Digital land is land: Meryem Kamil, Towards Decolonial Futures: New Media, Digital Infrastructures, and Imagined Geographies of Palestine, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 2019


Abstract: Towards Decolonial Futures: New Media, Digital Infrastructures, and Imagined Geographies of Palestine explores the unexpected breaks and fault-lines within Israeli settler-colonialism that are exacerbated by new media objects and practices. The dissertation examines both content and form of media that represent Palestine, revealing the limitations and possibilities of new media objects to provide a platform for contesting settler-colonialism and imagining decolonial futures for subaltern subjects. The key questions of the dissertation are as follows: What work do digital representations of Palestine and Palestinian land do for identifying fissures in settler-colonial structures? How can an attention to the materiality of digital infrastructures illustrate the ways the digital shapes, affects, and (dis)allows alternative Palestinian futures and relationality? How can a “postcolonial digital studies” framework emerge that distances itself from techno-determinism to critically understand subaltern subjects’ engagements with technology? To address these framing questions, Towards Decolonial Futures focuses on objects that seek to reframe understandings of Palestine and Palestinian resistance: new site Al Jazeera English’s 360-degree video tour of al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem alongside Palestinian group Udna’s video of the razed village Mi’ar’s history and potential future; mobile video game Liyla and the Shadows of War that represents life in the Gaza Strip alongside ImpactGames desktop video game Peacemaker: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that asks players to work towards a two-state solution; digital mapping practices on mobile application Waze and the open-source mapping community of OpenStreetMaps; and finally, incendiary kites and balloons released by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2018. The network, a non-space that traverses geography while also beholden to infrastructure, acts as a site of encounter where questions regarding Palestinian futurity can be explored. The dissertation models a method for future scholarship on postcolonial digital cultures by understanding technology as indeterminate objects embedded in structures of power. Through materialist postcolonial studies methods and digital culture analyses including close reading and discourse analysis, I examine both the content and form of media objects including circulation, infrastructure, and representation. The dissertation seeks to critically analyze the potential of media objects in re-framing users’ understandings of Palestinian identity, land, and resistance. In other words, I demonstrate the political work new media forms allow for in building alternative decolonial Palestinian futures. Towards Decolonial Futures delineates the ways particular new media objects and practices gesture to challenging Israeli settler-colonialism and building towards Palestinian futurity. Rather than celebrating new media in a techno-determinist fashion, this dissertation shows the affordances and limitations of using technology that disavow the importance of geography but allow for reimagining the relationship between Palestinians, Israeli settler-colonial structures, and land. 

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