Infrastructure, Technology and Values in the “Digital Silk Road”

Friday 29 May, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

RSVP via Eventbrite

Software, hardware and apps built by tech companies are becoming the visible and invisible infra­structure underpinning the life of people, businesses, and institutions. Scholarship on this visible and invisible infrastructure and its increasing influence on daily life is focused on tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, and other US based companies. Meanwhile, Chinese tech companies have been quietly gaining users and market share outside their domestic boundaries. Alipay, part of the Chinese Alibaba Group, is the largest mobile payment platform in the world; Alibaba itself is a global provider of cloud services and e-commerce services; Tencent is the world’s biggest video game company; Huawei is building infrastruc­ture for broadband and mobile connectivity all around the world. Alongside the expansion of these compa­nies in global markets, the Chinese government has launched the “Digital Silk Road,” a part of its so-called “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) specifically focused on investments in digital technologies and infrastructure in countries that are part of its loosely reimagined Silk Road. Drawing from the initial stages of a research project that will take place in some of China’s neighboring countries in 2020-2025, this paper asks: what values and politics are built into the various components of the Digital Silk Road, and is – or how is – the internet they are creating fundamentally different from the current one? How do different technological “values” – some embedded in US technologies, and some in Chinese technologies – meet, clash or agree, and are reformed into new socio-technical systems in countries where they both co-exist?

Elisa Oreglia researches the adoption, adaptation and use of digital technologies in Asia, with a focus on China and Southeast Asia. She is interested in the localized socio-technical practices that emerge from technology users who are far from urban centers and advanced economies, as well as the political economy that surrounds technology development and circulation.