Accepted paper:

The digital politics of development and anonymous online power


Brett Matulis (University of Leicester)

Paper short abstract:

Development is an inherently political act that is both promoted and disputed through online media. With the rise of the “darknet” and anonymous digital activism, we are witnessing an important shift in power relations and a new phase in digital political resistance to development projects.

Paper long abstract:

Development is an inherently political act that is frequently met with contentious debate and vigorous opposition. The "surface web" and social media are now ubiquitous in organizing political action around development projects. Critiques of new-media-based social movements, however, have suggested that digital activism is too deeply embedded in the ideologies of neoliberalism - and too deeply exploited under cognitive capitalism - for it to foster genuinely transformative politics. In light of this important critique, digital activists have been taking to the so-called "darknet" (an underworld of technologically untraceable communication) to engage in collective political activism. In this paper, I argue that these technologies and emerging spaces of virtual discourse are producing new social relations, new modes of social organization and, thus, new articulations of power. Going beyond John Allen's assessment that ICT constitute a shift in the *means* of power, I suggest that digital technologies (and especially new *anonymous* digital technologies) constitute a more fundamental transformation of power relations and their geography. I elaborate on Mark Haugaard's brief sketch of this transformation by adding important (empirical and conceptual) detail to theories concerning the spatiality of digital power. I do so specifically through the context of darknet activism around contested pipeline development in Canada. This example illustrates the way that we must re-think the operation (and indeed spatiality) of power for the current era, in which actions can be coordinated and carried out from unknown and unfixed locations simply by connecting to computer networks and exploiting vulnerabilities in network security.

panel P01
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]