BITS Symposium: Technological Sovereignty and the Crisis of Capitalism 8-9 December 2016


8 – 9 December 2016


Auditori Fundació Tàpies, Barcelona


The BITS Symposium will stimulate a global debate about the changing meanings of sovereignty and explore the ways in which various types of sovereignty – of citizens, cities, nation states, and regions – can still be maintained in today’s highly technological global conditions. With a strong focus on the political effects of technological change, BITS will explore how the rise of Technology platforms and the data extractivism they enable is transforming governments, labor, ownership, and access to the basics of life such as water, food, housing, and energy. This task is particularly important as the current political and economic regime reformulates itself around the rhetorical and practical kernel of digital technology, with a new mighty alliance between technology firms, global finance, and the military-industrial complex. 

BITS Symposium 2016 – Agenda

Conference Videos:

Keynote: Power, Economics and Crisis in the Era of Authoritarian Capitalism

Kees van der Pijl, Professor Emeritus, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, presents a keynote on the power, economics and crisis in the era of authoritarian aapitalism. Julian Assange, Founder and Editor of Wikileaks, responds to the keynote.

Session 1: The Geopolitics of Technology

Dan Schiller, Emeritus Professor and Historian of Information and Communications, University of Illinois, opens the session with a keynote on The Geopolitics of Technology, in which he provides an overview of U.S. digital capitalism and asserts that, because digitization constitutes a rare pole of economic growth, it has incited intensifying geopolitical conflict. He goes on to assess briefly some of the challengers of this U.S.-centric political-economy, particularly China. Though the U.S. remains numero uno, it seems likely that we are reaching – or perhaps we have already reached – a “hinge moment.” Evgeny Morozov and Carlos Figueira respond to the keynote in an open debate facilitated by Francesca Bria.

Session 2: The New Global Financial Architecture

Andres Arauz, Minister of Talent and Knowledge, Ecuador, opens the session with a lecture on The New Global Financial Architecture. Arauz expects a strengthening of the imperial role of the United States and claims that the new Trump administration will use same arguments to continue its global surveillance apparatus. The creation of new global banks, alternative payment systems and a global alliance of various players in the solidarity economy are suggested as possible solutions to counter the US economic hegemony. Ekaitz Cancela, journalist and author, addresses the global trade system by analysing agreements such as TiSA and TTIP, arguing that data will be the key to political, economic and financial power. Brett Scott, journalist and researcher, discusses the vision of the new financial sector and how money systems operate at different scales. An open debate follows, moderated by Jaromil, Dyne. org.

Session 3: Automation, Labour Struggles and the Future of Work

Philipp Staab, researcher at the Institute for the History and Future of Work, opens the session with a lecture on Digital Capitalism and how it appears in an era of stagnation, its aim being to push demand and the intensification of consumption. He speaks about the new type of labour force and the elements of Industry 4.0. Annette Muehlberg, Ver.di, delivers a lecture on the role of trade unions in creating guidelines for digital labor, exploring new forms of social security and new rights for the new workers. Valery Alzaga, UNISON, takes a look at the matter from the workers’ perspective and discusses how unions can create alternative platforms to organize themselves. An open debate follows, moderated by Juha Leppänen, Demos Helsinki.

Session 4: Transcending the State, Transcending Capitalism?

Leslie Sklair, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics, delivers a lecture on the transnational capitalist class, the crisis of capitalism and the hierarchic state. He highlights the problems caused by the capitalist globalization and suggests that the solution lies in the digital revolution. Sklair identifies various actions that would lead to a change of the system: ignoring the market, degrowth, changing mentalities, changing parenting and creating networks of producer-consumer cooperatives. Evgeny Morozov moderates the open debate that follows.

Session 5: Elites and Power Brokers

Inderjeet Parmar, Professor of International Politics at City University, presents a keynote on the elite power-knowledge networks and their role in the US hegemonic system of power. Parmar argues that politics, technology, industry and elite networks played key roles in processes that led to Trump, the rise of the populist right in Europe and the current crisis. Yet, it is too early to conclude that there has been a revolution against the old elite order. Kees van der Pijl, Professor Emeritus, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, responds to the keynote arguing that the establishment of foundations allows the rich to turn their power into real class power. Open debate follows moderated by Anthony Arnove.

Session 6: Data Sovereignty and New Forms of Democracy

Panel discussion on data sovereignty and new forms of democracy moderated by Joan Subirats, IGOP Barcelona. Panelists: Alex Hache (Donestech), Jonathan Gray (Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath), Tamar Sharon (Maastricht University) and Paolo Gerbaudo (King’s College London).

Closing Session



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