in Our Signs.

Peace