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Capitalist Frontier-Making in Northwest China: Technologies of Muslim Enclosure, Dispossession and Subtraction

GEM Lab Events

FEB. 22, 2022

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022, 2pm (Online Event)

Public lecture by Darren Byler, Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University.


Introduction to the Speaker and Talk

Joshua Neves

Capitalist Frontier-Making in Northwest China (Lecture)

Darren Byler

Q&A 1

What does it mean for the current carceral situation in Xinjiang to be such an underrecognized but significant driver of the "smartness" project?

The presumptive starting point of smartness technologies and project being elsewhere. The new colonial capitalist frontiers being an important site of technological experimentation. [Paraphrased]

Q&A 2

The methodologies of your research; aside from textual analysis your research has an ethnographic approach. I was very curious as to how you documented your conversations with Uyghur and Kazakh peoples. Did you just journal the conversations or did you use some form or audio/video recording? If so how did you get by the heavy surveillance from the police?

Also how did you manage to communicate with the Uyghur people, did you speak to them in Mandarin or? [Paraphrased]

Q&A 3

Given the intersection of ethnicity of technology; Do you think that ethnicity, or race, or indigenous status, this understanding of Han vs Non-Han, is sufficient for thinking of encounters in places with a long history of immigration and settler colonialism? Does it require a historical view and is it applicable to other areas within China or in other countries? [Paraphrased]

Q&A 4

I was thinking about how the emotional elements that smart technology banks on broadly, repose and desire, is completely shifted towards emotions of fear and threat in the context of your research. Do you have any thoughts on whether fear and threat may overtake other affective elements as smartness becomes a driver for profits in the technology industry? And do you think this can expand outside of a racial context, or whether you think that is specific to these kinds of contexts? [Paraphrased]

Q&A 5

Can we extend the discussion to a broader population in China? As there is evidence to show the use of smart technology in other parts of China to target people outside of racial lines, even ethnically Han people with more of a focus on the politically problematic. So how did you navigate smart technology and it’s relationship with racism, ideology (brainwashing) and as a profit making process? Is there interrelation between these different aspects in the use of smart technology under Terror Capitalism? [Paraphrased]

Q&A 6+7

Q6: In terms of the islamophobia in China, is there a different aspect to that? Is there a disjuncture at all between the kind of islamophobia we see in the west and what we see in China? Is there a way in which China’s nation building project operates in relation to that? [Paraphrased]

Also is there anything in terms of trying to understand China in a global context, there is a lot discussion as to whether to view China in terms of a colonialist nation. Given it’s various projects in South America and East Africa, do you think there is a link between what happens there and what we see in Xinjiang and the reallocation of resources there? [Paraphrased]

Q7: Given the discussion of the genesis of this not being in islamophobia but in resource extraction. (Like with the US in the aftermath of 9/11.) Is there perhaps a parallel catalyst that leads to the state viewing the resources of the region as being possible to access at that time?

How do you think the relationship with this storyline is progressing within US media. How do think certain representations of this scenario within corporate media work to develop anti-Chinese bias? [Paraphrased]

Outro of Event

Joshua Neves


Link to original event post.

In his book Terror Capitalism anthropologist Darren Byler shows that the mass detention of over one million Muslims in “reeducation camps” is part of processes of resource extraction in Uyghur and Kazakh lands that have led to what he calls terror capitalism—a configuration of ethnoracialization, surveillance, and internment that in this case promotes settler colonialism. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the regional capital Ürümchi, this talk will show how media infrastructures built in part in Seattle, Beijing and Xinjiang combined with state-corporate enforcement of a capacious technological counterterrorism to produce new forms of Muslim enclosure, dispossession and, ultimately, a subtraction of their life itself. He particularly attends to the experiences of young men, who are made the primary target of state violence—and how they cope with novel forms of unfreedom. By tracing the political and economic stakes of this emergent internal colonial project, the talk demonstrates that state-directed capitalist dispossession is coconstructed with relations of domination that are truly global.

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

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