Into the Red Stack: Chinese digital media between platform protectionism and infrastructural sovereignty

Affiliation: Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica

Abstract: The history of the internet in China can be re-treaded as an exponentially growing economy of attention moving from infrastructure to platforms. For more than a decade, China's accelerated ICT development has been portrayed in infrastructural terms, a matter of technological standards, geopolitical trust, and promising market opportunities. In more recent years, as homegrown software, websites and apps make headlines for their massive userbases and dominance of local internet markets, the attention of analysts and scholars shifts from infrastructure to platforms and their socio-technical implications. As infrastructure and platforms become recursively layered and embedded over existing and imagined territories, Benjamin Bratton’s geopolitical metaphor of the “Stack” provides a generative model through which it is possible to rethink the current state and future prospects of the Chinese internet. Taking a cue from Tiziana Terranova’s outline of the “Red Stack” – an emerging post-capitalist computational nomos – this presentation provides a tentative of the emerging “red stack” of platform companies and communication infrastructures that have become an integral part of the everyday lives of almost a billion Chinese users. How do Chinese users experience the geo-technical layers of the red stack? How do the BAT companies interface with the Chinese state in constructing this emerging computational megastructure? How is this “red stack” reconfiguring national sovereignty and geopolitics of information?

Bio: Gabriele de Seta is a media anthropologist. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. His research work, grounded on ethnographic engagement across multiple sites, focuses on digital media practices and vernacular creativity in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is also interested in experimental music scenes, internet art, and collaborative intersections between anthropology and art practice. More information is available on his website