Inspired by Twitter’s #FollowFriday meme, the final day of the University Press Week Blog Tour is dedicated to things we follow: sub-fields, scholars, new research, popular discussions, etc. Please read our submission below and check out today’s other University Press Week contributors Columbia University Press, Island Press, University of Minnesota Press, University of Nebraska Press, and NYU Press.
What we’re following: The Geopolitics of Information
by University of Illinois Press Acquisitions Editor Daniel Nasset
Hackers breach the White House’s computer system, Brazil announces plans to lay a new fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union debates the future of internet governance in Busan, South Korea. What do recent headlines say about the role of information in today’s international power structure? After a few illuminating conversations with Dan Schiller, a historian of information and communication systems at the University of Illinois, I started following, with heightened interest, scholarship on these topics and the role information and communications technologies were playing in an increasingly conflicted world, a world where the United States’ unipolar moment was, if not over, at least challenged by new economic alignments and blocs.
After following this research, we decided the time was right to explore this turn (or return) to geopolitics in the realm of information networks more rigorously and from a global perspective, so we also got in touch with Yuezhi Zhao at Simon Fraser University and Pradip Thomas at the University of Queensland. Wikileaks had left little doubt regarding the centrality of information control in the geopolitical power structure, and the reception of Evgeny Morozov’s The Network Delusion and Rebecca MacKinnon’s Consent of the Networked demonstrated the broad appeal of issues pertaining to the geopolitics of information. However, a book series from a university press could move the empirical thickness of research in the field forward and create a sustained scholarly focus on the subject. With Professors Schiller, Zhao, and Thomas as coeditors, we started a new series we are calling the Geopolitics of Information.
With the Geopolitics of Information in the works, the Snowden affair erupted and exposed the existential urgency of the topic: given the unprecedented levels of foreign and domestic surveillance, issues of privacy became a global concern for both American citizens and non-citizens whose communications traveled through the United States. Disclosures regarding the United States’ preemptive launch into a new era of cyber conflict and the vast resources committed to offensive capabilities in cyberspace are equally if not more troubling. The secrecy surrounding the weaponizing of the internet prevents understanding, and, ominously, these crucial decisions are being taken without accountability. Looking beyond the United States’ military and information supremacy, what alternatives to U.S. dominated information networks are being developed in South America? What does the continental development agenda of Naspers—South Africa’s media giant—mean for other African states? These are issues that are timely, important, and require careful research; a university press is the ideal place for the global ramifications of these pressing questions to be analyzed and debated in their complexity.
Our series is designed to rethink geopolitical power through the lens of information and networks. It will seek and commission book projects investigating how information has moved to the center of the increasingly conflicted question of who will shape the global political economy, and how. The dispensation of the world’s communication systems and information resources constitutes both a domain of political-economic rivalry conducted by states and corporations, and a field of social contestation involving a wider set of social actors. The series is broadly defined to foreground both interstate rivalries and societal struggles, and to encompass emergent pressure points and environing social-historical dynamics.
At Illinois, we are excited how the series builds off the History of Communication series and our long history of publishing critical communication texts. Our ambition, however, is to broaden the scope beyond the field of communication in particular and the social sciences more broadly, by also establishing an influential presence in policy making and relevance to multiple scales of governance—from non-government and citizen advocacy to the local, regional, national, and supranational polities.
As this point, we have established joint publication of the series with the Communication University of China Press. The first book in the series—Schiller’s Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis—published this fall. Setting the stage for other volumes in the series, it demonstrates how the technological revolution within information and communications technologies is wrapped up in global economic stagnation leading to deepening exploitation and inequality and giving rise to the militarization and surveillance that mark new geopolitical conflicts. The second title, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski’s Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, is in production, and we have a pipeline of titles ranging from China’s soft power initiatives to Turkish media institutions’ impact on the state, society, and the broader Middle East, to labor practices at electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, and its place in transnational commodity chains.