Staging the Digital Subaltern 2.0 : Access and Divides Reconsidered

Thankyou for asking me to respond to these questions. In this very brief response I draw on work I’ve been doing in Digital Media Economics/Financialization, Cyberfeminism and Critical Development Studies. Thus my observations are based on several years of online and offline ethnographic work and collaborations. Further discussion can be found in my most recent book “Cyberculture and the Subaltern” and continuing work on the “Digital Subaltern 2.0”

The impact of materializing the Other through a visual staging in virtual environments has increasingly become more “real” to the average global citizen. This visual access to the Other through social networking platforms and web 2.0 peer-to-peer software is interspersed with our everyday use of these platforms and networks for shopping, connecting with family and friends, working, teaching, attending class, campaigning, doing social activism, voting, paying utility bills and so much more. All these activities – casual, important, affect-laden and even distant – are staged and interlinked, producing a sort of precarious relational interconnectivity that we are simultaneously lured into and fearful of. We are fascinated by and want to (and in fact feel as if we cannot afford not to) be a part of this cyberspatial global/local interweavings and yet we feel unsafe, panicked, always on-call. We venture out into the computer worlds with a sense of putting our “identity” at risk – yet call up Other identities to be brought forth before us and somehow accept them on face value as stable, constant and real. 

 Individualized subject positions for a global (entrepreneurial) “self-made” labor force are situated within hierarchies that privilege particular located modes of consumption and production that are named as "Global." These “digital subaltern 2.0” enactments set the stage for the production of very particular de-contextualized (yet staged as contextualized through careful arrangements of cues that serve to authenticate this staging as recognizably real) individualized global labor force. In such an examination, it is important to take into account how the Internet represents global space where rich and sustained interactions are constitutive of cultures that impact global socio-economic practices on and offline. These representations and interactions  serve as evidence of bridges built to close up digital divides. Yet these bridges like  interstate highways by-pass particular subaltern cultures and communities selectively. They thus have very real impacts on who has access and on how individualized labor forces are produced. What results is the provision of selective access and only certain literacies for subaltern negotiation of the so-called  global economic and social environments through the digital.

What appears to be connectedness may be mere re-presentation, what appears to be exoticization may be necessary marketing for survival. What appears as individual authentic voices are thus voicings that are produced performatively through an interaction of invisible interface design and political, economic and discursive hierarchies that have coded the subaltern as data. Thus, as Spivak noted in 2002, “the invasion of so-called cyberliteracy in the subaltern sphere is frightening” (285). The question in the context of what some might term as digital divide 2.0, of course, is how and when this access and connectness is frightening. 

Image on front page by ocean.flynn and available on Flickr.


This reminds me of how we often mistake digital presence for access and are so distracted by our own privilege that we consider  our electric interactions with the Other to be legitimate. The most frightening aspect of this is the fruition of Debord's fear about the spectacle in a hypermediated society.  With the means of production residing in very few hands (backed by particular ideologies and conveyed through rhetorics), the Other is more distanced having been removed from the ability to reconfigure the spectacle. 

Thank you for this provocative post Radhika


Thankyou for that comment. Indeed that is my point - that presence is confused for access - but also that access is confused for sustained empowerment. "Micro" empowerments occur - yes. 

But the spectacle of empowerment enables the telling of the Success story of digital financialization and globalization even as digital platforms where identities are staged are produced through specific mystified literacies and tools.

We assume that calling up someone into our frame of reference - where we can see them and "understand" them - somehow transforms them into participating citizens of modern democracy.

"I blog therefore I am. I take your picture and blog you, therefore *you* are"

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