Digital-Debt-Empire is a suite of events, publications, media and collaborations centred around a gathering of scholars, activists and artists in Vancouver, 25-28 April of 2019.

Thanks to the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada we are able to bring more than 25 leading thinkers and organizers together for what promises to be a stimulating and generative set of conversations.

We aim to explore the legacies and currents of race, colonialism and empire in debt regimes past and present. Towards these ends, we are organizing:

  • Several open public panels on key themes on the evenings of April 25 and 26, which will be archived and shared publicly online in audio/video format
  • A reading and discussion group which will meet in Vancouver from January 2019 in the lead-up to our gathering in late April,
  • A series of blog interventions/contributions from our guests, hosted by Public Seminar, the web platform of the New School (for Social Research) in New York
  • A brown-bag lunch event for alternative financial practitioners and advocates (April 25)
  • Two days of intensive workshops for registered participants (April 26-27)
  • An intensive activist workshop in Vancouver (April 28), with leading anti-debt organizers from around the world (registration is required)
  • A series of online multi-media contributions, including a podcast, video interviews and more.
  • An edited collection, to be published in 2020 in cooperation with the Institute for Network Cultures

Organizing team

Dr. Enda Brophy teaches and researches the political economy of communication at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Ben Anderson is a PhD candidate in Communication at SFU. Dr. Max Haiven teaches and researches about the power of the imagination at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Support

  • The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
  • The ReImagining Value Action Lab (RiVAL)
  • Simon Fraser University (SFU) Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology Visiting Speakers Fund
  • Vancity Credit Union
  • SFU English Department
  • SFU School of Communication
  • SFU Institute for the Humanities
  • SFU Labour Studies Program

Contact

For more information, please contact Ben Anderson benjamin_anderson ~ at~ sfu ~dot~ ca

Rationale

Throughout the history of racial capitalism, debt has been a key weapon of colonialism and imperialism. Examples include the ruinous debt forced on Haiti by the defeated empires of Europe as revenge for their revolution against slavery, the debt bondage that cheapened migrant Asian labour in the 19th century, and a long 20th century defined by the sabotage of decolonization through mechanisms of odious national debts imposed on countries of the the Global South. And whether it was the accounting techniques that enabled and insured the transatlantic slave trade, the use of telegraphs to manage global supply chains or the punitive power of global bond markets, the latest forms of technology have often been marshalled to deepen the connection between finance and empire.

In today’s digital age this tendency not only continues, it intensifies. The subprime mortgage meltdown which ignited the 2008 financial crisis revealed the deepening reliance  of contemporary debt and financial power structures on the extraction of wealth from racialized communities. It also showed  that such racialized debt regimes are evermore intensively digitized. Although perhaps not immediately obvious, examples abound: racially-encoded algorithms that determine credit-worthiness; the high-frequency trading robots that buy and sell  predatory debts (such as those of Puerto Rico) thousands of time each second in search of speculative gain; the foisting of new “FinTech” and crypto-currency solutions on poor and racialized people as quick technological “fixes” to deep problems of inequality and oppression; the buy-now-pay-later startup platforms marketed and regulated to “at risk” young people as budgeting tools, in place of meaningful social care and investment in communities; the necropolitical forms of “risk management” that help the global extractive industry and its ongoing destruction of Indigenous lands and human rights.

And yet, at the same time social movements are also seizing on new digital technologies to understand and confront a world defined increasingly by unpayable and punitive debts. For instance: Citizens collaborate on auditing their municipalities’ debt agreements with global banks; debtors assemble their own databases to connect horizontally and discover their shared persecutors; hackers and pranksters attack the ledgers of empire; artists reinvent the line between financial credit and social debts, revealing the hidden sources of solidarity; anonymous and massive data leaks allow tax fairness advocates to expose the hoards of digital cash stashed away in tax havens by the global elite; and everywhere grassroots movements struggle to reinvent the economy, moving away from the debt-driven ecological suicide pact of racial capitalism towards a richer network of social bonds between people and the planet.

To explore these intersections, we have called a meeting of activists, artists and scholars to convene in late April of 2019 in Vancouver, on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, to discuss three themes:

  • First, the legacies and currents of empire, racialization and colonialism that animate today’s global debt regimes.
  • Second, the ways in which new digital technologies are being used to entrench these regimes, but also to challenge them.
  • Third, if and how these technologies, when mobilized by grassroots social movements, might open new horizons for collective liberation.

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