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The extractive infrastructures of contact tracing apps

A Research Paper by Miriyam Aouragh, Seda Gürses, Helen Pritchard and Femke Snelting, published by Journal of Environmental Media

The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as a major crisis, with calls for debt moratoriums that are expected to have gruesome effects in the Global South. Another tale of this crisis that would come to dominate COVID-19 news across the world was a new technological application: the contact tracing apps. In this article, we argue that both accounts – economic implications for the Global South and the ideology of techno-solutionism – are closely related. We map the phenomenon of the tracing app onto past and present wealth accumulations. To understand these exploitative realities, we focus on the implications of contact tracing apps and their relation with extractive technologies as we build on the notion racial capitalism. By presenting themselves in isolation of capitalism and extractivism, contact tracing apps hide raw realities, concealing the supply chains that allow the production of these technologies and the exploitative conditions of labour that make their computational magic manifest itself. As a result of this artificial separation, the technological solutionism of contract tracing apps is ultimately presented as a moral choice between life and death. We regard our work as requiring continuous undoing – a necessary but unfinished formal dismantling of colonial structures through decolonial resistance.


Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

Miriyam Aouragh


Dr. Miriyam Aouragh is a Reader at CAMRI. She has studied the implications of the internet as it was first introduced (“Web 1.0”) in Palestine (PhD, University of Amsterdam, 2000-2008) to understand in particular the significance of techno-­social evolutions by analysing how a new technology coincided with the outbreak of a mass uprising (Second Intifada 2000-2005). She then focused on the political role of new internet developments, such as blogging and social networking (“Web 2.0”) for grassroots activism in Lebanon and Palestine (Postdoc, Oxford Internet Institute, 2009-2011). After earning a Leverhulme Early Career (UoW, 2013-2016) funding Miriyam set-up a critical research project in which she relates theory with online analysis through a focus on the complex revolutionary dynamics in the Arab world. In these new techno-social relations, marked by revolution and counter-revolution, she researched and wrote about the paradoxical context of online-revolution and cyber-imperialism. During fieldwork in Palestine, Jordan Lebanon and Morocco, she combined participant observation and interviews with media analyses and throughout her academic projects and collaborations in general, she relates online studies and observations with ethnographic (offline) methodologies, and theoretical focus on critical race, political-economy and infrastructures. Miriyam theorizes how the contradictions of capitalism shape the modes and meanings of resistance in the era of revolution and digital transformations. Her work is published in several books and journals (see Publications) including her own monograph Palestine Online (IB Tauris 2011), forthcoming book on Cyber Imperialism (2021) and monograph about the (r)evolutionary dynamics of protest in Morocco (2022). Miriyam teaching about internet, (global) media, (Middle East/race) politics and anthropology. She welcomes and supervises PhD students.


26 August 2020
Published By
Journal of Environmental Media
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