Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 157: Terror Capitalism and Uyghur Dispossession — with Darren Byler

Speakers: Alyha Bardi, Am Johal, Darren Byler

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Alyha Bardi  0:02
Hello listeners! I’m Alyha Bardi with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal is joined by Darren Byler, a sociocultural anthropologist and assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies. In this episode, Darren speaks about his latest book Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City. In the book, he argues that Chinese authorities and technologists have made Uyghurs the object of “terror capitalism.” Enjoy the episode!

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Am Johal  0:50 
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar. Delighted you could join us again. This week. We're speaking to our special guest Darren Byler this week. He has a new book coming out in early 2022, Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City. Welcome, Darren. 

Darren Byler  1:10
Thanks for having me.

Am Johal  1:11 
Yeah, Darren, maybe we can start with you introducing yourself a little bit. 

Darren Byler  1:15 
Sure. I'm an anthropologist, and I teach now in the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University. My research is focused on Northwest China, with a group of people called the Uyghurs, which is a Turkic Muslim group. And I'm really trying to understand how a surveillance system was built and began to control their lives. So, I've focused a lot of my work in ethnography and interviewing Uyghurs. But I'm also trying to understand how systems of control change people's lives and how they build forms of political power, and economic capital for those that control such systems.

Am Johal  1:55 
First of all, how did this research project get started for you?

Darren Byler  2:02 
It was a long time ago, in 2003, I went to this region for the first time as an undergraduate student, not really understanding at all what I was looking at. And, you know, at the time I was a photographer, so I was taking pictures of landscapes. But I could see already then that the area where the Uyghurs live, this immense space, the size of Alaska, was being transformed in search of natural resources. So, the Chinese state had begun to build infrastructure, roads, and pipelines into the region. And they were also beginning to sort of change the land, the urban landscape. And so, I could see that there's a lot of dynamism in the atmosphere that a lot was changing. And I thought it'd be an interesting thing to study, not realizing that it would become so politically fraught, that eventually it would result in hundreds of thousands of people being interned, and that the surveillance systems and policing would begin to really subsume everything.

Darren Byler  3:05 
But you know, I met many people, and they became close friends of mine. And as I began a PhD in anthropology, they're the ones that taught me Uyghur language, Uyghur culture. Really started to sort of guide me through what makes Uyghur life what it is. And I think because I had built these relationships with people, I felt, you know, a lot of obligation to try to tell their story. And that's, you know, what sort of propelled me through the research.

Am Johal  3:34 
I'm wondering if we can maybe start with you defining the term terror capitalism, the title of the book.

Darren Byler  3:43 
Sure. So, terror capitalism is my attempt to really understand what's happened in this space. It kind of emerges out of 2001 and the global war on terror, which is when terrorism was used as a as a term was used for the first time in China. Prior to this, Uyghurs were sometimes referred to as separatists, like Tibetans, and sometimes Mongols as people that want to have greater autonomy within their own ancestral homelands.

Darren Byler  4:13 
But after the war on terror, began, the Chinese state began to talk about Uyghur protesters as terrorists. Oftentimes, you know, the protests that they were carrying out were over land seizures were in response to police brutality. They didn't really meet standard international standards for what constitutes terrorism. But the state nevertheless began to use that term and it sort of began to take on a life of its own. It began to be conflated with religious behavior in general with going to the mosque, fasting during Ramadan, which are quite normative forms of religious practice elsewhere in the world. Now, those things began to be seen as sort of pre terrorism as something that will lead to terrorism and Islam itself, eventually was talked about as a kind of ideology of hate, really feeding on Islamophobia that was coming out of many other places around the world and so on.

Darren Byler  5:09 
And, and that's not to say that there weren’t actual events carried out by Uyghurs that didn't target on people, they did happen. And some of them do meet international standards of terrorism, but they're, you know, a handful of them really. And, you know, the people that carried out those crimes number in the several hundreds or maybe a thousand or more, but the state has now begun to assess the entire population as potentially terrorist. And so, I'm looking at that discrepancy between the two, terror capitalism is about how the state has begun to work in private public partnerships with many technology companies across China, to conduct what they call this the People's War on Terror. And so, they've forward, you know, around $100 billion into infrastructure, $10 billion or so into technology systems. And so, there's all this state capital sort of flooding Northwest China.

Darren Byler  6:07 
It's building a kind of security industrial complex, but by using the term terror capitalism, we're trying to understand that, you know, what does this do beyond sort of describing the emergence of an industry and trying to think about how new forms of political subjectivity are created by using the term terrorist, how, when it's technology, technology is being used to define the terrorist, algorithms are beginning to assess people using, you know, 50, to 70,000 different markers of religious behavior, then it becomes something about sorting a population, about deciding who's detainable. And once someone is potentially detainable, and or has been detained, they're placed on particular watch lists, that mean that they can be subjected to certain forms of control. They're not permitted to move through space, they can be assigned to work in factories, or they can be interned. And what's happening here is data is being harvested, which is really lucrative for the technology companies. So that's really one form of capital. And then, in addition, there's these workers that are under the sign of terrorism are placed in factories that are securitized. That function as smart factories, something in the in the way that Amazon warehouses function as smart warehouses, where behavior is monitored, where people are controlled through surveillance, and in addition to the human surveillance. So, I'm trying to understand this as a new frontier of capitalist accumulation.

Darren Byler  7:45 
That coincides with surveillance capitalism in general, you know, we're all kind of subsumed by surveillance capitalism everywhere in the world. But it's also related to a kind of racial capitalism, or racialized capitalism, and thinking about the figure of the terrorist as, as the subject of a new sequence in racialization, not to say that it's the same as you know, black and white, like in the US context, but a kind of ethnic difference is being racialized, based on the religious practice, or the supposed threat of the Muslim other. And, you know, it's really targeting particular groups of people in within the Uyghur population. So, you know, the adult population and particularly men, and so that's why I also focus on masculinity as a central dynamic in in the terror capitalism that I'm examining in this context.

Am Johal  8:40 
In the digital enclosure that you talk about that that takes its form, within terror capitalism, that you define, what are some features of this digital enclosure that you could speak to?

Darren Byler  8:54 
Sure. So, you know, the internet arrived fairly recently in this region. In 2010, is when 3G networks came, everyone bought a smartphone, and they got on an app called WeChat, which was available to them within China. Other apps like Twitter and Facebook were blocked in China. And so, for several years, people used it fairly freely. And some of that had to do with them using Uyghur language, which was sort of outside the censorship system in China. And so, they're using the voice memo, application within WeChat to share messages about jobs, about politics, about religious practice. There were religious teachers that built networks within WeChat.

Darren Byler  9:36 
So, they didn't realize that they were leaving digital footprints as they did that. But by 2014-15, as the state began, what they called the People's War on Terror and began to use new breakthroughs and automated forms of surveillance, they began to track what people had done in the past. And so, they, throughout the region, hired 60,000 or so grid workers, which are people that are stationed at checkpoints. And they started to scan people's phones using a what they called counterterrorism swords that go through people's digital history. They also instituted a new ID system that was tagged to biometric material, like facial scans and fingerprints, iris scans, voice signatures. And so, they began to track people's movement, assess them, based on who had done things in the past, as they determined were untrustworthy. And remove, you know, significant numbers of the population from regular life and sent them to a series of camps they built by 2017. So that's sort of how it unfolded, it became this sort of flexible enclosure system that's sort of similar to border checkpoints, but other every several hundred meters, and Uyghur majority areas where certain people that are coded as trustworthy are permitted to pass and those that are untrustworthy, are either detained or they're stopped from passing through those spaces. So, it's a kind of a digital apartheid system in some ways, that is, assures the flexible circulation of wanted people and objects, but controls those that the state wants to control.

Am Johal  11:17 
And how would you differentiate this form of the use of digital technologies, separate from what's been called the Social Credit System that's being used in a broader way in China?

Darren Byler  11:33
Yeah, so across China, they're assessing populations, it's often being piloted at local levels. And they're doing a similar sort of categorization as who's trustworthy or not. Mostly what they're thinking about is who's trustworthy in terms of credit, in terms of economic credit, who can be loaned money, who's a trustworthy business partner.

Darren Byler  11:54 
And so, for most people across China, this system is seen as something that's actually positive, as something that gives them some assurance, in terms of whether or not they will be cheated out of whatever money that they're transacting in, in a space. There is also a social control component to it, like they're trying to regulate behavior, like jaywalking, or littering and things like that. But most people see that as you know, in a kind of minor inconvenience. They don't anticipate that there'll be thrown into a camp or that they'll be rendered detainable, like Uyghurs or Kazakhs or Hui people in the in the Uyghur region, those are all those three are the main Muslim groups that have been targeted. So, it's, if you're in the protected population, as the social credit system is something that is actually fairly similar to credit ratings in other contexts. You know, here in Canada, we also have credit ratings when it comes to who can get a loan or not.

Am Johal  12:50 
I'm wondering, in terms of that kind of, you know, state backed data surveillance of citizens in this type of racialized sense, as well, that what are the forms that resistance takes, when you have this sort of totalizing model placed upon a minority within a nation state?

Darren Byler  13:16 
Well, they become quite narrow, I mean, one of the things that a digital surveillance system can do when it's incorporating sort of the Internet of Things, which is your smartphone becomes a tracking device, with a smart speaker in it and all of that, that it means that, you know, people are interacting with the state, kind of throughout all waking moments of their day. People that I interviewed recently told me that they would leave their phones behind times, or they would go to locations where phones weren't really possible like a sauna. And there they would feel like they have a free space to speak, or they will go to a park you know, those sorts of places. It's not as though the surveillance is perfect, perfect should be read to sort of pejoratively, that it's all, you know, omniscient, but it is always there and so it begins to change people's behavior. People just begin to self regulate. You know, that's what Foucault was talking about when he talked about the Panopticon, that it doesn't matter if the guard is in the Watchtower or not. You just start to change your behavior in case the guard is watching you or could be watching you.

Darren Byler  14:24 
So, you know, that's what's happening here. And then on top of that is sort of super panopticon-ism, which is that they're being assessed through patterned assessment in real time. Which means that the guard isn't even necessary, that the computers are watching you. So, the outside of this is really hard to see, one of the positive things, I guess about it all being born digital is that it's easy to hack or to expose, in some ways, it's easier, I suppose. Many of the internal police documents that I've been working with in this book, were obtained by the Intercept, 52 gigabytes of internal police documents. And we have many other state documents that have come out as well, they're often coming from within the state. So, it's people that want the world to know about what's happening, that have something to lose if they are caught sharing this information, sharing it with us. And that speaks to the way that this is not simply a Han versus Uyghur issue. It's also a state power sort of apparatus that's enforcing the system. So, in answer to your question, the outside is small, but there is still some space.

Am Johal  15:38 
I'm wondering if you could speak to you know, other forms of settler colonialism say Israel vis-à-vis Palestine or India vis-à-vis Kashmir, the situation with Uyghurs in China? What are some of the similarities and differences in the forums that surveillance take in these in this context?

Darren Byler  16:02 
Right, so the settler colonialism in China, like colonialism in Kashmir and in Palestine is a relatively new one. It's something that emerges after the primary wave of European settler colonialism, that is ongoing, and Canada and in Australia and other places in the world. One difference from those older forms of colonialism is that it's, you know, emerging out of a kind of a moral wounding that was a part of that first colonialism.

Darren Byler  16:39 
So, I think in both India and China, being former colonies, or semi colonies of Western powers, is something that is sort of mobilizing popular movements and state leaders to exert some forms of power and saying now it's our turn to be the colonizer and not really, I think, reckoning with the lessons of history in terms of what colonialism does to the colonized. So, it's kind of motivated by this sense of lack that, you know, we were not colonizers in the past, we were the victims. And so now it's our turn. That it so that's a real difference, because we have to, you know, account for the way that, you know, Chinese people, Han people are also racialized in relation to Western society.

Darren Byler  17:29 
But that's not to say that new forms of racialization don't emerge in those contexts, that the features of settler colonialism don't repeat in other places. When it comes to the actual security apparatus, they're quite similar. I would say that, you know, China and Israel are probably doing are in the lead when it comes to the use of advanced forms of technology. One difference is that, you know, in Palestine in the West Bank, there is some forms of autonomy within a Palestinian society. Whereas for Uyghurs, there really is no political sovereignty that's available to them. That state is everywhere. This system of control, the digital surveillance systems have just been folded or placed on top of, you know, all geographic locations. And so, there's not as much of an outside perhaps. The other thing is that in Palestine, much of the technology is extraterritorial or it's coming from the United States. So, you know, Palestinians are using Facebook and other apps that allow them, I think, to have a greater degree of free speech than you might see for Uyghurs.

Darren Byler  18:41 
When it comes to India and Kashmir, I think the Kashmir situation is unfolding very rapidly, and they're beginning to use technology in similar ways, to the way that it's been used. In China, I think that they're there, in some ways, perhaps modeling what they're doing on what China is doing. Although I don't know if they've said that directly. Some of the difference might be in the way that the technology industry, when it comes to computer vision and biometric surveillance in China's perhaps a bit more advanced than it is in India. And so, building these systems, and putting them in place might take more time. But, you know, these are small differences, really, although they have large input implications. I think, in general, we see a lot of commonality, that there's a lot of resonance between these forms of new colonialism.

Am Johal  19:34 
You make a really interesting point in the book that settler colonialism shouldn't just be looked at, as a kind of dominant Western colonial frame, there's certainly that aspect to its history, but that these newer forms that are happening in China, but also in many other countries, and we see it, I suppose, in some newer forms of authoritarianism that are been emergent from Brazil to Turkey to, to elsewhere and wondering if you can speak to what are some of the specific features of this form of settler colonialism as you try to define it?

Darren Byler  20:13 
Right? Well, I mean, in some ways, it's the oldest forms of settler colonialism. So, it's occupation, which is essential. If you want to have a settler colony, you need to move settlers into the space that you know is the ancestral homelands, is the space of the colonized. And then you begin a process of dispossession which is, ranges from material dispossession taking their land, taking their labour. But also, epistemic dispossession. So, taking their language system away from them, and the ways in which that they reproduce themselves by passing on their traditions to the next generation. So, you begin to block all of those things. And the way you do that is through a relationship of domination, which is when you start to take over the institutions, you know, the court system, the school system, the banking system.

Darren Byler  21:02 
And you see all of those things happening in the Northwest region of China, with the Han people coming in the 90s, and then beginning to transform the geographic space and the society. So, you know, in many ways, what's happening there is sort of stereotypically settler colonialism. It's, of course, an internal settler colony, because the Chinese state has sovereignty over this space, and has had that sovereignty for quite a long time. During the Maoist period, there was a good deal more autonomy for Uyghurs. And some of that had to do with just them being like the demographic super majority. And so, they were able to speak their own language and maintain control over their institutions.

Darren Byler  21:47 
But there was also a sort of socialist multiculturalism, where they were trying to support the people in general, while removing those that were following the sort of capitalist road. So, it really wasn't until capitalism arrived, that settler colonialism, as it is now, in China really emerged and I think you'll find that that's there's similar dynamics elsewhere, where there's emergent forms of settler colonialism that colonialism and capitalism are sort of co-constructed that land enclosure and in Proletarianization of populations. You know, which is part of capitalism really, is utilized at the frontier, and is then expressed as a kind of colonialism. I haven't looked in, in specific ways in places like Turkey and Brazil, but I think you'd find similar dynamics in some spaces where the frontier of the economy is moving.

Am Johal  22:48 
In the context of the Uyghur population today, in terms of the camps and other phenomenon that are that are happening as a result of the actions of the Chinese state, I know that that's not the kind of focus of your book, per se, but it is a reality that's emerged after your period of research, or at least it was in motion, perhaps at the time.  Wonder if you can speak to what you saw happening at the time of your research to what's happening now, in terms of the direction things are going related to the Uyghurs.

Darren Byler  23:27 
Yeah, you're right, this this book, Terror Capitalism, was mostly drawing on research I did in 2014, and 15, which was just as the People's War on Terror was, was beginning. And some, you know, community leaders were being detained in sort of informal detention centers or camps. But much of that mass internment came later, in 2017. I've actually written a second short, very short book, with Columbia global reports called, In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony, which sort of brings the story up to date. And what I show in that book is that the surveillance system really began to sort the population and then remove significant numbers of people from it. And, you know, that has had a devastating effect on the society.

Darren Byler  24:17 
Many of the people I interviewed for the first book were detained during that period. And, you know, I talked about them anticipating their detention or knowing that it could happen to them, and how they strove to protect themselves by building friendships with other Uyghurs who are in similar positions. So, I talked about friendship networks, among Uyghur male migrants, and how they became sort of life and liver friends, which meant that they helped each other find jobs, they protected each other, from the police if they could, but mostly, they gave each other sort of moral support by listening to each other's stories and sharing in pain. And so, you know, for me, that was an important learning experience, really, to understand what it means to be vulnerable, but also to share pain with another. And think about how friendship really supports ways of being in the world and existing even in the midst of extreme political pressure, psychological pressure. So, it is a lesson in survival really.

Am Johal  25:25 
Yeah, it's, I'm currently working on a book with a friend of mine, our collaborator, Matt Hern, on friendship and community. So, I found that chapter to be quite interesting. And I'm wondering if you can talk about how you define friendship in that in that chapter.

Darren Byler  25:42 
So, you know, friendship, my definition of it really comes out of my conversations with these Uyghur migrants and them explaining to me that meant friendship meant to them, which is, you know, it's a selective relationship, unlike your family, and it's about sort of sharing a rhythm. Which means that you have a daily practice of friendship. So, it's something that has to be maintained. You know, one of the main characters in that, in that chapter, the main figure, who I call Ablikim, was very withdrawn. He was suicidal, couldn't find a job, he had been forced to quit a job due to ethno sort of racial dynamics in his school. And so, he really turned to his friend, who I called Batur, for support and, you know, he, Batur, made him come out every day to share a meal with him. And, you know, it became a daily practice really, of maintaining friendship. And so, it's becomes a kind of obligation, but it comes out of out of feelings of intimacy, really, of shared attachment that's built up over time. It's like love, I suppose, but in this case was non-romantic. These were homosocial relations, but they were heterosexual men, but still a lot of intimacy when it comes to like physical contact and really being proximate to each other.

Darren Byler  27:11 
And so, for me, it was, you know, it was the most sort of intimate male friendship I've ever had, you know, coming from North America as a heteronormative white guy, and not really having a daily practice of friendship. And so, you know, I learned that from these young men is that if you want to practice a sort of ethical care relations with others and build community, you need to really put the work in. It's something that is a daily struggle. And you know, for them, it was an anticolonial friendship as well. It was really about how you survive police violence, how you navigate a hostile city, how you maintain some hope for the future, all of those sorts of things.

Am Johal  27:53 
Yeah, and I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to how the effects of Chinese dispossession of Uyghurs affects the female Uyghur population.

Darren Byler  28:05 
Sure. So, you know, in many ways, and this is also common in settler colonial contexts, the women become a sort of object of contestation. So, the state, you know, one of the things that they're saying that they're doing in Northwest China is they're saving Uyghur women from Uyghur men, and that also comes out of the Islamophobic, anti Muslim male, sort of rhetoric. And, and we've seen this, you know, from the US administration going to Afghanistan to save Afghan women from Afghan men, you know, back in 2001.

Darren Byler  28:41 
It's not to say that there isn't patriarchy, there isn't sexual violence within Muslim societies. Of course, there is. But it's about not really asking what, what Muslim women want. And instead, supposing that they want, you know, a sort of white feminist, sort of ideal. And, you know, many Muslim women are feminists, but they also have obligations to their families, to their communities, to their society. This is a longer conversation really. In general, what's happened to Uyghur women is many of them have had husbands or fathers in their families taken from them. And so, they become more dependent really on the state. In some cases, they've become factory workers, which means that the children, their children have been separated from them. In other cases, they're staying at home, but because their husbands were taken or fathers were taken, they've been stigmatized. And so, it means that there's a lot of sexual or gendered pressure on them to find a new social role.

Darren Byler  29:47 
And so in some cases, we see Uyghur women, whose husbands are gone, finding new romantic partners, sometimes with the Han settlers who are moving in. There's of course, a form of coercion that's there because the state is at actively incentivizing and pressuring Uyghur women to marry Han men. So there's a kind of assimilationist sort of element that is really focused on the Uyghur women in general. They've been in disempowered positions historically and continue to be in those positions. It's not as though Uyghur women don't want to work in factories, but they also care about their children and don't want to be separated from their society. So, it's, it's a very difficult position to be in.

Am Johal  30:39 
Darren, I wanted to ask you about, you know, taking part in a very intense, immersive, scholarly project as your book. Is there certainly by taking on politically sensitive topic over such a long period of time. How has this affected you in terms of your ability to travel to China or, you know, other forms of surveillance that might impact you or people that you might interview, how do you think that through in terms of its effects, so first of all, you know, how has it impacted you? But also, how do you think about ethically sharing these stories in the context of the broader surveillance tactics of, of a nation state like China and you know, similar situations elsewhere as well, where you see, undue pressure being brought to bear on scholars, human rights workers, civil society, practitioners, and so on?

Darren Byler  31:38 
Well, I was last in the region in 2018. And since then, it's when I finished my dissertation, and started to turn this into a book. And since then, I've published a good number of articles and now books. And, you know, I'm very aware that the Chinese state knows who I am at this point. And you would very likely not allow me into the country, although they haven't said that, and I still have a valid visa. And, you know, for me, that's okay. I'm a protected citizen in North America. And as someone who's in a sort of allied position with those that have been oppressed, that have been taken away, I feel like it's my duty and obligation just to speak, to amplify the voices of those who have been disappeared. And so, if there's a cost in doing that, I'm happy to bear it. It's actually quite minor compared to the costs of many others.

Darren Byler  32:40 
You know, there is some implications about writing about something that's so sensitive, and one of the reasons why I really wanted to emphasize that this was part of sort of, colonial and capitalist dynamic, is to show that this isn't unique to China. It's not as though, because of China's authoritarian government style, that this is a necessary outcome. I'm trying to also show that this comes out of the Global War on Terror, it comes out of a culture of technological development, that really doesn't put a lot of consideration into ethics. And that's, you know, coming from the west and has now been taken up in China. So, I want to show that this is a global phenomenon. And this is just one example of it, perhaps extreme one. 

Darren Byler  32:26 
But I think many people don't see that they think that, you know, because you're talking about something that's, you know, has major implications for how China is perceived in the world, you're therefore anti-China. And, I'm, of course, not and one of the chapters in the book, talks about what this looks like, from the Han perspective, and how, you know, this is one Han artist tried to build a sort of a community of inter-ethnic solidarity, a kind of minor politics, grassroots politics, that would refuse the colonial structures of the system. And so, my hope is that readers in China or in diaspora would be able to recognize that. That there is a role for them to play in decolonizing the system that's in place in Northwest China, and when they realize that they have some, a position of power in some way, although they're also quite controlled by the Chinese state, and there's implications in them taking a strong stance, but there is more latitude for them. I'm hoping that many more of them will also become accomplices in the Uyghur struggle for greater self determination for autonomy. Not that Uyghurs need a new state of their own, a state solution to this, it's more at a grassroots level, that there's forms of solidarity that can begin to produce forms of change, that move towards human liberation. So that's the goal in the work and I hope that over time, they'll move in those directions.

Am Johal  35:03 
Well, having just finished reading it about a week ago, it's a wonderful, illuminating, read and really made me think in new ways about forms of settler colonialism. I'm wondering, are there particular theorists that you were particularly been influenced by as you're writing the book or came across that you thought helped clarify your own thinking and in writing the book?

Darren Byler  35:29 
Sure. So you know, I'm really indebted to scholars of decolonization. You know, of course Frantz Fanon was, you know, sort of the, at the center of, of decolonial theory. But then, you know, thinking closer to home, Glen Coulthard. And his work was really, you know, taking up Fanon, but thinking about him from a settler colonial context in North America. That was, you know, really informative and useful for thinking about dispossession in a colonial context. I'm also really indebted to feminist scholars of capitalism. Marxist scholars who are thinking about social reproduction and what's at stake in the way that, when the economy when the market begins to eat into family life into the basic forms of care, that maintain a forward propulsion for a society. Think about what the cost is when, when those things are taken away, when they're eaten into. And so, I've read a lot of anthropologists who are doing that kind of work, and others and that.

Darren Byler  36:33 
And then, of course, I'm also thinking about surveillance capitalism, or, you know, scholars of technology and capital. One scholar, Lilly Irani, who does work in South Asia, thinking about the Data Janitors, which is people that work to build AI systems that are often in South Asia and are contracted through Mechanical Turk, which is a platform that Amazon has. And they do, you know, they train algorithms how to do the work. That was really useful for me to think about how, you know, low level labourers are put to task and building things. And then a book by Brian Jordan Jefferson, who's a scholar of policing in North America, technology, and policing. He really shows how police departments in Chicago and New York City have used automated forms of surveillance to extend the carceral system into space. And that was really useful for me to think about sort of similarities and differences in the spaces that I was looking at. The main difference being that in China, many of those that are detained are then sent to work in the sort of smart factories. So, it's a new labouring subject that's produced in a more intentional way than in the West, where often undocumented people are simply pushed into a grey economy. But, you know, those scholars that are thinking about racial capitalism and technology, thinking about feminist politics, and resistance to global capitalism, and decolonization. I suppose those are the sort of main drivers that I'm trying to intervene in and think with, as I put together this book, and we'll continue to sort of expand on some of the key sort of theoretical implications of it.

Am Johal  38:15 
Darren, it's been wonderful to speak with you, is there anything you'd like to add?

Darren Byler  38:21 
Well, I just really want to drive home the point that this book is really attempting to critique global power and new forms of racialization that accompany the global war on terror. And my hope is that readers will read it from that perspective, rather than one that sort of builds on a new Cold War narrative, one where there's a bifurcation between the US and China, with the US being good or North America being good and China being bad. It's not as though there aren't qualitative differences. There are differences of degree and the scale of what's happening in Northwest China is really unprecedented. But the logics of these systems are in many places around the world. And so, I want people to think about that, and internationalist solidarity, where we join in thinking about, from the position of the dispossessed, from the position of the colonized. Joining our voices and pushing back against these systems, I think is really where my heart is, and I hope readers will take that from the book.

Am Johal  39:35 
Darren, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar. It's really illuminating to speak about your book with you, Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City. It's out with Duke University Press in January 2022 Thank you so much for joining us, Darren.

Darren Byler  39:55 
Well thanks so thanks so much for having me. It's been an honor.

[theme music]

Alyha Bardi  39:59
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to this episode with Darren Byler. For more about his latest book, check out the show notes.

Don’t forget to stay up to date with Below the Radar by visiting us online at, or following us on our various social channels; on Instagram and Twitter @sfu_voce, or on facebook @sfuvoce. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next time on Below the Radar.

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
February 01, 2022

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