18-20 July 2020
University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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2020 – Amsterdam

Development Today: Accumulation, Surveillance, Redistribution

Conference Theme Overview

New political, technological, and economic forces are changing the ways development is designed, practiced, and experienced today, in poor and rich countries alike. Three interrelated elements, in particular, deserve our analytical attention: a geopolitically and economically unsettled global order, smart information and communication technologies, and extreme inter- and intra-country inequities. By transforming practices of accumulation, surveillance, and redistribution, these factors shape the experience of development in significant ways.

An unsettled global order—triggered in part by a threatened US hegemony and China’s rising power—defines the diplomatic initiatives and economic investments in poor countries. Some foreign investments are driven by private capital, others are state-led. Some initiatives are for profit, others are designated as development aid. New ambitious projects include the UN-led Sustainable Development Goals and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Other projects are driven and funded by local actors. On the ground, the effects on development are potentially dramatic—investments in basic health and education must have major redistributive effects; infrastructural projects are likely to transform social and economic practices in and across cities; the environment is necessarily affected—but we are yet to fully understand the origins and potential impact of such programs.

One competition informing global and local restlessness today is over technology. A smart global order is currently being created—an order in which information and communication technologies dominate public arenas and private lives. Much of the debates on new technologies have been concerned with the global North, yet in so many ways the impact on the global South may be even more significant. In the global South, new technologies are being effectively used to overcome extant infrastructural barriers to improve people’s lives. India famously uses biometric ID systems to distribute social benefits, for example, and other governments are currently collecting biometric data allegedly for similar purposes. New technologies are also used to monitor and control people. Governments exploit mass surveillance and smartphone technologies to compromise opposition figures; facial-recognition technology is used to scan for the presence of dissidents. The poor, refugees, and people trapped in the criminal justice system are particularly vulnerable. In the meantime, social media influence operations attempt to sway elections. In turn, technologies can be used by civil society actors to hold states more accountable. Local dynamics informing the development and use of technologies—and the impact of technologies on the future of work, the future of welfare, and the future of democracy—are essential to analyze.

Finally, the current global order is unapologetically unequal. Foreign interventions may strengthen current elites or empower rival fractions; mass automation is likely to bifurcate the global division of labor, but in unexpected ways; our submission to the gaze of corporations and governments make all of us vulnerable—but not equally so. And especially where social and political institutions are weak, the impact of current geopolitical dynamics and techno-political transformations is likely to both reproduce old dividing lines across classes, genders, and ethnic groups, and to add new divisions. Yet, we should also identify ways by which these geopolitical dynamics and techno-political transformations are used in the fight against injustices. 

The SASE conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, hosted by the University of Amsterdam on 18-20 July 2020, will feature papers on all issues of concern for socio-economics, but we especially welcome contributions that explore development today and how geopolitical interventions, technological forces, and inequalities shape and are in turn shaped by development, today as in the past, from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives. SASE’s current members are uniquely positioned to tackle these new realities and offer valuable insights; we hope that this year’s theme would, in addition, bring first-time participants, novel approaches, and new inquiries to add to our conversations.

Established in 1989, SASE owes its remarkable success to the determination to provide a platform for creative research addressing important social problems. Throughout its three decades, SASE has encouraged and hosted rigorous work of any methodological or theoretical bent from around the world based on the principle that innovative research emerges from paying attention to wider context and connecting knowledge developed in different fields. SASE is committed to a diverse membership and lively intellectual debates and encourages panels that include or are likely to include a diverse group of participants.

President: Nitsan Chorev (nitsan_chorev@brown.edu)

Program Committee: Rina Agarwala, Diego Sánchez-Ancochea, Daniel Mügge

Local Organizing Committee: Daniel Mügge, Jonathan Zeitlin