Notes | Critical Commentary Negotiating Engines of Difference

Posted on Sep 23, 2021

ISSN: 2380-332 | Source: Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience | Authors: Lily Irani & Kavita Philip


Postcolonial theory focuses on British Empire and comes out of South Asian histiography (2). The authors caution against relying on narratives that focus too heavily on the impacts of British rule when indigenous populations of the Americas and the countries of South America have distinct impacts from US colonialism. The authors then navigate the ways in which decolonial and anti-colonial practices were used to reify imperial powers during the mid-twentieth-century. The conclude by focusing on how capitalism and technonationalism are able to not just valorize difference but to also “massage, de-construct, and re-construct difference into forms that can live well with capital (Foucault, 2008 (1978-79)).” (7)

Quotes & Observations

“Without an analysis of capital and of power within difference, how do we decolonize new techno-nationalisms that re-invent indigeneity as modern power, while seeking legitimacy with ongoing imperial formations of the nation-state and capital?” (3)

The authors then point out that globalization did not require a flattening of the world in order to increase their profits. In fact, they adopted the narratives of difference, indigeneity, and variation across the flows of capital. Examples of this include adding tandoori to a Pizza Hut menu or Bean Pastries in Shanghai (5). These efforts created resilient capital flows rather than a strong, sustained resistance to them. (6).

“The mid-twentieth-century transfer of sovereignty to formerly colonized nations was, in some imperial visions, regarded as a mere legal formalism – a transition to a different mode of white trusteeship in which imperial global influence was to be re-forged through novel economic and cultural mechanisms that would place markets rather than militaries, and trade rather than territory, at the center of global networks.” (4)

I wonder if or how this dovetails with McKenzie Warck’s work with Vectoralism? Where the mid-twentieth century had Western countries sowing debt, disorder, and economic strangulation in order to control companies, the present moment is focused on this same control through the exports of large multi-national technology companies.

“Decolonization was not a straightforward, liberating process. Rather, it was a contest over the very meaning of liberation itself. As the century wore on, the terms of anti-colonial nationalism grew in many directions, including sectarian leftisms and authoritarian populisms. The anti-colonial coat served to cloak the holes in the spaces of practice, administration, and governance that needed to be repared; yet often it was expedient to continue inhabiting colonial institutional structures” (5)

This quote is here to remind me to do further reading on the topic of decolonization appropriated by imperial powers towards their own ends.

“The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the US Department of State encourage start-ups, hackathons, and “innovation cultures” to redirect energized, dangerous Third World bodies away from terrorism into entrepreneurship.

This has echoes of the “Learn to Code” mantra in the US.

“Firms do not simply try to obliterate difference; rather, they study difference as a tactic of transforming citizen-subjects into consumer-entrepreneurs through techniques of empathetic design thinking and NGO partnerships” (7)

“Culture and innovation industries now systematically take up counterhegemonic efforts, profitably stripping them of their activist intent (Costanza-Chock, 2018, p.12).” A celebration of difference alone is not enough to sustain a pluriverse – a “world where many worlds fit” (Escobar, 2018, p.16).

These last two pieces clearly elucidate the point that by and large capitalism can always co-opt a movement and have it exist within its own bounds. The point here that I find important is that merely decentralizing our computing infrastructure will not necessarily yield liberatory results.

References to Read

“The Wretech of the Earth”, Fanon, F.

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