Contemporary colonial frontier making: Thinking from the operational digital enclosure in Northwest China

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This talk examines the history and technological operations of contemporary settler colonial frontier making. By thinking from a “sub-colonial” frontier in Northwest China—defined as a colonial project of a former semi-colony—and the digital enclosure of automated surveillance and data analytics that enables it, this talk will theorize the basic operations and infrastructures of contemporary coloniality. It posits that contemporary colonial projects tend toward a particular form of flexible digital control that is best characterized as an “operational enclosure.” This form of enclosure which is derived from European and American military and policing theory and “counter-terrorism” technology, uses data analytics to slot Muslims and other racialized populations into the operative logics of actionable intelligence—a digital technology produced regime of social facts that is folded onto older histories of colonialism and representations of ethnic and religious difference. Ultimately it argues that the speed, scale, and truth claims of coloniality, assisted by advanced technology and the logics of anti-Muslim racism borne in the global North, accelerate the banal, or unthought, action of state violence as simply a sequence of operations, and make it both more difficult to resist and easier to expose. The talk will conclude with some preliminary thoughts comparing operational enclosures in Xinjiang, Kashmir, and Palestine, drawing out some common features of emergent and ongoing settler colonial frontiers across Asia.

Darren Byler is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony (Columbia Global Reports 2021) and an ethnographic monograph titled Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press 2022). His current research interests are focused on policing and carceral theory, infrastructure development and global China. 

Departmental Seminar Series Michaelmas 2022

3.15pm, Fridays (Weeks 2-6, 8). On Teams only in Weeks 3 and 8, otherwise in 64 Banbury Road.

The Seminar is replaced in Week 7 by the Geoffrey Harrison Prize Lecture which takes place at 4pm on 25 November in 64 Banbury Road.

Convened by Ina Zharkevich and Chihab El Khachab