Volume 3, Dossier 1: Decolonizing the Digital/Digital Decolonization

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Dossier. The other parts are available here:

“The development of communication has run hand in hand with the processes of globalization, due to the need to communicate across distance and geographic barriers,” asserts Sally Burch in the essay that begins this section. Communication maps modernity’s time-spaces, producing presences and absences. These function as nodes in networks of power, in the midst of ongoing flux across digital and non-digital realms. These essays and artworks elucidate how the terms of engagement are being defined, the borders being constructed or crossed, as discursive arrangements of the digital world are contested and refigured.

The coloniality of power is digital. Information communication technologies (ICTs) and the modern/colonial capitalist world-system have long been intertwined, and ICTs are a defining condition of neoliberal globalization. Capital accumulation occurs in and through the material and immaterial productions of digital circuits. These flows are attended by the teleological narrative powers of modernity/coloniality as well as incessant re-mixes of times and spaces. Through this mix, ICTs are also a site of instability in this late stage of the world-system. Molecular movements occur and unexpected stories are told across varied registers, including the subjectivities and agencies of “users” and non-“users,” the regulatory and de-regulatory activities of nation-states, and multiple transnational economic, juridical and cultural articulations. While the binary code becomes the preferred alfabetización for capital exchange and colonial pedagogies, other symbolic orders persist. These intersect, interrupt and create other codes.

In the midst of multiple orders of the digital, how might we understand the colonial difference? How do particular digital texts, as well as their practices of production and reception, propose decolonizing the digital or effect digital decolonizations? Is it more useful to position these as interventions from various sites of exteriority to the digital, or as disruptions from within digital orders? Or, do their epistemic and material strategies destroy the boundaries of the digital, pointing to its lack of either totality or hegemony? These questions point to a further one, which is, to paraphrase Santiago Castro-Gómez and Oscar Guardiolo-Rivera (2002): How is it possible, if at all, to reinvent the “digital” under the present conditions of globalization? In their discussion, this question is asked of the “political” rather than the “digital.” It may be, however, that the digital constitutes one of the most important contemporary sites of production of the “political.” If this is so, there is much work to be done to understand this territory, and to do so requires an engagement with the audio-visual texts, the means of production, and the reception of ICTs with an understanding of the coloniality of power, the colonial difference and the geo-politics of knowledge.

It is towards this project that I offer this dossier, which is a diverse collection of contemporary videos, Internet artworks, archives, and scholarship on the digital. Each of these works offers a different perspective on the limits and the possibilities of the digital, and each offers a unit of analysis, a time-space, that reveals a contour, a moment, or a pathway of decolonial thinking and doing in the realm of the digital. What becomes clear through these texts is that in diverse geopolitical sites, defined by objectives other than those of the modern/colonial capitalist world-system, communication tools are continually being repurposed and rethought by symbolic practices, local/global histories and political imperatives driven by commitment and struggle. In short, digitality has also been the site of an/other thinking, which, as Walter Mignolo asserts, is a move "to change the terms, not just the content of the conversation" (2000, 70).

The works in this dossier pursue questions of digital geo-politics, while also suggesting the coevalness of digital and non-digital knowledges and the coloniality of the concept of the “Digital Divide.” This is an important point of departure. The texts presented here do not digitally index subaltern knowledges; rather, they produce and manifest inter-textual symbolic writing at the digital site of colonial differences. The myth of the “Digital Divide” works to obscure this complexity. It supports the enduring geopolitics of knowledge embedded in the global narrative of development. The theorization of the “information” or “knowledge society,” popularized through scholarship and repurposed as policies of transnational non-governmental organizations, layers another order on the already stratified “developed” and “developing” world, creating caricatures of digital, or knowledge, haves and have-nots. This becomes another production of the subjugation of knowledges and cultures. In many instances, this supposed boundary of the digital and the non-digital is an analogue of the geo-political map of colonialism; in other instances, it creates new boundaries around diasporic, indigenous or racialized communities within and across cities, regions and nation-states. This divide, like others, assumes finite borders with no seepage. But does digitality stop with the computer? And do other forms of communication disappear when the digital order arrives?

Against the totalizing trajectory of the “Digital Divide,” there are multiple audio-visual texts and communication networks emerging from the globalization of information communication technologies that produce and document de-colonial imaginings of economic, cultural, political and digital worlds and futures. The digital is a fluid site. At multiple sites of criss-crossing colonial wounds, film, video and new media producers, including artists, scholars, community organizers and popular educators, are creating inter-textual and inter-cultural works that reorganize the geopolitics of knowledge. The texts assembled here mobilize diverse epistemologies and digital practices to produce emancipatory knowledges that echo across localities and globalities. They constitute what could be characterized, after Enrique Dussel (2002), as “trans”-modern media assemblages of technological, representational, epistemological and relational practices. These belie the totalizing narratives of race, gender, and development that characterize transnational corporations, governmental, and NGO-based global communication schemes. Emphasizing the imbrication of aesthetic, political and critical practices, these texts offer methodologies for encounters with contemporary communication technologies for an/other world.



  • Castro-Gómez, S. and Guardiola-Rivera, O. “The Convergence of World-Historical Social Science, or Can There Be a Shared Methodology for World-Systems Analysis, Postcolonial Theory, and Subaltern Studies?” In The Modern/Colonial/Capitalist World-System in the Twentieth Century: Global Processes, Antisystemic Movements, and the Geopolitics of Knowledge. Eds. Grosfoguel, R. and Cervantes-Rodriguez, A.M. Wesport, CT: Praeger, 2002. pp. 237 – 251.
  • Dussel, E. (2002). World System and “Trans”-Modernity. In Nepantla: Views from the South, 221 – 244. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Mignolo, W. (2000). Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

In this essay, originally delivered at the World Social Forum in 2003, Sally Burch offers an analysis of the contemporary global landscape of communications. She argues that a social agenda for “that Other Possible World” requires pressure on communication industries regarding form, content and infrastructure, as well as developing alternative and community media programs. Also, she urges activist groups to become involved in public policy and global campaigns for democratizing communication. Sally Burch is the Executive Director of the Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI), based in Quito, Ecuador.

Visit website

The transnational movement of digital information has been widely lauded as one of its most emancipatory contributions. The material and juridical limits of this capacity, as well as the possibility of its symbolic insurgency, are suggested by this piece. This Internet artwork by artists and filmmakers Alex Rivera and Angel Nevarez is centered on an airborne, remote control “low-rider” equipped with video cameras. It flies over the US/Mexico border and sends a live feed to the viewer/user. The flight traverses spiritual, geo-political and technological borderlands. Rivera and Nevarez work in these and other borderlands of new media, independent film and U.S. Latinidad.

This essay narrates the political and cultural meanings of what Sundaram terms “developmentalism 2” – that is, the contemporary reinvigoration and refurbishing of mid-20th century developmentalist discourse in the guise of ICT4D (Information Communication Technology for Development). In the context of India, this makes a particular kind of historical and discursive sense, but the phenomenon is also easily recognizable across the “developing world.” Sundaram is a Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. He is also one of the initiators of Sarai, which is a “space for research, practice and conversation about the contemporary media and urban constellations.” This article was originally delivered at the Incommunicado 05  conference and published in Lovink, G. and Soehle, Z., Eds. The Incommunicado Reader: Information for Everybody Else. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures (2005).