There are strands in the DH theories, methods and practices that we have read thus far that you all circled back to in your presentations last week that are evident in Chan’s work:

  • Values collaboration that acknowledges the varied inputs to production of knowledge and recognizes multiple types of labor
  • Promotes a view of access that takes into account varied ethical concerns and diverse cultural protocols – that doesn’t default to open as the standard
  • Deconstruction of assumptions behind normative power structures
  • Recognition of multiple standpoints and stakeholders
  • Reframes digital projects and platforms through intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality
  • Emphasizes local articulations of the digital


Networking Peripheries

Chan asks us to start with the underlying assumptions about universalisms, much like Gallon asking us to step back and question how humanity is defined. By doing so we see how these specific universalisms create and limit possibilities around information technologies and more specifically the networks of relations and sociality they inform and produce that grow from and within in them.

What work do universalisms do? That is how do they shape our understanding of networks and more broadly social, political and cultural change? Chan suggests that the way digital futures are imagined, narrated and created—through assumptions about innovation, progress, technologies agency – are limited by these universal attributes and affordances of technology. To disrupt these, she posits an ethnographic methodology that emphasize “vibrant micronarratives and situated stories around IT and innovation culture” (xi) Specifically she wants to chart how these unhinge grand narratives of progress that are the foundation of these universalisms around technology. She examines how information technologies have become a shorthand for “imagining global connection” (xiii) and in doing so seeks to undo the “context-erasing” (5) accounts that have so far been the dominant trend in studies of global networks and information technologies.

In her introduction, Chan charts the Peruvian state and “peripheries” ambivalent relationship within the context of local histories, regional politics and these global narratives of techno-futurism that provide an unwavering path for ICTs as the promise an “already predictable future” – one where new technologies through global networks act as a universal savior, in this particular local. While the Peruvian state is able to look away from local unrest and their own role in the state of rural Peruvian villages, the universal narrative is able to override their agency and proclaim a neutral view of what counts as a possible future. At the same time, we see multiple sets of “actors” engaged in creating the narrative possibilities of this future and those that are actively working against it. These overlapping networks are where Chan puts her focus to uproot the celebratory nature of these universalisms. As she argues, “If ICT networks have advanced universalizing ambitions it is in part because they enable the building of strategic alliances between urban and rural subjects, the high tech and the traditional, the wealthy and the economically marginalized between the social and the technical and the cultural and natural.” (15) Throughout her chapters we see these alliances as well as the tensions, ambivalence, strategic positioning and pushback from various local communities (artisans, schoolteachers, FLOSS group members, politicians, etc.). Through these we see “the imaginaries and innovations that underpin digital culture and surround networked connections” (19).

Ultimately, she shows that these universalisms are not rooted to a binary localization, instead in the messiness of the local adaptations to IP regimes, software production, and global development plans we see these universalisms start to unravel in local articulations of diverse sets of presents and notions of the future. It is these moments of unrest that she argues open the possibilities for imagining new futures that can undo the stranglehold of these universalisms and the techno-utopianism that accompanies them. But she is clear eyed in her diagnosis, there is no revolution that will undo the power of these universalisms overnight, but the promise of these loosely conjoined, strategic networks that we see the local undoing. She argues that, “It is here, in these newly forged zones, that the presumed givens and consensus of technology’s universalizing future can be begin to be unsettled and slowly, perhaps, give way to something altogether unexpected.” (195).

How do you see the promise of localized networks (people, technology, infrastructure, etc) to uproot these universalisms?

Where do you see the power of these universalisms the most in the constructions of a given digital future?

How do you see Chan’s argument and her methodology intersect with the DH scholars we have encountered this term?