Big Data & Social Media in Southeast Asia (MLA 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
March 10, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Modern Language Association
contact email: 

We invite papers for a proposed session on “Big Data & Social Media in Southeast Asia” for the 2022
Modern Language Association conference (6-9 January). This session is sponsored by the MLA’s
Southeast Asia and Southeast Asia Diasporic forum.

In The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism
(2019), Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias develop the term data colonialism to describe “an emerging
order for the appropriation of human life so that data can be continuously extracted from it for profit,”
and “this extraction is operationalized via data relations, ways of interacting with each other and with
the world facilitated by digital tools.” While A. Aneesh and Kalindi Vora’s scholarship on information
technology workers in South Asia, and Marc Steinberg and Dal Yong Jin’s research on platform
imperialism in East Asia have paved the way for thinking through Asia’s new data relations, Southeast
Asia remains relatively undertheorized. This is striking considering the region’s deepening data
production and social media consumption. From scores of Filipino digital moderators shielding global
social media users from disturbing content, to Facebook’s role in facilitating violence on ethnic
minorities in Myanmar, to strident new cybersecurity laws curtailing free speech in Vietnam, to
Singaporean data centers functioning as critical nodes in the material infrastructure of global internet
networks, to recent elections in Thailand and Indonesia being marred by troll farms spreading
misinformation, big data and social media are beginning to, as the DATAFARMS.ORG project argues,
“reformat geography and power within, across and beyond Asia's subregions and borders.”

Our session is interested in how Southeast Asia is both materially reformatted within these new data
relations, and immaterially imagined on digital infrastructures and platforms. How are we to make sense
of and examine critically the routing of big data through Southeast Asia? We welcome literary,
cinematic, cultural, and media studies engagements with Southeast Asia as site, region, methodology, or
problematic of big data and social media.

Topics for possible analysis include but are not limited to:
- Media studies and/or theoretical approaches to Southeast Asian cultural, social, economic, or
political developments
- Aesthetic responses to big data, social media, and the platformization of everyday life
- Data colonialism
- Platform imperialism
- Digital infrastructure and logistics studies
- Algocratic governance
- Troll farms
- Digital surveillance
- Social media content and disinformation moderation
- Business process outsourcing
Please send 300-word abstract, 150-word speaker bio, and 1-page CV by 10 March 2021 to Alden Sajor
Marte-Wood ( and Ben Tran ( All accepted speakers must be
members of the MLA by 1 April 2021.