Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Research Seminar

Media, Race and the Infrastructures of Empire

Monday 20 March 2023
Pieter de la Court

Uneven, extractive and racist media infrastructures have long (dis)connected the world divided by imperialism. Yet, from the 1990s, discussions about the media and computing have predominantly focused on the ways in which our world has been positively transformed by new digital technologies and novel forms of global connectivity. So, what does the telegraph, the newspaper, the radio, television, the Internet, or AI have to do with empire building? 

By examining the complex role of modern media and information infrastructures in the making of European and U.S. empires through the long 20th century of opposition, this talk focuses on the 21st century entanglements of imperial crises and the rise of competing geopolitical technological rivals. More recently, new mediated social movements, including Rhodes Must Fall, the calls for abolition in the wake of the state murder of George Floyd, the call for “open borders” for migrants and refugees from the global South in Europe and the U.S., to global movements for indigenous sovereignty and the liberation of Palestine and Kashmir from colonial occupation, have together brought to light the enduring power of European and U.S. imperialism. By tackling how the history of European and American colonialism characterize our understandings of commercial media technologies and mediation, while also addressing how modern racism, Islamophobia and white supremacy prevent a critical public awareness of both media histories, it is possible to begin to envision the decolonial possibilities for our mediated futures. This objective provides a way out of the binary trap of hope and despair about the role of mediation in shaping political possibilities. Whether following the insights of Benjamin or Fanon, the point is not what digital infrastructures undo but how they maintain and allow politics to continue. 

Bio Miriyam Aouragh

Dr. Miriyam Aouragh is Reader in digital anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa at Westminster University, London. She analyses how the contradictions of capitalism shape the modes and meanings of resistance in the era of revolution and digital transformations. These analyses are grounded in the complex revolutionary dynamics in the Arab world. Dr. Aouragh studies what she calls the "techno-social politics” of a political temporality marked by revolution and counter-revolution. She wrote about the paradoxical context of online-revolution and cyber-imperialism. All her academic projects entail extended fieldwork (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco), in order to relate participant observation and interviews to media analyses. Aouragh is involved in numerous international collaborations where the central focus revolves around solidarity, critical race, political-economy, empire and infrastructures.

            Her publications include Palestine Online (IB Tauris 2011), (with Hamza Hamouchene) The Arab Spring a decade on about Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the transformation of a region (TNI 2022), Mediating the Makhzan about the (r)evolutionary dynamics in Morocco (forthcoming 2023) and (with Paula Chakravartty) Infrastructures of Empire (2024).

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