AOIR2018: acceptance and rejection

Good and bad news: I have been accepted as part of a panel for AOIR2018 in Montreal, but my own paper was rejected. I’ve decided to share information on both here, and go into my thoughts on the rejection below.

Roundtable Session (accepted):

Digital Materialities and their environmental damages

Adi Kuntsman1, Nathanael Bassett2, Zane Cooper3, Rian Wanstreet4, Emily West5

1Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom; 2University of Illinois at Chicago, USA; 3University of Pennsylvania, USA; 4University of Washington, USA; 5University of Massachusetts Amherst

This session addresses a crucial aspect of transnational materialities, albeit one rarely interrogated within Internet studies: the environmental damages inflicted by digital communication technologies through mining, infrastructures, e-waste, and energy demands to sustain the ever-growing digital data. At present, governments, industries and even sustainability science largely subscribe to what we call “digital solutionism”: digital technologies (smart devices, Apps, on-line environments, Big Data) are overwhelmingly adopted as “game changing” tools of environmentally sustainable practices, failing to address these technologies’ own environmental harms. Internet studies’ insufficient attention to harmful materialities of the digital might partly be the reason for such myopia. Our session aims to remedy that, by setting up a debate that takes place at the intersection of critical environmental and sustainability studies and media/digital cultures/Internet/data studies. We ask:

* How does digital capitalism create new forms of environmental toll, via algorithmic and tracking technologies, accelerating the speed of exchange and extending the reach of distribution of material goods via e-commerce?

* What kind of governance structures and discourses around “innovation” shape the rise of algorithmically controlled agricultural tools? How does that affect the subsequent reinforcement of deleterious environmental policies and institutions?

* What is the role of the increasing material convergence of energy and data futures, in the emergence of cryprocurrency, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things?

* What are the harms and implications of oil and pipelines as physical precursors of information economy? What are the relations between mineral extraction, energy consumption and data generation?

* Can we consider digital non-use as a form of resistance if we take into account both humans and animals, affected by the information economy but unable to escape its effects?

* How can we think about digital materialities more responsibly, taking into account both their environmental damages, and such damages’ deeply unequal global distribution?

Paper Proposal (Rejected):


Nathanael Bassett

University of Illinois at Chicago, United States of America

Physical infrastructures parallel and are mimicked by the social infrastructure of information technology. Refusal or resistance to these technics has been framed as an individualist exercise in lifestyle politics but are representative of how new materialisms enforce hegemonic social structures as they are naturalized to our expectations of the world. Using media archaeology and phenomenology, I reveal the parallels between our dependence on the pipeline and the need to be “online” and the potential for a post-colonial critique of infrastructure.

The full proposal is available through the following link: AoIR2018-pipelinesrefusal_short

Aside from the obvious disapointment that one feels on a rejection, I realized the the poor reviewer scores were only fair – it was a lot of ideas shoved into a very small space and wasn’t very clearly articulated. However, it may have also been the limitations and lack of familiarity in the reviewing process. I think there is still some merit to the project and want to pursue it further, perhaps in a venue like Environmental Humanities where I see this connection between post-Luddite forms of the inability to escape “use” whether it is physical infrastructure, like a pipeline, or digital materiality, like the internet.


My contribution to the panel is as follows:

Sound ecology is one means that we can think through how technologies produce harmful new materialities in the form of noise polution, which leads to significant and measurable impact in the environment. Oil and pipelines as the physical precursors of an information economy also have their own dangerous implications, and the seeming impossibility of refusal or non-use is something we must account for – just as no one can close their ears, no individual can stop a pipeline or shut the internet off. Refusal is a non option, and non-users, whether they are human or animal, are impacted by these major changes to ecology.

I have presented on parts this material previously at an American Studies Conference at Purdue, so I look forward to updating it and adapting it in a way that also advances my own agenda around non-use.


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