Decolonizing ‘Datafication’ Discourse

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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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The (Un)bearable Whiteness of Informationalist Religion

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali at OURS2018Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), delivered the following presentation at the OURS2018 Conference Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective: Publics and Performances which was held at The Open University, Kents Hill, Milton Keynes, February 19-21, 2018:

The (Un)bearable Whiteness of Informationalist Religion

ABSTRACT

Against the backdrop of earlier work exploring ‘entanglements’ of race and information (Ali 2013), information, race, religion and Orientalism (Ali 2015), and the sedimented anti-Islamic historically-constitutive ‘essence’ of European cum ‘Western’ socio-political formation (Ali 2017a), I have recently argued that late techno-capitalist developments such as Transhumanism and technological Posthumanism are usefully interpreted as ‘iterations’ of the phenomenon of whiteness within a long durée modern/colonial ‘Western’ historical onto-logics that might be characterized as ‘algorithmic racism’ – more specifically, as a response to perceived ‘White Crisis’ or whiteness under increasing non-white contestation (Ali 2017b). Drawing on the insights of Noble (1997), Davis (1998) and others, I have also argued that Transhumanism / technological Posthumanism might – should – also be understood as a techno-apocalyptic (millennial) ‘religious’ phenomenon, iterative within the same algorithmically-racist ontological ‘horizon’ (Ali 2016) (Ali 2017c).

In this paper, I continue the exploration of the entanglement of race, religion and information by situating Transhumanism and technological Posthumanism in the context of broader ‘informationalist’ currents that include ‘New Religious Movements’ (NRMs) emerging within ‘Western’ societies such as Anthony Levandowski’s ‘Way of the Future’ and ‘Syntheism’ as proposed by Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist (2014). My concern is to subject such developments to critical race theoretical and decolonial interrogation along body-political, geo-political and theo-political lines with a view to disclosing the hegemonic yet masked operation of whiteness, Orientalism and post-Christianity against the backdrop of an ‘algorithmically racist’ techno-apocalyptic/utopian ontological horizon.

REFERENCES

  • Ali, S.M. (2017a) Islam between Inclusion and Exclusion: A (Decolonial) Frame Problem. In The Future Information Society: Social and Technological Problems. Edited by Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Mark Burgin. Singapore, World Scientific, pp.287-305.
  • Ali, S.M. (2017b) Transhumanism and/as Whiteness. Transhumanism – The Proper Guide to a Posthuman Condition or a Dangerous Idea? Workshop. In: IS4IS Summit Gothenburg 2017 – Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society, 12-16 June, Gothenburg, Sweden. Proceedings 2017, 1(3), 244; doi:10.3390/IS4SI-2017-03985
  • Ali, S.M. (2017c) 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. Proceedings 2017, 1, 50; doi:10.3390/IS4SI-2017-03910
  • Ali, S.M. (2016) Algorithmic Racism: A Decolonial Critique. 10th International Society for the Study of religion, Nature and Culture Conference: Religion, Science and The Future. University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, January 14-17.
  • Ali, S.M. (2015) Orientalism and/as Information: The Indifference That Makes a Difference. DTMD 2015: 3rd International Conference. In: IS4IS Summit Vienna 2015 – The Information Society at the Crossroads, 3 – 7 June, Vienna, Austria. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/isis-summit-vienna-2015-S1005.
  • Ali, S.M. (2013) Race: The Difference That Makes a Difference. tripleC 11 (1): 93-106.
  • Bard, A. and Söderqvist, J. (2014) Syntheism: Creating God in the Internet Age. Stockholm: Stockholm Text.
  • Davis, E. (1998) Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Noble, D. (1997) The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. New York: Penguin Books.

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Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #68

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

[The normative hierarchical binary associated with the Westphalian conception of the world] has been used to justify the notion that Western states should follow different norms and principles toward non-Western societies as these societies have different norms, principles, and institutions. While non-Western societies were gradually admitted into international society, international society continues to expand its normative scope, reaching higher levels of religious and political tolerance. Paradoxically, the Westphalian international society has deepened more rapidly than it has widened: the normative gap in the origins of the emergence of international society between Western and non-Western societies and the disparities of progress between them means that non-Western societies must perpetually chase the progress of Western states and the European order.The normative divergence will persist because Western societies continuously evolve  faster than the non-Western states are socialized by adopting the existing norms, principles, and institutions. Perpetual progress of the Western normative order will continue to sustain a normative hierarchy in which the non-Western tortoise will never catch the European hare. (p.196)

Extract taken from Kayaoglu, T. (2010) Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory. International Studies Review 12: 193–217.

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Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #64

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

A case could be made that racism was the meta-ideology that framed other ideologies, in the sense that its assumptions were in broad outline shared among political theorists with seemingly starkly divergent views (conservative, liberal, socialist). (p.221)

Achieving a new world will require an admission of the white lies that have been central to the making of our current unjust and unhappy planet. Global justice demands, as a necessary prerequisite, the ending of global white ignorance. (p.225)

Extracts taken from “Global White Ignorance” by Charles W. Mills. In Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies. Edited by Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. New York: Routledge, 2015.

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LINKS: The Critique and Redemption (?) of Racialised Liberalism

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Two important pieces by critical race philosopher, Professor Charles W. Mills, the first exploring a critique of liberalism as racialized, the second attempting to redeem liberalism through fusing it with the black radical tradition:

  1. The Critique of Racial Liberalism (2017)
  2. Black Radical Liberalism (2015)

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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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