“Infrastructure is the how of settler colonialism…yet, infrastructure is not inherently colonial—it is also essential for transformation”
- Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) and Deborah Cowen (settler), “Beyond Wiindigo Infrastructure”. South Atlantic Quarterly, 119(2), 2020
It is difficult to overstate the importance of infrastructures, either to the ordering of our everyday lives or to the unfolding histories of colonialism — especially since so many of us live with, and through, infrastructural arrangements initially put in place for the enslavement and genocide of Indigenous peoples and the expansion and enrichment of settler nations. NC State University, for example, does not just simply sit on land initially settled by the Tuscarora and the Catawba tribes and enriched through the labor of Black slaves; through the Morrill Act, it also received scrips for land stolen from Indigenous peoples by the federal government and ‘gifted’ to the founders of NC State (and dozens of other public universities), which was then sold for start-up capital. Indigenous dispossession is, thus, infrastructural to our capacity to “think and do”.
Our contemporary infrastructures are also the backbone of digital cultures, and take shape through assemblages of human and non-human interactions, yielding new forms of knowledge that most often conform to the protocols (and exploit breaches) within monopolizing network systems such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Yet if many of our contemporary infrastructures constitute, as LaDuke and Cowen put it, the “how of settler colonialism”, infrastructures are also key sites for imagining and enacting relations between people, land, and technologies built on justice, reparation, sustainability, and care. Blockchains, for instance, are encrypted databases that store and authenticate financial transactions. Because they are managed by peer-to-peer networks through a publicly distributed ledger, they can be thought of as an alternative (and more transparent) infrastructure for banking. Another response to fighting systemic inequalities and the environmental crisis is the emergence of ‘social-ecological’ initiatives such as the repurposing of e-trash, and the resistance to technological obsolescence through infrastructural repair outside of state control. These initiatives are not bound by a neoliberal narrative of progress, and are directly working for sustainability, social justice and poverty alleviation through the creativity of activists, makers, and citizens.
The aim of the 2022 CRDM Symposium is to collectively explore some of these possibilities — to envision the potential of infrastructures as sites of resistance against colonialism and settler capitalism. We follow the examples of scholars who acknowledge the horrors of colonialism and its unfolding legacies, and who seek to dismantle the contemporary geopolitics of production and power.
The symposium runs March 24 and 25, in a (primarily) virtual format. We are honored to welcome four guest speakers — Felipe Schmidt Fonseca (Berlin); Dr. Chakanetsa Mavhunga (MIT); Dr. Rahul Mukherjee (University of Pennsylvania); and Dr. Rida Qadri (Google Research) —- whose research, teaching, and activism can help illuminate some of the numerous ways in which infrastructures can become anticolonial. We invite multiple forms of participation from the CRDM community; we strongly encourage collaboration between students and faculty, and between CRDM and other communities on and around campus. As detailed below, proposals can take several forms, and need not explicitly engage with the overarching theme of “infrastructure as anticolonialism”; feel free to approach this, thematically, as “infrastructure and / as / or anticolonialism”.
For recordings of the symposium panels, paper sessions, and keynotes, please visit the archive.