Volume 57 Issue 2 (June 2022)

Special Issue: Digitizing Borders, Cities, and Landscapes
Guest Editor: Winifred R. Poster

Introduction: Digitizing Borders, Cities, and Landscapes

by Winifred R. Poster

p. 111-122


This special issue asks what digital state-making means in border zones, cities, and landscapes. As a complement to discussions of such processes in cyberspace and virtual territory, we elaborate by exploring connections to physical territory. Authors provide firsthand accounts from a number of global locations where tech surveillance is especially apparent: the US-Mexico border; the city of Los Angeles; and the Uyghur borderlands of Northwest China. In these contexts, physical territory is important as a crucial linking point between massive databases in the cloud and technical systems on the land. It is where the state can surveil bodies and movements in order to identify them, codify them, and enter their features as data to be used later. This is happening at multiple levels of governance from national, regional, to city departments. And the differential impact on marginalized groups is evident throughout.

Winifred R. Poster is Director of Labor Tech Research Network and teaches at Washington University, St. Louis. Her interests are in digital globalization, labor, and tech activism. Her books are Borders in Service: Enactments of Nationhood in Transnational Call Centers, edited with Kiran Mirchandani (University of Toronto Press, 2016); Invisible Labor, edited with Marion G. Crain and Miriam A. Cherry (University of California Press, 2016); and Multi-surveillance: Transnational Digital Agency in the Outsourced Services of Indian Call Centers (MIT Press, forthcoming).

Who Is Watched? Racialization of Surveillance Technologies and Practices in the US-Mexico Borderlands

by Josiah Heyman

p. 123-149


The US-Mexico border-lands are disproportionately targeted by detection technologies, data tracing, and policing. Such technologies are applied to a population of millions who largely are racialized as Mexican in the United States. Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star have explored how technologies of classification and applications stemming from them embody important racial divides in their study of apartheid in South Africa. This article moves the examination of racialized technologies from the microscale to the macroscale by looking at the framing of a distinctive region and the people most characteristic of it as a surveillance and enforcement target.

Josiah Heyman is professor of anthropology, Endowed Professor of Border Trade Issues, and director of the University of Texas at El Paso's Center for Inter-American and Border Studies. He is the author of more than 140 scholarly articles, books, book chapters, and essays.

Race, Algorithms, and the Work of Border Enforcement

Juan De Lara

p. 150-168


This article uses border modernization programs, including the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR) and the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), to examine how race and labor have been central to high-tech border enforcement strategies. While I discuss specific technologies and programs, I am less interested in the machines and much more concerned with the work they allow humans to do. By "work" I mean the epistemic and manual labor that is required to imagine, produce, and use border enforcement technologies. I integrate approaches from critical ethnic studies and geography to broaden how the mostly white fields of STS (science and technology studies) and military studies have treated border-making and enforcement technologies. Consequently, I argue that the machines, data networks, and human agents that constitute the modern border apparatus function as a sociotechnical articulation of the settler-colonial state.

Juan De Lara is associate professor in the Department of American Studies & Ethnicity and director of the Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies at the University of Southern California.

The Everyday of Future-Avoiding: Administering the Data-Driven Smart City

by Leah Horgan

p. 169-196


Drawing on a two-year ethnographic study of data-driven governance in Los Angeles, this study shows that while much is made of using smart, data-driven approaches to make better, more sustainable, and more connected city futures, the everyday practices of data-driven governance are instead wrapped around efforts to prevent unwanted futures. Put another way, while the rhetoric of the smart city promises a utopia of transparency, efficiency, and well-being, the practical application of smart city tools is cast through their opposites: preventing waste, crime, disaster, and so on. Detailing two administrative projects that aim to prevent through prediction—crime prevention and homelessness prevention—this study asks, What does the coupling of prevention logics and predictive analytics do? I suggest that rendering preferable futures by avoiding unwanted ones expands the epistemic infrastructure of the smart city and, with it, reliance on surveillance.

Leah Horgan is a PhD candidate at UC Irvine researching data-driven governance in the smart city and the resultant consequences for civic labor, city living, and the aesthetic contours of the urban.

Producing "Enemy Intelligence": Information Infrastructure and the Smart City in Northwest China

by Darren Byler

p. 197-216


Infrastructure power announces the priorities of a state: who and what is authorized to move and act, whose lives and what materials have significance. In the colonial context of the Uyghur region in Northwest China, surveillance systems—checkpoints, cameras, digital forensic tools, and nearly sixty thousand low-level "grid workers"—build forms of infrastructure power that make hidden or resistant populations appear legible, decoded, and editable as "enemy intelligence." Drawing on a recently obtained internal police database of thousands of Chinese-language digital files, ethnographic observations, and interviews with Muslims who recently fled from China to Kazakhstan, this article argues that in this location at the frontier of the neoliberal and illiberal East, a smart city functions in part as a neo-Taylorist assembly line that employs an army of grid workers to produce Muslim enemies and non-Muslim friends.

Darren Byler is an assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University. He is the author of Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press, 2022) and In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony (Columbia Global Reports, 2021).

The Gentrification of the Internet: How to Reclaim Our Digital Freedom by Jessa Lingel (review)

p. 217-219

The Gentrification of the Internet: How to Reclaim Our Digital Freedom
by Jessa Lingel
HARDCOVER, $19.95; E-BOOK, $19.95
ISBN: 978-0-520-34490-7

Kimberly Anastácio


THERE ARE PLENTY OF METAPHORS TO DESCRIBE THE INTERNET AND ITS IMPLICATIONS...In this new book, Jessa Lingel explains through the gentrification metaphor how we got the Internet that we have now, what is bad about it, and what could be different.

Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing by John B. Thompson (review)

p. 220-221

Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing
by John B. Thompson
POLITY PRESS, 2021, 450 PP.
ISBN: 978-1-509-54678-7

Leah Henrickson


"WHAT'S THAT YOU'RE READING?" MY SERVER ASKED AS SHE PLACED MY DRINK DOWN. I HAD AN hour before the next train and a review deadline to meet, so I chose to sit and read in a local pub. Holding up the book so she could see its front cover, I explained to the server that I was reading about how digital technologies are changing the state of publishing.

Technology and the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age by Adam Crymble (review)

p. 222-224

Technology and the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age
by Adam Crymble
PAPERBACK, $28.00; E-BOOK, $19.95
ISBN: 978-0-252-08569-7, 978-0-252-05260-6

Katharina Hering


THE FIELD OF DIGITAL HISTORY HAS BEEN DOMINATED SINCE THE EARLY 2000S BY A "TECHNOlogically adept group of historians operating in an eternal present, both ignoring and being ignored by the histories of the field of which they should have been a part," writes Adam Crymble in Technology and the Historian.

Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work by Michelle Caswell (review)

p. 225-226

Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work
by Michelle Caswell
ROUTLEDGE, 2021, 142 PP.
HARDBACK, $160.00; E-BOOK, $44.05
ISBN: 978-0-367-42727-6

Bethany Radcliff


WHEN I SAT DOWN TO READ MICHELLE CASWELL'S NEWEST BOOKURGENT ARCHIVES, I DIDN'T expect her to call on archivists to participate in "mischief-making," but I'm here for it. 

Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics by Jacob Gaboury (review)

p. 227-228

Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics
by Jacob Gaboury
MIT PRESS, 2021, 312 PP.
ISBN: 978-0-262-04503-2

Nabeel Siddiqui


DESPITE DIGITAL MEDIA'S UBIQUITY, THERE HAS BEEN LITTLE EXAMINATION OF THE COMPUTer's history as a visual rather than procedural device. In Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics, Jacob Gaboury remedies this by tracing the development of computer graphics during the thirty years before the technology's proliferation in popular visual culture. 

Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data ed. by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup et al. (review)

p. 229-230

Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data
edited by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Daniela Agostinho, Annie Ring, Catherine D'Ignazio, and Kristin Veel
MIT PRESS, 2021, 640 PP.
ISBN: 978-0-262-53988-3

Giulia Taurino


THE NARRATIVE AROUND BIG DATA HAS BEEN LARGELY SHAPED BY A QUEST FOR CERTAINTY built upon expectations of algorithmic efficiency, perfect predictive models, and strategic decision-making...This book, by contrast, emphasizes the value of uncertainty, using a feminist postmodern perspective to read unknowns, flaws, errors, and instabilities as generative moments of learning and critique.

Screen Love: Queer Intimacies in the Grindr Era by Tom Roach (review)

p. 231-232

Screen Love: Queer Intimacies in the Grindr Era
by Tom Roach
HARDCOVER, $95.00; PAPERBACK, $22.95
ISBN: 978-1-438-48207-1, 978-1-438-48208-8

Fredrika Thelandersson


ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN SINGLE DURING THE LAST DECADE WILL BE AT LEAST CURSORILY familiar with the affective dimensions of dating apps (the excitement, disappointment, and inevitable miscommunication). Many have exclaimed over the negative impact of these technologies on romantic love.

The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope by Daniel Greene (review)

p. 233-234

The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope
by Daniel Greene
MIT PRESS, 2021, 272 PP.
ISBN: 978-0-262-54233-3

Christine T. Wolf


HOW ARE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY TRANSMUTED INTO PROBLEMS OF TECHNOLOGY? HOW DO WE come to naturalize connections between technological advancement and greater societal equity? These questions are at the heart of The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope by Daniel Greene.