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Colonial Recursion and Decolonial Maneuver in the Cybernetic Diaspora


Building on a growing body of literature that seeks to critically reframe the cultural, social, and technical foundations of the contemporary information society, and drawing in particular on those who consider how the politics of race shape the production of technoscientific knowledge, this dissertation considers the points of contacts that took shape between the mercurial science of first order cybernetics and the cultural politics of colonial settlement in two liberal settler polities—Canada and the United States—in the years following World War Two. Drawing on extensive archival research conducted at multiple sites across the US and Canada, and relying on the hermeneutic and historiographic methods of film and media studies, the project argues that by troubling the epistemic privilege conventionally accorded to inscriptive mediation and representational image-making practices within colonial media cultures, cybernetic thought facilitated the emergence of peculiar new strategies and techniques for producing knowledge about and ultimately governing the Indigenous—conceived as a relational position of difference immanent to, but not politically exhausted by, the racializing structures of colonial settlement. At a time when insurgent movements for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination were mounting serious challenges to the legislative and ethical parameters of settler-colonial rule, cybernetic precepts—in particular, information, communication, feedback, homeostasis, and gestalt perception—proffered a means both of reviving and of reconfiguring established rubrics of racial and cultural differentiation, activing those rubrics along new planes of conceptualization, and shepherding them along new social and cultural itineraries, giving rise to a broad intellectual formation I call the cybernetic diaspora. Drawing on the work of Ann Laura Stoler, I theorize this formation as a scene of colonial recursion: a place where established regimes of colonial power were strategically refashioned to meet the measure of a rapidly emerging landscape of pervasive electronic mediation and informationalization. However, attending to the critical interventions of Indigenous artists, cultural practitioners, legislators, and critics, I also demonstrate how the cybernetic diaspora functioned as a scene of decolonial maneuver—a conceptual field wherein emergent conceptions of communication, perception, and intellection provided Indigenous peoples working and living in a range of geopolitical contexts opportunities to contest and enact alternatives to the shifting itineraries of settler-colonial power.

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