Imagine Otherwise: Erin McElroy on Silicon Valley Imperialism

Apr 3, 2024Podcast

Silicon Valley’s specific form of technocapitalism has shaped global geographies in complex ways. With the rise of generative AI, we’re currently seeing a new aspect of this playing out across interdisciplinary classrooms and scholarly publishing (among pretty much every other realm).

This is raising political and ethical questions about the role of technocapitalist frameworks in our everyday lives—questions that have longer histories and broader geopolitical roots than much of the current rhetoric emphasizes.

To help tease out these histories and geographies, in episode 159 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview Ideas on Fire author, University of Washington geography professor, and housing justice activist Erin McElroy about the global reach of technocapitalism.

I met Erin when the Ideas on Fire team worked with them on their Duke University Press book Silicon Valley Imperialism: Techno Fantasies and Frictions in Postsocialist Times, which is a fascinating multi-sited ethnography of the dispossessions wrought by Silicon Valley on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

In our conversation, Erin shares the complex process of studying technocapitalism across borders, specifically how the research trajectories of doing a multi-sited ethnography intersect with local activist and scholarly commitments on the ground.

We also discuss the media figure of the Romanian hacker and how romanticization of the digital nomad lifestyle intensified gentrification and displacement in both the San Francisco Bay Area and cities across Romania and Eastern Europe.

We close out the episode with Erin’s vision for a future of technological and housing justice, where the imperialism of Silicon Valley is replaced by translocal and international solidarities.

You can listen to the episode in the player above or on your favorite podcast app. And be sure to check out the teaching guide and transcript in the episode show notes over on the Ideas on Fire website.

Cite this episode: Hannabach, Cathy (host). “Erin McElroy on Silicon Valley Imperialism.” Imagine Otherwise. April 3, 2024. Produced by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire. Podcast. 26:13.

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