Call for essays: Technology, power and emancipation

10 August 2019
Article

How do we recover the emancipatory potential of technological change and bring it back under popular democratic control? TNI is issuing a call for contributions for our Future Lab essay series.

We are undergoing a time of accelerated technological change in the 21st century, with massive adoption of the internet and smartphones, ever-more sophisticated Artificial Intelligence, robots and automation, a genetics revolution and rapid technological changes in our energy, food and transport systems. It has been a heralded as a new industrial revolution, one that not only is automating production but also blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

But for social movements, many of these developments are more often greeted with concern rather than optimism. This is a significant shift. The ICT revolution in the 1990s, for example, was greeted with acclaim and optimism by many social movements who welcomed its capacity to give voice to new actors, to connect people globally, to  build powerful networks of social change. Its promise and power was captured by movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico who remained rooted in indigenous tradition but who were one of the first movements to creatively use new technologies to share news and perspectives and to mobilise international solidarity. The major protests against the WTO, the global anti-war movement, Indignados, the Arab Spring, all surged and made massive progress because they had a sophisticated and bold strategy for using new technologies.

The confluence of two dynamics though has made this rapid technological change a much more disturbing rather than promising portent. First, the massive corporate concentration of political and economic power in the last decades has meant that much of the technological change is being driven and benefiting corporations with little regard for popular accountability or control. Second, the militarisation and security obsession of states, particularly since 9/11, has unleashed a seemingly relentless drive towards surveillance and  militarisation at a massive cost to autonomy and privacy which deeply undermines movements that seek to transform society.

The result has been that a few tech giants now have unprecedented control not just not of our labour, but our feelings, our emotions and behavior, our inner life. Other TNCs are meanwhile using technology to deepen dispossession of land, make labour ever more precarious and take control of critical services and natural resources. States under a narrative of security-uber-alles are meanwhile monitoring and surveilling society evermore with drastic implications for activists, migrants and the exercise of democracy.

To recover technology’s emancipatory potential, we need to deepen our understanding of structures of power and how elites are appropriating technological change to serve profits and privilege, as well as advance proposals for bringing it back under popular control.

TNI is therefore launching  a new series on Digital Futures and asking for essays and submissions. A selection of the essays will also be published on ROAR magazine.

We are particularly interested in interrogating some of these questions:
 

  • What are the underlying strategies of both the digital tech giants as well as other TNCs driving technological change in the worlds of AI, robotics, genetics, Internet of Things as well as  in sectors such as agriculture, finance,  services?
  • How is technological change reshaping modern corporations, capitalism, states and democracy?
  • What are the social, democratic and ecological impacts of these corporate-led technological developments?
  • How do these tech giants operate, consolidate control and how might they be challenged?
  • How is states’ increased capacity for surveillance and automated control unfolding and where? What drives it? Who will be most affected?
  • What is needed for technology to be emancipatory?
  • What proposals or models do we have to rein in the power of the tech giants? What laws or regulations need to be passed?
  • How can technology be directed towards tackling systemic crises like inequality, environmental breakdown, democratic deficits?
  • What proposals or models do we have for restricting state surveillance and making states’ use of technology democratically accountable?
  • How can technology assist and strengthen social movements in resisting injustice and building a just society?
  • What models and examples are there of emancipatory technological development? What makes them accountable? How can they be applied more generally while allowing for diversity?
  • What is the role of academia in technological development?
  • How do we tackle ecological limits and environmental breakdown with technology given the severe ecological footprint of many new technologies?
  • How do we deal with the social alienation embedded in some technologies and use it to reconnect people and strengthen communities?

We welcome a wide range of perspectives and analysis on the broad theme, however we appreciate submissions that relate to areas TNI most closely work on such as corporate impunity, trade and investment policies, land, agrarian and environmental justice, resource grabbing, public services, war and pacification, social movements and counter-power (see https://www.tni.org/en/programmes)

TNI has a small number of grants – to be prioritized for activists with low-incomes and those working on these topics in the Global South. Please mention in your submission if you wish to apply for this grant which will be awarded if your essay is published in the main report.

Format and Style

Our goal ultimately is to provide accessible analysis that can be read and used by a broad range of activists and social movements that will help movements confront entrenched power and injustice. TNI produces its essays in the format of a long-read. For this series, the best essays will also be syndicated in a series in ROAR magazine.  We are therefore looking for pieces written as journalistic long-reads that make information accessible.

Eligibility

While TNI is proud of our high standard of scholarship, this call does not require any specific academic qualifications. Contributors to earlier editions of State of Power have included students, professors, journalists, activists and artists - all at different stages of their careers and lives. TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.

Process

The essays will be published over several months - October 2019 to June 2020.  The selection process will follow three stages:

1. In the first stage, writers are asked to send in a
a) pitch for your long-read essay
b) a short bio and
c) some links to previous work. It will help your application if your previous work is not just limited to academic texts but includes some more accessible journalistic pieces.
d) a deadline by which it can be completed (must be before May 2020)

Pitches should include:
    • the main argument you are trying to make
    • the key points you would include
    • stories or examples that illustrate it  

The pitch can be based on existing papers .

2. Those whose pitches are chosen will be asked to submit an essay. Upon submission, TNI's editorial panel will decide whether to publish them as attractive TNI long-reads.

3. The approved essays will go through a final round of revisions based on feedback by TNI's Editorial Panel, and subject to final copyedit and will be published on longreads.tni.org. A small number will also be published on ROAR and/or other syndicated outlets.

4. Essays that aren't approved for publication on tni.org may be considered for publication as a PDF.

Instructions for submission

Pitches may be emailed to stateofpower AT tni.org at any time between August 2019 and February 2020.
 

  • Pitches/essays must address technology from a critical  progressive perspective, seeking to provide useful knowledge and analysis for movements engaged in the struggle for social and environmental justice
  • Pitches/essays can be based on reworked versions of existing or previously published essays/papers or extracts of books but must be made accessible to a non-academic audience
  • TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.
  • Pitches and essays can be written in English or Spanish.
  • Pitches must be a maximum of 800 words. They do not need to be of continuous prose but must capture the main arguments of the essay and can be expanded outlines. Bios should be 200 words or less.
  • Final Essay length: 2000-4000 words.
  • Style: TNI has five basic criteria for its research and publications that will also be used to assess the pitches and essays:
    -Credible: Well researched and evidence-based
    - Accessible: Readable by a broad non-specialist audience (in other words please avoid too much academic jargon) and try to use stories, examples
    - Additional: Adds depth, new insights or detail to existing knowledge/research
    - Radical: Tackles the structural roots of critical issues
    - Propositional: Does not just critique, but also puts forward just alternatives where relevant
  • Please send as .doc file or .docx file or Open/Libre Office equivalent for written texts, pdf for artistic submissions
  • The decision of the Editorial Panel is final. If your pitch or essay is chosen, please be ready to respond to peer reviews and copy editing comments based on the timeline below.