Marisa Duarte’s Network Sovereignty: Building the Internet Across Indian Country is something of a hybrid between a historically-contextualized sociology of ICT buildout in Indian Country and a policy handbook for people working on ICTs in Indian Country (this impression seems to be reinforced by the presence of a glossary in the backmatter). Her three stated objectives are to “(1) weave Native and Indigenous thought more firmly and productively into the broad fields of science, technology, and society studies; (2) introduce Native and Indigenous thinkers to the language of information science and sociotechnical systems; and (3) share what I have learned thus far about the uses and implications of broadband Internet in Indian Country with colleagues in the sciences, students, educators, policy makers, tribal leaders, and the general public.” She definitely accomplished her third goal; Network Sovereignty is, in the main, a richly detailed account of the knowledge and experiences she has collected about the uses and implications of broadband internet in Indian Country. As for the second goal, given that I am not a Native or Indigenous thinker, I feel it is impossible for me say if they were productively introduced to the language of information science and sociotechnical systems, although — as a non-Native and non-Indigenous thinker — I do not think I would say I came away from this book with a thorough primer on information science or sociotechnical systems.
Her first objective, however, presents much more food for thought. She aimed to “weave Native and Indigenous thought more firmly and productively into the broad fields of science, technology, and society studies.” The choice of the verb weave is an interesting one in light of her basket metaphor. In Duarte’s conception, texts are baskets of rocks, collected, polished, and arranged by their author (for what it is worth, her basket is full of great, well-polished rocks that she clearly worked very hard to collect and present). Readers take rocks from others’ baskets, polish them, maybe break off pieces as needed, and arrange them in their own baskets. Duarte does not feel that her collection of rocks is her main contribution to scholarship; instead, she feels the basket she is “weaving” is her main contribution:
What might the Native and Indigenous peoples of the world have to say about their experiences with information and communications technologies? What might our experiences as Indigenous peoples teach us about the ways we conceptualize this ineffable, somewhat immeasurable phenomenon we pursue, which we are calling ‘technology’? How does it relate to our dedication — itom herensia, itom lu’uturia — to uphold our tribal ways of life?
The above excerpt is all she explicitly says about her basket. I am not sure if the basket is meant to represent the structure and arrangement of the text for others to borrow or, perhaps, it represents a particular methodological approach. Duarte never makes this clear, which, it seems, might make the basket less easy for others to borrow. In the absence of an explicitly defined basket, what might we infer from the text?
For one thing, of the dozen or so illustrations in the book, only two are not network diagrams (one is a caste painting, representing some degree of mestizaje, and one is a painting of Manifest Destiny incarnate). The rest are all network diagrams (or flow charts or however you want to think of them). These flow charts are almost exclusively non-hierarchical and non-linear — some of their components always loop back and feed input into one or more of their “upstream” components. These network diagrams do not supplement the text with additional information, but instead reformulate the content of the text into a different conceptual and mediate modality. Entire sections and even entire chapters of Duarte’s book are encapsulated in these diagrams and so they function as a kind of paratextual shorthand for the book. I suspect these diagrams represent the basket of an author “[a]lready attuned to the deeply Indigenous concepts of relationality, interconnectedness, and emergence” who then “picked up the poststructural study of networks — social (actor) networks, social media networks, sociotechnical networks.” Duarte sees this as one point through which Native and Indigenous scientific principles and Western epistemic methodology can be co-informative of one another. In this light, the rocks in Duarte’s basket — the internet and ICTs — become not just any case study but the embodiment of the basket itself. The internet, in short, is “relationality, interconnectedness, and emergence” incarnate. Duarte’s basket is filled with baskets — a matryoshka of little baskets woven into other bigger and smaller baskets, like a mesh network of local machines connected to a radio transmitter contacting a tower across a rugged valley beaming to a satellite beaming back to a transceiver at an internet hub.
Duarte’s chronology is equally fascinating. Rather than arrange the book according to the “chronology of historiography”, she instead orders the book according to how the findings revealed themselves to her. This imparts a natural narrative crescendo to the story, as her understanding of ICTs in Indian Country deepens, so does the readers, taking us along with her on her learning journey. Rather than succumbing to the innate asynchronicity of immutable mobiles, then, Duarte syncs the reader’s acquisition of information up with her own, lending an experiential quality to her story that combats the impersonality of narratives abstracted into artificial chronologies. This is something I would like to consider adopting, or, at the very least, seriously contemplate the scholarly implications of.
- Xi – At a certain point I can no longer insist on what is right and wrong about an idea that I have written. I can only say, ‘I thought a lot about selecting this particular idea and explaining it in this particular way.’ The rocks get taken from the basket, broken into smaller pieces, polished, or transferred into the baskets of others.// But what about the basket? That is the real contribution here. I am weaving a container for others to reuse. What might the Native and Indigenous peoples of the world have to say about their experiences with information and communications technologies? What might our experiences as Indigenous peoples teach us about the ways we conceptualize this ineffable, somewhat immeasurable phenomenon we pursue, which we are calling ‘technology’? How does it relate to our dedication — itom herensia, itom lu’uturia — to uphold our tribal ways of life?
- Is the basket a methodological approach or perhaps refer to the structure of the present book or something else?
- Does this mean I’m allow to take some of the rocks or break off pieces and polish them and place them in my own basket? Does my basket need to comport with certain basket design principles to be able to carry these rocks?
- 4 – Already attuned to the deeply Indigenous concepts of relationality, interconnectedness, and emergence, as a scientist I picked up the poststructural study of networks — social (actor) networks, social media networks, sociotechnical networks — as one point through which Native and Indigenous scientific principles could inform and be informed by Western methodologies.
- 6-7 – I write this book to (1) weave Native and Indigenous thought more firmly and productively into the broad fields of science, technology, and society studies; (2) introduce Native and Indigenous thinkers to the language of information science and sociotechnical systems; and (3) share what I have learned thus far about the uses and implications of broadband Internet in Indian Country with colleagues in the sciences, students, educators, policy makers, tribal leaders, and the general public.
- 7 – We have work to do, getting our people connected. We have work to do, sharing with one another the millions of stories about our strategies for effective negotiation, our failures, our visions for bringing about a healthier world for our children and the grandchildren they will one day bring into this world. ICTs are an important medium for this inter-generational and intertribal transmission of knowledge.
- Many scientists are financially and intellectually invested in discrediting or marginalizing the contributions of Native and Indigenous thinkers. As Indigenous thinkers are well aware, a mechanism of colonization is the subjugation of Indigenous knowledge. Through centering Native experiences and weaving together Indigenous and information scientific methodologies, this book challenges the shadow of epistemic injustice.
- 8 – This work is organized not according to the chronology of historiography but according to the way findings revealed themselves to me, the Indigenous scientist, as I began methodically asking the question ‘What is the relationship between Indigenous peoples and ICTs?’
- This sounds like a good organizing framework I could adopt — telling the story in the order I uncovered it. The audience joins you in an intellectual journey of (hopefully) increasing understanding.
- 14 – Indeed, it is helpful to think of information like water. At the molecular level, it is invisible and imperceptible to the human eye, yet as beings made in large part of water, we are literally swimming in dilutions of it every day, through our breath, the daily ablutions, and cups of coffee and tea. Like water, information takes the shape of its container. The job of the interface designer is to create the container in anticipation of human desires. Like water, information circulates through human-made networks oriented to fulfill communal needs. Like water, information is measured, dammed, bought and sold, regulated, and recycled. Like water, information has a value in global circuits of trade.
- 32 – This also helps one resist the temptation to depict the Internet as a single hegemonic force threatening Native ways of life, a rhetorical argument that in a single turn obfuscates both the complexity of the Internet — or any digital technologies for that matter — and the complexity of Native ways of knowing and being. Likewise, there is another temptation to depict social media as a panacea for the marginalization of oppressed and voiceless peoples. This is an inversion of the first argument. Both arguments point to the values of a society that believes in progress through techno-scientific advance as well as the myth of the disappearing noble savage.
- This is similar to something Lieberman addressed concerning Ralph Ellison, when a journalist interviewed him assuming black people felt threatened by technologies
- What are we to make of this idea that the technology is somehow inimical to indigenous existence? Does it draw from the long history of technologies of biological, cultural, and epistemic genocide? Or is it rooted in an assumption that contemporary technology and traditional lifeways are mutually incompatible? What?
- 33 – Thus, thinkers positing cultural differences as a major reason for the lack of widespread uptake of ICTs in a particular community are really saying that they do not understand the nature of the relationships shaping the conditions for innovation in that community. In Indian Country, these conditions are many. There are layers of political, legal, corporate, tribal, family, and ancestral relationships, as well as relationships with mountains, bodies of water, deserts, plains, mesas, animal beings, and sky beings. There are relationships with bodies of thought, including Western, Indigenous, and local tribal philosophies, not to mention histories and practices. All these relationships are power-laden.
- 90 – Tribal uses of ICTs are constrained by the availability of affordable broadband Internet across reservation lands. As more state and federal governments push data online ine the drive toward e-governance, tribal knowledge work — the data-driven work used to uphold tribal sovereignty — is constrained by the availability of broadband Internet across reservation lands. Once I realized how this first level of disparity (lack of Internet infrastructure) could shape a second (the inability of tribal leaders to act on information in a timely fashion), I sought accounts of tribal leaders acquiring broadband internet infrastructures for their reservation communities. I wove these accounts into narrative threads and, from there, visually mapped out the particular strategies each tribe or tribal association engaged in order to acquire a regional broadband infrastructure solution. My goal was to identify the problems that these strategies generate and resolve, as well as the resulting social and political impacts. I wanted to be able to understand the changes that building large-scale information systems introduces into reservation communities. I was returning to this recurring idea: that infrastructures are the crystallization of institutions, and that institutions emerge from the human relationships that form around common work goals.
- Here she summarizes what she’s done throughout the book to this point: “wove these accounts into narrative threads” and “visually mapped out the particular strategies” (into flowcharts/network diagrams)
- Networking thing going on here — network infrastructures are the concrete form of institutions which are simply internetworked arrangements of human relationships
- had to delay construction of tower because of the presence of manzanita plant near the pilings. Seasonal wildfire takes out sacred manzanita plants so they can move forward with construction
- 115 – In some tribal communities, a tribal radio station is more critical, affordable, and immediately useful than a high-speed Internet connection, and in others, a data center enterprise and a Cisco network certification for all tribal engineers constitute the next logical step. Paying attention to the social shaping of technologies in Indigenous contexts means acknowledging the particular social objectives of different groups at different times, grounding their particular values and discourses around uses of digital technologies, and understanding the technical limitations and affordances of systems within particular geopolitical terrains. Over time, information scientists, computer scientists, Internet sociologists, and so forth, certainly will generate more nuanced concepts than the Castellian network society, but as Indigenous, Otherly, and decolonial thinkers, it is our job to write Indigenous experience into those sociological formulations, such that the techno-scientific thinkers in our universities and labs do not forget or diminish the colonial dimensions of decolonial potential of ICTs.