Freedom has been at the heart of liberal democracy for well over a century — understood as a principle, or core value of subjectivity, it traces its genealogy back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Freedom, in this view, is something one possesses. However, as much critical work over the past several decades has demonstrated, freedom — as signifier and social practice — has modeled its ideal subject on the beneficiaries of capitalist, colonial, racial, and gendered forms of oppression. Freedom, then, cannot be described as a universally defined or definable ideal, but one that has, in its liberal understanding, always excluded large swathes of people. In turn, those excluded and dispossessed by kyriarchy have put forth their own visions of freedom, imagining and pursuing it through various means — individually, politically, sociotechnically. Such work, then, helps us understand freedom as emergent in social worlds, and not simply as individual capacity.
These symbolic and material struggles over what freedom means, and what work it does in the world, have become more pressing over the past few years, with right-wing movements taking an absolutist view of freedom against the relational view that, say, radical movements for liberation have espoused. The semiotic field of freedom itself, in other words, has become a space of struggle over meaning. At the School of Communication, we are especially interested in how these discourses of freedom have emerged socially and historically, particularly through and on digital media. How do we need to rethink freedom in the platform age, with (state and private) surveillance subtending subjectivity and oligopolization entrenching social and material unfreedoms? What, in turn, can we learn about freedom in the digital-informatic milieu from various schools of thought that have brought their particular lenses to freedom? Is freedom even a useful concept anymore? These are, we believe, vital questions today that cut across academic and social fields, and so we are interested in inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to understanding conceptual and political contestations over ‘freedom.’ We are therefore interested in inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches to understanding conceptual and political contestations over ‘freedom,’ including, but not limited to, themes such as:
Freedom in the platform age, under (state and private) surveillance
Intersectional (re)definitions of freedom in the digital age
Liberation movements’ engagement with digital media