This collaboration between Enda Brophy, Max Haiven and Benjamin Anderson examines the relationships between emergent technology, the powers of finance and the histories and legacies of empire.
Call for abstracts for a special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, due March 16, 2020
This CFP is now closed. The resultant special issue of TOPIA will be released in 2021.
Issue 44, Spring 2021 SUMMER 2021
Edited by: Enda Brophy, Max Haiven and Benjamin Anderson
UPDATE: The editors of this special issue are re-issuing this call with an extended timeline and a special invitation for contributions that highlight these thematics in the wake of the ongoing global pandemic and concomitant financial crisis. All indicators point to the intensification of the trend towards greater convergence between financial and technological sectors of capitalist accumulation in the months and years ahead, a deeply worrying prospect given the unprecedented reach of emergency measures, powers and forms of disaster-capitalist deregulation being embraced by governments around the world in response to the crisis. From the data-bonanza presented by the development of contact-tracing apps to the keen interest many governments are showing for new forms of money and transaction, we are in a moment of unparalleled change.
As such, the editors especially encourage contributions that reflect on past trends and current tendencies to equip activists, scholars, policy-makers and the public to demand different common futures. We hope to publish a special issue with a plurality of voices and perspectives expressed in shorter interventions, interviews and roundtables, though traditional long-form articles are also very welcome.
For decades under neoliberalism the circuits of finance have been converging with those of information and communication technologies (ICTs). High-tech and big money are leading poles of capitalist accumulation as they restructure or eliminate other industries, capture and transform a vast gamut of social relations, and generate frenetic activity in the industrial expanse between them—a speculative and unfettered field of development known as “fintech.”
The rise of techno-finance in the first two decades of the twenty-first century presents a paradox. On the one hand, the commanding heights of the financialized, digital economy have come crashing down to earth at regular intervals. The dotcom bubble of 2000, the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, and the widespread revelations regarding surveillance capitalists’ models of data capture in the 2010s have discredited these sectors and their elites. Techno-utopian schemes of “financial inclusion” and the promises of a digitally networked public sphere have increasingly appeared morally, politically and economically dubious, if not bankrupt, when considered next to the social disintegration such models have wreaked on a wide scale.
But if the history of capitalism has taught us anything, it is that crises are hardly a barrier to new frontiers of accumulation. Across the vast industrial intersection of finance and tech, the forging of business plans, technologies, and dreams has been white hot. Mobile lending apps have expanded their reach into the global south, crypto-currency capitalists plan tax-free societies run on blockchain principles, platform companies like Facebook dream up digital currencies beyond state control, and the latest “development” schemes of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (2018) rely on the possibilities of fintech. If the myth that better integration into capitalist markets through the spread of ICTs will ameliorate the ills of that system increasingly rings hollow (see Bernards 2019, Gabor and Brooks 2017, Mader 2016, Manyika 2016), it still proves more than functional in raising capital, marshalling labour, and providing the ideological accelerant for new extractive schemes.
The fields of finance and tech converge in the notion of credit. On the one hand, the financial apparatus is a capitalist system for producing and allocating credit, a system that, today, as Randy Martin (2007) observed, increasingly divides global populations into the celebrated (and creditworthy) “risk-takers” and the discreditable and abject “at risk” populations whose “financial illiteracy” must be policed and contained (see also Haiven 2017). On the other, the notion of “credits” and “accounts” has been borrowed from finance within the infrastructure by which corporate technologies integrate “users” into their digital empires. Here, as Nick Dyer-Witheford (2015) illustrates, labour and life are increasingly disciplined and shaped by one’s accounts within the hyper-securitized micro-economies of a handful of leading ICT corporations. In both cases, the seemingly neutral, benign, or technocratic notion of credit, its actuarial banality, serves to hide or normalize the neocolonial forms of power and violence at work in our financialized society of control. Each form of credit actualizes our enrollment (and the expropriation of our data) within what Shoshana Zuboff (2019) calls “behavioural futures markets.”
Moreover, with the integration of the spheres of finance and digital technology we are witnessing the proliferation of modes of what Jackie Wang (2018) calls “exclusion through financial inclusion” which, as Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva (2012) note, aim to integrate the wretched of the earth into a sabotaged system (see also Taylor 2019). These and other authors note that we must see this as a continuation of the means by which capitalism has, throughout its history, seen the poor, the colonized and the racialized as vectors for new experiments in financial technology, debt and economic power (Kish and Leroy 2015, Roy 2012). Meanwhile, as Veronica Gago (2015) and Silvia Federici (2018) note, the expansion of digitalized global debt, both national and personal, represents a capitalist seizure of the sphere of social reproduction with particularly disastrous impacts on women.
We propose the theme of “Zero Credit” to designate two overlapping conditions which are the starting point of this collection’s focus. First, the familiar situation of having run out of credit, of being cast out from, yet still enmeshed within, the digital circuits of tech/finance. Second, we refer to the emergent situation of the collective calling in of the ‘debts’ of global capitalism in the form of people’s movement against and beyond financialization and the growing demand for radical alternatives to the global financial order: our credit may be at zero but so is our patience. As Frances Negron-Muntaner (Pérez-Rosario 2018) notes, we are in an era marked by the power of unpayable debts, as shown by the imposition of financially-led disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico (see also Klein 2018). The increasingly common condition of perpetual insolvency, of permanent bankruptcy, has become the staging ground for a new moment of anti-capitalist politics (Berardi 2012). What are the possibilities of what Peggy Kamuf (2007) called “accounterability” in the present moment? What are the methods for countering the dominant measurements of accounts or of recounting value, life, the economy or the possibilities of technology otherwise?
For this special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, we seek to map the convergence of ICTs and the debt/finance system, as well as to bring in to view the forces counteracting and organizing alternatives the dreams of fintech. The editors welcome short proposals (250-300 words) for contributions interrogating the intersections of (1) emergent digital frameworks of power; (2) debt regimes, new and old; and (3) the collective resistance of social movements. We are particularly interested in critical examinations of interventions with the following themes: