Panel 2

Urban Renewal and GIS: Mapping the (Global) Motor City

Joseph DeLeon
University of Michigan Ann Arbor

The Detroit Blight Elimination Task Force intends to battle Detroit’s vast problem of blighted built structures through the Motor City Mapping project’s participatory database creation. With the aid of the project’s blexting application, which refers to “blight-texting,” Detroiters can now add photographs and descriptions of parcels of land throughout the city into the Motor City Mapping database. This information is then presented in a Geographic Information System (GIS) to show relationships between blight, fire damage, and other pressing factors.

My paper attempts to use the GIS file format to create a conceptual interface between writings on global media urbanism, such as Ravi Sundaram’s work on Delhi’s media urbanism, and the infrastructural arrangements in Detroit’s urban space. This interface produces a site of encounter where efforts to use digital media to battle blight reveal problematic arrangements of participation in Detroit’s urban space. I use Jonathan Sterne’s work on the cultural contingencies of the format to approach the GIS file format as an articulation of a U.S. racial politics, keenly felt in Detroit during its latest periods of crisis.

I argue that the Motor City Mapping project attempts to visualize and render knowable the scale and temporality of Detroit’s crises by presenting Detroit as a database with its own inherent practices of interaction and modes of viewing. The GIS platform functions according to layered sites of encounter, paralleling the ideological orientation of the project’s participants. The manual, bodily labor in this project is efficiently rerouted from former activists or employees of a technology company to the unpaid laborers who emphatically feel the need to perform this labor while, at the same time, bringing these citizens in line with the ideology of the mapping project at large.

By peering into the GIS file format and its temporality, I aim to present a conflicted and contingent understanding of this project and its potential for radical social inclusion to battle blight in Detroit.

Uncharted Territories: Theorizing the Piratical Potentialities of the Deep Web

Daniel Grinberg
University of California, Santa Barbara

After the seizures of the Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0 online black markets, privacy advocates worried that state agencies had identified the locations of vast segments of the once-untraceable Deep Web. By discursively emphasizing the illicit activities of the Darknet, the subset of the Deep Web that facilitates criminal activity, these agencies gained leeway and academic support to de-anonymize this digital space far beyond its illegal aspects. Consequently, the state’s aggressive reterritorialization of the Deep Web, which one study estimates is 500 times larger than the Surface Web, is already constricting Internet infrastructures and users’ digital mobility.

This presentation aims to interrogate the potentialities of the Deep Web as an emergent gray area and the array of piratical encounters it enables. Comparable to some physical frontiers, the Deep Web’s relative absence of governmental oversight enables its status as both a perilous harbor for criminals but also a necessary haven for dissidents, activists, and other ‘outlaws’ who rely on anonymity. For the theoretical framework of the presentation, I will build on Hakeem Bey’s notion of the temporary autonomous zone, which asserts the liberatory possibilities of spaces that briefly arise to challenge state sovereignty and strategically dissolve. I will also apply Michel Foucault’s idea of biopolitics to the digital era to argue that the state’s indiscriminate bulk collection of data and suspicionless surveillance create oppressive new ways of categorizing populations.

At a moment when the National Security Agency is, in the words of Glenn Greenwald, “devoted to one overarching mission: to prevent the slightest piece of electronic communication from evading its systemic grasp,” the Deep Web still offers a real, if fading, hope of opting out of being a digital biopolitical subject. It allows users the necessary potentiality of untethering themselves from their physical identities and geophysical locations in ways the Surface Web no longer can.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Lip Lock and Social Media in the Kiss of Love Protests

Darshana Sreedhar Mini
Freie University, Berlin

In 2014, “Kiss of Love”(KOL), a social media driven protest, ruffled the conservative moral ethos of the Indian public, throwing open to debate, the right to engage in consensual modes of intimacy. The protest started in the South Indian state of Kerala when a mob of attackers vandalized a café in the town of Calicut, after a prominent news Channel telecast an exclusive report showing a young couple kissing in the parking space of the cafe. This was symptomatic of the growing intolerance against public intimacy, which escalated after the formation of the government by the right wing Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Facebook page “Kiss of Love” was inaugurated as a support base to counter moral policing and curtailment of intimate expressions in public. In a short time, this “local” instance mobilized a large support base from social media users from various parts of the country and elsewhere, with separate KOL chapters formed in various cities all over India. The movement also reflected the strategies employed by other mass mobilizations in using digital social publics as protest spaces, as seen in Delhi (2012) and Calcutta (2014), both after cases of sexual assault and molestation. There are therefore, at least two levels of encounters embedded in the KOL movement—the encounter between the public space of protest and digital social media, and the encounter between the actual intimate bodies and the right wing organizations they resisted. In my paper, I will engage in an online ethnography of the KOL protest in its various phases to examine how digital social media functions as an interface that not only mobilizes support, but also rips open the contradictions which are embalmed within accepted social norms. In essence, the KOL movement used the contact zones of technology and legal injunctions to subvert and renegotiate discussions of sexuality and desire. From the intimate act of lip-locking, the mode of protest gave way to hugs and holding hands and even using photographs with messages posted to the Facebook page as ways to show one’s political commitment against Fascism.