The goal of this syllabus is to understand relations of power related to where and how information emerges and circulates. Grounded in empirical examples, this syllabus argues that in order to understand politics and information, we must first attend to historical and contemporary formations of power and state violence, including imperialism, colonialism, and militarism and how these legacies impact current modalities of technological and institutional governance.
This syllabus responds to the need for transnational analysis in recent mis- and disinformation scholarship that takes into consideration legacies of empire, nationalisms, and geopolitical tensions (Nguyễn et al, 2022). Our theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and case studies draw from examples often deemed too marginal, particular, or parochial in studies of communication, media, and information. In contrast to these claims, we ground notions of “transnationalism” in the context of local community and place-based contexts (Dirlik 1996).
Cases about mis- and disinformation function as a unifying thread throughout this syllabus, but our primary area of concern is not the veracity of information. Rather, we look to geopolitical relationships of governance, power, and technological mediation to examine the impact and meaning of information. In doing so, this syllabus guides an exploration of how engagement with media and information systems are shaped by lived experiences and histories.
Current technical, educational, and policy interventions addressing mis- and disinformation spread and harmful speech are neither equipped to understand contextual depth and breadth across various languages and geographies nor adequately address and engage historical formations of power. For contextual understandings of information, we bridge communication, media, and information studies with critical ethnic studies; refugee, migration, and border studies; history; and postcolonial and decolonial studies. Scholarship critically engaging questions of race and empire are foundational to how we understand contemporary issues about technology, data, and information systems.
We created this syllabus grounded from our position as Asian diasporic scholars and scholars currently based in U.S. institutions doing research with Asian diasporic communities. The chosen readings have been resources for us to make sense of racial and colonial violence in how we understand contemporary fascism and authoritarianism, but they do not cover every transnational context. Structured around a set of themes, each week’s readings and case studies can be adapted to account for other regional specificities and historical trajectories.
An Overview of this Syllabus
Part 1: Imperialism and Empire - Weeks 1 - 4 offer an introduction to how histories of imperialism, colonialism, and empire inform media and communication systems.
Part 3: Methodological Frameworks and Approaches - With a focus on mis- and disinformation research, Weeks 10 - 14 present challenges in doing transnational research, including translation, interpretation, and data access, and offer different approaches, practices, and frameworks in response to these challenges.
Part 1: Imperialism and Empire
Weeks 1 - 4 offer an introduction to how histories of imperialism, colonialism, and empire inform media and communication systems.
Week 1: Openings and Provocations
Legacies and ongoing formations of imperialism, empire, and colonialism are embedded in modern technologies of information. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith points out, what counts as research draws from an existing archive of imperial knowledge systems and values that reproduce white supremacy and Western dominance. Violent models of scientific representation like categorization, comparison, and evaluation establish particular ways of viewing and knowing the world as more legitimate than others. In Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, he demonstrates how Western notions of democracy and technological progress have been built on legacies of slavery, genocide, and colonial rule. Aoraugh and Chakravartty add to Césaire by highlighting the persistence of colonial occupation. Colonial violence becomes erased in the “universal” appeal of liberal democracy embedded in imaginations of the Internet and social media platforms. They argue for understanding media and information infrastructures through the lens of intra-imperial competition in the wake of the Cold War. Taken together, these three texts provoke questions of whose knowledge and agency is embedded in modern technologies of information.
The historical development of Western democracies has sustained and upheld racialized violence. This week’s set of readings discusses the relationship between technological control and empire, focusing on technology and information as vehicles of state violence, including their uses in war-making, militarism, and policing. McCoy and Kim’s chapters delineate the landscape of surveillance under U.S. military occupation, including the control of speech, and offer examples of the intertwined nature of U.S. democracy and empire. Readings also emphasize how communities counter colonial control through their own media-making, such as Fanon’s discussion of revolution and radio and Kim’s discussion of forgery and identity passes. By understanding how information infrastructures and technological innovation can be used to further state violence, as explored in Bui’s article on napalm, this week’s readings also set foundations for later discussions on critiquing technological solutions.
Self-Evident Podcast (2019)Hello, Freedom Man (Ep. 5). From Center for Asian American Media.
Week 3: Ongoing Imperialisms
Contemporary formations of imperialism manifest across different media systems. While mainstream historical accounts of democratic progress often present imperial control as situated in the past, this week looks to current geopolitical contexts to examine ongoing power dynamics over territorial, economic, and political dominance. In this week, we focus on how new and emergent information, media, and technological infrastructures maintain transnational power structures and offer sites of resistance. Jack and Avle use a feminist framework to demonstrate the “geopolitics of techno-empires” through citizens’ interactions in relation to new governing bodies in Cambodia and Ghana. Tawil-Souri and Aourugh’s article grounds Palestinian digital resistance in the offline political context of settler colonialism and Israeli occupation. Yesil demonstrates the centrality of state and military in building Turkey's media system. Kwet examines extensions of U.S. colonialism through the case of U.S. multinational control over digital ecosystems in South Africa. This week’s set of readings build on the previous two weeks to emphasize that “new colonialisms” wrought by data-driven technologies are not so new after all, but extensions of ongoing power structures.
Internal hierarchies of power occur within and across “sites of marginalization” (e.g., caste in South Asia, Blackness and Indigeneity in Brazil). This week applies the previous weeks’ discussion of ongoing imperialisms to demonstrate differential processes of racialization exacerbated by information and technologies. While Week 3 centers the power dynamics across macro-level nation states, Week 4 readings examine intra-community differences that have commonly been invisibilized when research, policymakers, and news coverage use a monolithic lens. Perry accounts for the continued marginalization of racialized and gendered populations during the resurgence of far-right violence in Brazil around 2018. Sarwate attends to the facilitation of violence against minority Muslims by the Hindu nationalist state through the framework of security. Mukherjee examines gendered and racialized practices by contemporary Hindutva in opposition to minority communities, such as Dalits and Muslims. Hong examines digital, racial, and environmental inequalities through a geographic lens on ethnic enclaves, such as San Francisco. Each reading identifies the nuances in historical and cultural contexts that communities experience due to ongoing imperial and colonial projects.
Weeks 5 - 9 apply understandings of different geopolitical contexts and imperial histories to transnational information platforms, networks, and infrastructures. In this section, we analyze the relationships between political contexts as they influence technologies, socio-technical contexts, and information practices across different geographies.
Week 5: Critiques on Globalization and Technology
There are human, social, and political costs associated with so-called “global” projects of development and innovation as they occur at local and regional sites. With an emphasis on East Asia to push against paradigms of the “West and the rest”, Hsing-Chen argues that any analysis of globalization requires understanding histories of colonization and imperialism (as well as a politics of deimperialization). Hsing-Chen also describes the process of globalization as regional integrations. Ferguson offers a critique on global development projects through the case of the Thaba-Tseka project in Lesotho, highlighting how such projects turn political and socio-economic problems into technical problems to be solved. Irani, Tadiar, and Lindtner each articulate how Global South economies have approached technology focused economic expansion initiatives and how these interventions reveal inadequacies in the political economy of techno-futurism. Murphy explores how producing and reproducing both subversive and false promises in techno-solutionism are the consequences of datafying life. These readings address the impact of globalized technologies experienced at regional sites through the critical lens of empire, labor, migration, and capitalism.
Kuan Hsing-Chen (2010) “Introduction: Globalization and Deimperialization.” In Asia asMethod.
James Ferguson (1994) “Chapter 9: The Anti-Politics Machine.” In The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho.
Lily Irani (2019) Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India.
Neferti X.M. Tadiar (2016) City Everywhere. Theory, Culture, and Society 33 (7-8).
Silvia Lindtner (2020) Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation.
Diasporic experiences of migration and displacement shape the formation of transnational networks and their integration into communities’ media and information practices. Technology shapes social ties and relationships between home and host countries and across waters and geopolitical boundaries. We situate these relationships across governing bodies and nations states as well as experiences shared by individual migrant community members. Nguyen provides a foundational perspective and critique of liberalism by demonstrating how the U.S. empire bestows the "gift of freedom" through war and administers indebtedness by providing refuge after displacement and violence. Kang, Ling, and Chib describe migrant women’s reliance on mobile communications in order to survive the political and gendered transitions of migrating between the different power structures of North and South Korea. Dekker and Engbersen argue that social media networks have transformed migration experiences and “lower[ed] the threshold for migration.” Amrute articulates the effects of techno-solutionist approaches on migrant labor, race, and class by exploring the experiences of Indian IT workers in Berlin. This group of readings situates transnational migration and corresponding communication practices within broader political, social, and economic contexts.
Week 7: Transnational and Diasporic Communication Networks
Diasporic communities use diverse practices to develop, maintain, and sustainably operate transnational information, technology, and communication networks. Le Espiritu and Tran reflect on how these networks impact people’s relationship to place and space. Madianou and Francisco-Menchavez examine the emotional and relational considerations associated with the maintenance of familial networks through information and communication technologies (ICTs). Hajj details how these intersect with economic considerations, namely the sending of remittances across transnational lines. Meanwhile, Kido Lopez examines Hmong American media ecologies and cultural production as a site for building local and transnational identities. Migrants in new home countries stay connected to their mother lands through a diverse and emergent set of subaltern practices.
Information transmission influences the formation of collective identities and political ideologies across geopolitical boundaries. Building upon discussions on migration and social movements from Week 6 and migrant transnational communication networks from Week 7, this week’s readings begin our investigations into how individuals and collectives remember, sustain, and transform political beliefs. Geopolitical histories, memory, and the transnational circulation of information impact how people recreate their homes and communities. Memory-making from these histories and the recall of memories from circulated information shape collective identities. They have direct and indirect social, economic, and political reproduction patterns.
Lin and Baik demonstrate this in their work. Lin focuses on how some Chinese liberal intellectuals' embrace of Donald Trump is informed by their history of living under a totalitarian state, while Baik examines how the Korean diaspora remembers and reencounters the Korean war. These processes are also mediated by ICTs. In the context of the 2014 Indian national elections, Chakravartty and Roy provide an analysis of mediated populism via privatized media across platforms. Parreñas and Kibria dive into the familial level of social reproduction from the Filipino immigrant and Vietnamese refugee experience. Transnational communications and social reproduction technologies in these migration communities appear through gendered low wage employment, remittances, and a patchwork of social support (i.e., mutual assistance). Meanwhile, Shams traces diasporic religious and ethnic political affiliations as they connect immigrants’ understandings of “homeland politics” and “hostland dynamics.” Focusing on the Vietnamese diaspora, Nguyễn et al’s piece examines intergenerational divides in information seeking and lasting traumas of immigration as they impact political engagement. Together, these readings and case studies demonstrate how the complex negotiation of transnational political identity is mediated by technology and the circulation of information across global contexts.
Social media platforms, often owned by companies based in the U.S., play a role in global geopolitics and issues of governance. These companies are driven by neoliberal, capitalist values, and their technology and governance is dependent on global formations of power, reifying existing hierarchies within the global order. Kumar and Vaidyanathan explore questions of sovereignty and territoriality through focusing on the implementation of Google Earth and Facebook Free Basics, respectively. Siu and Chun discuss racial logics underpinning U.S./China tensions in technology trades. Roberts and the case studies detail how these platforms moderate content and underscore the limited resources allotted to addressing mis- and disinformation in languages other than English. Given the role played by social media platforms in the transnational flow of information, this set of readings and case studies demonstrates how the technology companies that own these platforms are under-regulated and reinforce existing power relations among nation states.
With a focus on mis- and disinformation research, Weeks 10 - 14 present challenges in doing transnational research, including translation, interpretation, and data access, and offer different approaches, practices, and frameworks in response to these challenges.
Week 10: Research Approaches Beyond U.S. and Eurocentricity
Research on mis- and disinformation has been dominated by a focus on U.S. and Western European contexts. This research tends to emphasize individual psychological aspects like the effectiveness of corrections and/or computational approaches tracing the spread of mis- and disinformation on social networking sites like Twitter. But misinformation is rooted in localized cultural narratives and is often shared within interpersonal interactions. Wasserman and Madrid-Morales explain this gap as a reflection of academic fields where non-White scholars, especially those from the Global South, remain underrepresented. Malhotra and Nguyễn et al. outline theoretical approaches that foreground relational, cultural, and contextual factors; these frameworks are useful for studying mis- and disinformation in a variety of political, economic, and cultural contexts. Mutsvairo et al. demonstrate the need to consider the role of political dynamics while understanding mis- and disinformation in sub-Saharan Africa. The case studies further demonstrate how cultural and relational aspects inform everyday engagement with misinformation within family group chats. Taken together, the readings and case studies illustrate the need for mis- and disinformation scholars to utilize critical and interpretive methodological approaches that underscore context.
The scale and complexity of global diasporic conversation requires methodological flexibility within research. These readings highlight useful quantitative and qualitative approaches to researching and understanding information flows across technologies and geographic boundaries. Abidin’s piece highlights the need for “below the radar studies,” meaning research that recognizes how communication increasingly takes place on locked (private) platforms or in ephemeral content. Zhang’s study of WeChat provides an empirical example of such research, using survey methodology to explore how misinformation flows through Chinese diasporic communities via WeChat. Srinivasan and Pyati focus on information engagement among immigrant communities and how it can be better understood by researchers. The article from Madrid-Morales and Wasserman focuses on the methodological hurdles of equitable and inclusive research in this area. Ganassin and Holmes discuss translation as a significant issue within transnational research, since multilingual research contexts require significant resources, in addition to intentional methodology. These readings and case studies highlight how conducting transnational mis- and disinformation research involves issues like language translation and limited data access, requiring researchers to be methodologically flexible.
Week 12: Critiques of Existing Mis- and Disinformation Interventions
Attempts to disrupt the spread and impact of misinformation have shown mixed success. Media literacy interventions show promise for short-term skills acquisition but little evidence for longer-term impact exists. Similarly, content moderation has diminished the spread of conspiratorial content on major platforms, but users continue to spread such content on alt-platforms and private communication apps. This week’s readings explore the barriers to and limitations of existing intervention efforts including what Van der Linden and Roozenbeek call digital “nudges” and numerous approaches to visual misinformation examined by Dan et. al. As shown by the Muslim Justice League’s investigation, digital interventions often lead to increases in surveillance, as with U.S. attempts at countering violent extremism (CVE). Further work by Maréchal and Lewandowsky et. al., similarly explores extant approaches to debunking and/or removing problematic information and the limitations or barriers to their effectiveness. This research, alongside the included case studies, highlights how community organizations are bridging these gaps in intervention.
Interventions to address mis- and disinformation across transnational contexts need to be multidimensional and informed by local contexts and media systems. Such approaches are most often found in critical, practice-based work that explore interventions from interpersonal, familial and community-level perspectives. Malhotra and Pearce and Sultana and Fussell demonstrate how interpersonal and community trust, respectively, can be leveraged to address the spread of mis- and disinformation. Meanwhile, Ong and Cabañes look to policy focused interventions and responses informed by considering the motives and practices of disinformation spreaders. Ong’s solo-authored piece adds further contextual nuance through its examination of the role of the state within attempts in Southeast Asia to combat disinformation. He shows how a weaponization of fear around disinformation serves to further state control over information.
The present “crisis” of democracy is not just a crisis of technology and information, but represents the fissions, breaks, and erosion of imagined democracies and freedoms built on racial and colonial violences that make such freedom possible. This syllabus has demonstrated the necessity of new political grammars, theories, and methodologies with the increase in authoritarian and nationalistic politics globally as well as ongoing protests, revolts, and uprisings about broken systems and state failures. We conclude with readings that critically assess who is included in “the public” and for whom the benefits of civil life are designed. Lowe’s excerpt brings us to the violent intimacies of global relations and examines how the narratives of modern democratic progress are built upon myths of universal freedom. Similarly, Crook and Truitt’s work highlights the necessity of centering state violence and its consequences when we study publics, information, and communication. Through a discussion of citizen journalism in Mexico, Amaya raises questions about civic trust by grounding understandings of publicness as shaped by violence and coercion. Collectively, these readings also root understandings of democratic politics within longer histories of radical transnational politics that confront empire and state violence.
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