We were in West Pará for a workshop on digital security with communities of the region when we confabulated the first ideas for this research. After visiting the river Tapajós – which was milky and green as a result of illegal gold mining – and strolling along the city’s sweltering streets, we got back to the hotel and started to imagine what would a research about digital infrastructures in the Amazon region look like and what would its potential be in face of the climate crisis, one of the consequences of the region’s slow but sure environmental degradation. We had been dealing for a few years with the gratifying (and at the same time challenging) task of talking with riverside and indigenous communities from many parts of Brazil about digital security. The experience of such encounters, felt on our own skin, brought up the inequality in the distribution of technology in the Amazon region, which led us to think about the need of access to infrastructures able to propitiate daily support to the communities we visited.
Physical infrastructures are rigid and are associated with big capital enterprises that, with their premise of eternal growth, insatiably devour the only house we have. Such structures are in the roads, in the hydroelectric power stations, in the dredge boats placed on the rivers (pouring in mercury and harming the bodies who bathe in the waters that also provide these with food), in the wi-fi internet connection provided in the illegal mining ports, in the mid-forest satellite antennas – which, without maintenance, end up becoming a nearly performative image of what they could become. Digital infrastructures, in their turn, are malleable and enjoy the capacity of penetrating the existing physical infrastructures and corrupting the power logic in force there. Generally, digital infrastructures arrive in the communities by means of one Other: a visitor, a researcher, an NGO, a person who came over to talk about digital security; or else they arrive with someone who has left a community to visit other groups, bringing back the learning acquired. To master digital infrastructures requires comparatively less financial resources and starts off from a collaboration between users, developers and funders, being chiefly a matter of cooperation and of knowledge sharing.
In this context of environmental degradation, where illegality and threats are on one side, and resistance, commitment and union on the other, we sought to understand how the production and appropriation of digital infrastructure operating in this region takes place, investigating both the developers’ and the users’ sides. Thus, in the research published in full, we analyze, by means of case studies and field work, the open-source digital structures used to the benefit of territories threatened by the illegal activities that contribute to the advance of the climate crisis, such as deforestation, invasion of legally protected areas and mining. Such infrastructure allows for, among other things, the carrying out mappings, creating patrol routes in remote territories, collecting and analyzing environmental data, recording and publishing denunciations, establishing means of communication in isolated areas.
Bruno Rigonato Mundim has a background in philosophy. His research encompasses themes such as: logic, philosophy of mathematics, foundations of computing, big data and cyberculture.
Luciana Ferreira da Silva is a popular educator, a Ph.D. in Education, curious about the educational and methodological processes that explain, translate and multiply worlds.
Marcia Maria Nóbrega de Oliveira is an anthropologist, essayist and ethnographer, enthusiast of the possibilities of translation between cosmological techniques and technologies in epistemological symmetry.
Narrira Lemos de Souza is a researcher of online privacy and security products, and educator in the subjects of digital security and information.
This research has only been possible through the generous participation of people and of organizations that have contributed in the form of open interviews, conversation rounds, email exchanges and dialogues during trips. Below, we listed the names of the people and organizations1 who have directly contributed to the results we have presented in different occasions, online or live.
The projects and their organizations: Alertas+, by Instituto Socioambiental (ISA); Guarani Digital Map, by Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI); Fuxico, by Coletivo Marialab; HERMES, by Rhizomatica; Siwazi, by Rede Mocambos; Proteja, by coletivo Proteja Amazônia; the SMART project.
The people: David Monteiro Madalena, Silvio Rhatto, Rafael Nakamura, Daniel Pierri, Lucas Keese, Tânia and Luandro, Rafael Diniz, Paula Bernardi, Rodolfo Avelino and all the other participants in the conversation rounds we have carried out.
The organizations and collectives: Greenpeace, Hivos and Coolab.
To the protectors of the forests, especially the indigenous peoples, who we have met in the course of this research.
This project was funded by the Ford Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, Mozilla, Omidyar Network and the Open Society Foundations, by means of the call for research proposals Critical Digital Infrastructure Research2.
Proofreader (portuguese): Marina Farias.
Translation: Gavin Adams.
Illustration: Constanza Figueroa.
1. Some of the organizations were represented by people who are no longer part of them, but we would like to highlight them as fundamental for the results of our research. (Back.)
2. fordfoundation.org/campaigns/critical-digital-infrastructure-research/. (Back.)