Recent years have seen the expansion of data centres in mountains, deep oceans and outer space. These infrastructures claim, adapt and interrupt environments for data needs – at times prioritizing these over human and ecological needs, and often to the benefit of only a limited number of stakeholders. From this departure point, this paper explores how volumetric and elementally attuned analytical frameworks can make explicit some of the ways that colonial relations extend to digital infrastructures. The paper explores two vignettes of data centre infrastructures – in the Atacama Desert and in outer space – looking at a range of pre-existing, in-progress and speculative projects. Through this examination, it considers how these frameworks, which stem from Indigenous epistemologies, help to foreground certain processes. First, the obvious and non-obvious ways that colonial logics continue in these infrastructures. Second, understandings of how the volumetric and elemental are differently embodied – such as how thin air mediates labour – which helps to counter flattening discourses that serve to benefit certain actors. Third, the colonial futurities that are embedded in data projects such as those related to radio astronomy, the distribution of orbital flight paths and the demarcation of oceanic graveyards as well as the plans for data centres on the Moon. Finally, this paper also attends to alternative worldviews that can help to unsettle colonialist trajectories.
Au, Y. (2022). Data centres on the Moon and other tales: a volumetric and elemental analysis of the coloniality of digital infrastructures. Territory, Politics, Governance, 1-19.