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Digital self-determination: Aboriginal peoples and the network society in Canada

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: McMahon, Rob
Digital self-determination elaborates the links between networked digital infrastructure development and the autonomy and agency of indigenous peoples. It foregrounds how indigenous peoples are involved in the diffusion, construction, governance, and use of networked digital infrastructures. Importantly, it considers how these infrastructures are not only tools of emancipation, but can increase the surveillance and control of indigenous peoples by state and corporate interests. They can also extend the historic and ongoing reality of the ‘offline’ economic, social, political, and cultural marginalization of indigenous peoples. However, to accept such negative effects at face value is to fall into the trap of the teleological fallacies of social and technical determinism. Instead, in this dissertation I argue that indigenous peoples can shape and use networked digital infrastructures to support their self-determination. These processes are often guided by a recognition of self-determination that is grounded in and emergent from diverse indigenous laws, customs, and institutions. This frames digital self-determination with reference to the long-term and ongoing work of indigenous peoples to shape their own community-based media organizations and endogenous development projects. My dissertation considers these issues as they articulate with several facets of digital self-determination. I ground my argument in empirical research on the Northern Indigenous Community Satellite Network (NICSN), a cooperative socio-technical network spanning the northern regions of three Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. The NICSN partners collaborated to build and manage regional infrastructure in ways that reflect the needs of their constituent communities. Moving beyond considerations of access, I frame these infrastructures as socially shaped platforms of agency that are the result of dynamic negotiations and struggles between political actors seeking to advance normative agendas. These activities play out in the formation of frameworks of subsidies and regulatory conditions that reflect attempts to decolonize state-based policies and institutions. Finally, I end with a discussion of how indigenous peoples and governments are shaping online applications into spaces of convergence that reflect their goals of self-determination. Throughout this dissertation, I situate my observations in broader political, economic, and cultural contexts to elaborate both the promise and the challenge of digital self-determination.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Chow-White, Peter
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