Capitalism, regimes of surveillance and the Covid-19 pandemics: lessons from China and Beyond
The Covid-19 pandemics has shed light and exacerbated pre-existing global regimes of surveillance articulating state bio-political power and the increasingly invasive tech-enabled security industry. This webinar will discuss how ethno-racialized populations such as Uighurs in North-West China or immigrants in the US have become the targets of processes of “digital enclosure” and “digital confinement”. It will also explore what effects these complex configurations of surveillance produce and how they are being resisted.
- Darren Byler (Simon Fraser University, Canada):
Professor Darren Byler’s talk will address the way flexible enclosures, policing grid workers, and automated assessment tools shape political subjectivity, labor practices and state power in Northwest China. It will show how neighborhood level policing and super-panoptic surveillance used in a "People’s War" on terrorism, has been adapted to manage both public health and discipline the body politic.
- Vanessa Frangville (Université Libre de Bruxelles/EASt, Belgium) :
Surveillance in the Uyghur region was at the heart of several episodes of Anar Pishti (Ch.: shiliu shule 石榴熟了), a Uyghur-language web series launched in February 2016 by a team of young Uyghurs and Kazakhs based in Ürümchi. Behind sarcasm, parody and spoofs, Anar Pishti provided a powerful insight on State’s pervasiveness in Uyghur society. Focusing on a few selected examples, this talk will show how a humorous online series subtly revealed, between 2016 and 2017, in what ways everyday life was monitored and ordinary people became increasingly vulnerable to intrusion in every corner of their lives.
- Carolina Sanchez Boe (University of Aarhus, Denmark and Université Paris Descartes, France):
In a rare alliance, both human rights defenders, immigration lawyers and for-profit actors from the prison industrial complex have promoted electronic monitoring as a more humane and cost-effective ‘alternative’ to immigration detention in the USA. However, rather than being an alternative, ICE statistics show how the numbers of immigrants detained and the numbers of immigrants submitted to electronic monitoring have both risen exponentially during the past decade, in a parallel development, creating major benefits for for-profit prison corporations. The calls to “Free Them All” during the pandemic led to free immigrants from detention centres with either ankle monitors or facial recognition software app SmartLINK, a practise which is currently amplified by the Biden administration. Based on collaborative anthropological fieldwork with monitored migrants, the presentation will analyze the embodied effects of ‘digital confinement’, or being geo-located and tracked through monitors strapped on one’s ankle and through facial recognition apps installed on one’s phone, and discuss why migrants themselves do not consider electronic monitoring to be an alternative to detention, and even less so, a more humane one.
Chair and discussant: Ralph Litzinger (Duke University, USA)
Darren Byler is a sociocultural anthropologist whose teaching and research examines the dispossession of stateless populations through forms of contemporary capitalism and colonialism in China, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. His monograph, Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press, 2021), examines emerging forms of media, infrastructure, economics, and politics in the Uyghur homeland in Chinese Central Asia (Ch: Xinjiang). The book, which is based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork among Uyghur and Han internal male migrants, argues that Chinese authorities and technologists have made Uyghurs the object of what it names “terror capitalism.” It shows that this emergent form of internal colonialism and capitalist frontier-making utilizes a post-9/11 discourse of terrorism, what he shows produces a novel sequence of racialization, to justify state investment in a wide array of policing and social engineering systems.
Vanessa Frangville is Senior Lecturer in China Studies at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), director of ULB’s research centre on East Asia (EASt), and co-director of Routledge’s “Contemporary Asian Societies” series. Her research deals with cultural policy and audiovisual production in the People’s Republic of China. She published several articles on cinema about Chinese “minority” or “non-Han” ethnic groups, including articles on Tibetan cinema. Her current projects deal with cultural and artistic expressions of trauma and nostalgia in the Uyghur diaspora since 2018, with a focus on performative and audio-visual arts.
Carolina Sanchez Boe, Ph.D, is an anthropologist and sociologist. Her current project Digital Confinement. The Reconfigurations of Borders and Detention Through New Technologies is funded by a Carlsberg Foundation Grant at IMC, Aarhus University, and she is affiliated with CERLIS, Université de Paris and SADR, City University of New York. Boe’s research is dedicated to the anthropology of confinement, and migration control in the shapes of deportation, prisons, electronic monitoring and facial recognition, primarily in France and the USA. She has worked for non-profit organizations in these fields, including American Friends’ Service Committee, Cette France-là, Cimade, and the Prison Litigation Network.
Ralph Litzinger is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. His early research focused on the culture and politics of ethnicity, nationalism, and post-socialism in China. He has published on Marxist nationality theory in China, on ethnic politics in the post-Cold War global order, on gender and ethnic representation, and on ethnographic film, photography, and popular culture. Other Chinas: the Yao and the Politics of National Belonging (Duke University Press, 2000) was the first major ethnographic study to examine the work and writing of minority intellectuals in the imagining of post-socialist futures. Litzinger’s more recent research engages with questions of border ecologies, bio-politics, activism and advocacy in labor, migrant education rights.
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