s the “Black Snake” known as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) threatened entry onto the Sioux Nation 1851/1868 Treaty Territory at Standing Rock in 2016, images of an old yet ongoing war would circulate throughout the internet with the #NoDAPL and #StandwithStandingRock handles. Images of military tanks, soldiers armed in riot gear, attack dogs, mug shots of water protectors, among other images of war, would proliferate throughout social media space via an assemblage of digital platforms brought to inquiry without the formal, prior, and informed consent of the Oceti Sakowin (Oyate) nation, much less the Standing Rock Sioux council. The trending and viraling of images would help spark a global conversation regarding the continued dispossession of Indigenous lands. This dispossession would be fostered by logics in racial capitalism and settler colonialism that would enclose not just land for the expansion of pipeline infrastructures for extending the reach of global capital accumulation, but also a dispossession of an Indigenous nation’s past, present, and future through the abstraction, capture, and fabrication made possible by the digital mediation of land and bodies. In particular, a future where the Oceti Sakowin, or “Great Sioux Nation,” would be actively dispossessed by algorithmically mediated representations of their lands and nation peoples. The DAPL protests at Standing Rock, I contend, represents a conjunctural moment mediated by algorithms always enmeshed in the scientific rationalism of racial capitalism and ongoing settler colonialism, manifesting in a digital enclosure of the Oceti Sakowin.

In this case, the process of digital enclosure can be understood as an iteration of a digital “power geometry” which utilizes data for the production of urban and planetary governance (Belcher, 2019; Jefferson, 2018b; Amoore and Raley, 2017). For Standing Rock, digital enclosure was facilitated by digital mediations of datasets representing Indigenous lands and bodies outside of their traditional modes of relationships to place and peoples. Such datasets would follow the cardinality metrics performed on Google engine search results that algorithmically rank information comprised of data assembled by Google Page Rank results, which would geo-reference and write settler history onto geography (Zook and Graham, 2007b; Zook, 2006; Guha, 2003). Indeed, the annals of settler history always coalesced with racial capitalism and its platforms of information to enclose Indigenous worlds and nations from existence in all of its forms through the digital mediation of spatial media circulated as representations of Indigenous ‘place.’

The mediation and circulation of knowledge as media and how we come to understand that knowledge represents a politics of representation. It poses a fundamental question that sits at the heart of the humanities; that ask: “how do ‘we’ know ‘we’ know?” and more materialist questions that ask: “how did colonialism dispossess” (Harris, 2004; Blomley, 2003; Moreton-Robinson, 2015; Thatcher et al., 2016; Coulthard, 2014)? These juxtaposed questions reveal a crucial precedent for understanding how Standing Rock as an event and as a form of political struggle came to be understood via the digital platforms that provide an assembly of infrastructure for the internet to mediate media content as knowledge politics, particularly as representations of land and bodies already enclosed by the settler gaze  (Offen, 2013; Mann and Daly, 2018; Hall, 1981; Aouragh and Chakravartty, 2016). Such is digital mediation which asserts settler colonial “truth” by the logics of racial capitalism made law by the Doctrine of Discovery[i].

Literature in digital geographies, for example, help illustrate how state knowledge politics proliferates throughout platforms through the transmission of images that exist as vectors of media (Guyer, 2016; Burns and Meek, 2015; Ash et al., 2018; McElroy, 2019; Jefferson, 2018b; Elwood, 2015). Or rather, as I will argue, how settler knowledge politics coalesce as spatial media for inscribing settler logics as transmitters of knowledge which materialize as vectors of dispossession. I argue here for the importance of theorizing ‘state’ knowledge politics in more precise terms: the digital mediation of images as settler colonial and racial capitalist iterations of the state. For example, images of landscapes, peoples, and representations of maps in themselves that circulate throughout the internet can be understood as iterations of cultural media (Rose, 2016a). Sarah Elwood and Agnieszka Leszczynski call such forms of knowledge “spatial media,” which opens inquiry surrounding how mediations of media deploy epistemologies across difference with material consequence (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2013; Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). Throughout this piece, I will argue how spatial media circulates geographically throughout the geo-tag of images that spatially reference particular encodings of knowledge politics onto time and space as symbols of cultural representation, such that the enmeshment of that media within a political economy of platforms is always in reflection to the politics and governance regimes of the settler state.

Together, this piece contends that racial capitalist and settler colonial logics are (re)produced through digital mediations of the internet, such that digital geographies are ontologically and epistemologically always oriented around racial capitalism and settler colonialism. I suggest that this occurs through the circuits of value around which contemporary digital practices are circulated, which reinforce white supremacy, and orient hyper circulations of racialized and gendered images in moments of political struggle. Secondly, I argue that digital mediation results in practices of digital enclosure and digital territorialization that reassert and reiterate setter state power by assembling space in ways that set the stage for dispossession. This process, I suggest, results in the digital (re)mediation of settler state geographical imaginaries by visual representations of Indigenous lands and bodies that remediate space and time to always assert the settler state as the primary holder of ontological “truth.”

Figure 2: Treaty Territory, Source Author


Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism helps situate the development of capitalist society within the enterprise of scientific rationalism, denoting racialization as a material force organized as a central feature of capital accumulation in what is termed, “racial capitalism” (Robinson, 1983). Robinson writes, “the character of capitalism can only be understood in the social and historical context of its appearance,” such that ‘we’ attend to the dialectical enmeshment of race within the spaces of capital (Robinson, 1983). Cedric Robinson’s work foregrounds the task in understanding how capitalism requires race in order for capital accumulation to proceed as a global system aimed at capital accumulation. In particular, as a global system, in which Ruth Wilson Gilmore demonstrates how racial capitalism necessitates the partitioning of subjects and spaces for capital to dispossess (Gilmore, 2007). For Stuart hall, the logic of scientific rationalism emerged to develop the spaces of capitalist society, wherein I argue that the geoweb itself serves as a conduit for racial capitalism, always situated within political economy and always in the process of capital accumulation.

For Mathew Zook and Mark Graham, the Google search engine exemplifies the naturalization of information ordered, ranked, and enclosed by political economy (Zook and Graham, 2007a). Such digital ordering of information proceeds to structure knowledge politics in what Leszczynski describes through the example of spatial media as epistemology for asserting how media is materially implicated in ways of understanding the world (Leszczynski, 2015; Leszczynski, 2009). This materiality reflects the physical and locational networks that circulate media from hardware devises to the screen as vehicles of representation. In particular, to point out how representations of ‘reality,’ or ‘virtuallity’ as we know it exist at the intersections of technology, society, and space, that facilitate in the digital mediation of cultural meanings (Verbeek, 2015; Hall, 1997). The geoweb in this sense can be thought of as an assembly where mediated representations of Indigenous bodies, lands, and ways of being in the world are circulated via the political economic forces embodied within racial capitalism. Such political economic forces, I contend, assemble the geoweb by producing code-space and the “digital territories” therein for enabling state governance (Lefebvre, 2003; Kitchin and Dodge, 2011; Jefferson, 2018a; Bernal, 2018; Luque-Ayala and Neves Maia, 2019).  Or rather, the geoweb as an assembly of racial capitalism that augments the governance structures of settler colonialism with material consequences always geared at eliminating the Native (Wolfe, 2006; Nelson, 1999).

Thinking the geoweb as an assembly of racial capitalism is essential for understanding the material drivers of algorithmic governance that works in concert with the settler state. Such a concept draws from Brian Jordan Jefferson’s assertion of “software mediated geographies of carcerality,” which codify, inscribe, and circulate the demonization and criminality of racialized surplus populations onto the attributes of government datasets (Jefferson, 2018a; Jefferson, 2017; Jefferson, 2018c). In particular, for situating state governance as a consequence of racial capitalism which administers and regulates the flow of racialilzed code for the regulation and racial maintenance of urban space (Jefferson, 2018a; Jefferson, 2018b). For Jefferson, the management of spaces through digital technologies proceeds as a carceral gaze of black and brown bodies which views their data points as state subjects to be governed and managed (Jefferson, 2017). Such digital packaging always begins with the carceral gaze, which identifies clusters of points as a problem to be “digitized and punished,” through the insisted neutrality built upon Cartesian logics of geographic information science (GIS) and political economy (Jefferson, 2018c; Jefferson, 2017; Wilson, 2017; McKittrick and Woods, 2007; Haraway, 1988). Such is a racial capitalism that reflects the social ideology of racialized and gendered datasets, but also to serve as a vehicle in facilitating the social features implicated in the apparatus of techno-infrastructures and economies of logistics always geared in spatial elimination for frictionless capital accumulation (Benjamin, 2019; Robinson, 1983; De Lara, 2018; Woods, 1998).

Thinking the geoweb as an assembly embedded within the circuits of capital is conceptualized at the scale of the Google search engine, where Safiya Noble’s work on ‘algorithms of oppression’ and Virginia Eubank’s work on ‘automating inequality’ illustrate how digital and racial capital reflect the racialized and sexualized structures of code-space itself provoking a wholesale reflection on the naturalization of such media on information platforms (Noble, 2016; Eubanks, 2018). Noble and Eubank’s work is crucial for illustrating how the very structure of algorithms within monopolized platforms are materially biased in how they reinforce and facilitate racisms towards people of color, wherein Rutha Benjamin calls this logic a “carceral algorithm” (Benjamin, 2019). In both cases, software mediated geographies and algorithms of inequality facilitate a maintenance of oppression, unveiling how internet infrastructures stage the geoweb as theatre for imperial states to govern territories.

Situating racial capitalism within the geoweb denaturalizes the knowledge politics implicated in what Ash et al. (2018) calls the “ontics, aesthetics, and discourses” of digital geographies, which capture and enroll spatial media according to how the settler-gaze choses to grid, encode, and circulate information. Indeed, a racial capitalism that facilitates the operationalization of the state by mediating the advertising platforms that have come to monopolize code/space and platforms that direct racialized content to society for capital accumulation to dispossess (Kitchin and Dodge, 2011; Noble, 2016; McElroy, 2019). This monopolization of internet platforms and services is particularly dangerous in regards to the shifting scale of surveillance that continues to drive counterinsurgency measures across a myriad of geographies on behalf of the settler state (Crampton, 2018; Schou and Hjelholt, 2018; Byrd, 2011). In particular, by relentless surveillance regimes on social movements, including NoDAPL, Black Lives Matter, No More Deaths, among many others (Camp, 2016; Estes, 2017). Such incidences of techno-surveillance reflect a racial capitalism situated within the geoweb that facilitates in the material maintenance of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy over frontier borderlands and Others. The purpose being: the territorialization of the settler state by digital mediation.


Imperialism is itself a site of entrepreneurial activity, where risks find shelter under monopolies. – Manu Karuka (2019, p. 170)

The geoweb when situated within racial capitalism helps locate the territorial project always at work within the everyday digital mediation of spatial media. Digital mediation of media, I contend, assembles space through the hyper circulations of racialized and gendered media content in moments of political struggle. Such a process, I argue, enables state governance to pursue legal actions in defense of settler territory. As with all cases, states beget and monopolize state sanctioned violence in defense over territory (Lefebvre, 2003; Gilmore, 2007). The production of territory, or process of territorialization always proceeds on gendered and racial logics of white possession that fosters the spatial conditions for dispossession (Karuka, 2019; Moreton-Robinson, 2015; Byrd et al., 2018). For example, thinking the geoweb as an assembly of layers that exist as iterations of digital spatial media helps materialize and politicize the circulation of media as state epistemologies that do political work along a politics of representation. At the same time, for situating the layers of the geoweb as digital assemblages of legal and political frameworks performed and (re)institutionalized by the settler-imposed jurisdiction inscribed as law by the Doctrine of Discovery. Internet platforms, therefore, within their enmeshment within the circuits of exchange and datafication that drive capital accumulation helps illustrate the networked capital properties that connect institutionalized knowledge regimes of racial governance to their material impacts in regulating both human and non-human worlds. Such regulation by digital mediation, I argue, results in the digital enclosure of Indigenous lands, bodies, and knowledges, by bordering, dislocating, distorting, and eliminating Indigenous modes of relationship to place.

The events at Standing Rock at the peak of the DAPL protests illustrates a conjunctural moment in the history of Oceti Sakowin resistance to ongoing settler colonialism (Estes, 2019). In particular, a conjunctural moment mediated by infrastructures of the internet that circulated the images of colonial ruptures and calls towards solidarity. Specifically, solidarity in which Indigenous nations’ throughout Turtle Island, the world, and their non-native allies would gather in unison to protest the entry of a pipeline through sacred lands and treaty territory (Estes, 2017; Dhillon and Estes, 2016; Mohawk, 2001). The images of landscapes, peoples’, and most cartographic representations of the protest site, however, did not reference such treaty territory, nor the sovereignty of the Oceti Sakowin. The Fort Laramie Treaties of (1851/1868), the treaty bounded territory in question would encompass a much greater spatial extent outside the boundaries of the Dakotas. These spatial images circulated by internet platforms, however, would not proliferate throughout the internet in the same way that other media circulate the same images. Rather, ‘Standing Rock’ as a reservation, or one of the most recent territorial demarcations of the Oceti Sakowin, is rendered instead as the ‘correct’ sovereign boundaries. Settler history, in this sense, would be performed by colonial maps that would inscribe the most recent legal regime of territory called: the Indian reservation (Williams, 1999; Pasternak, 2017).

The media apparatus that would perform settler history, I argue, would be mediated by state sanctioned algorithms across a multitude of information and social platforms. Specifically, Google Earth and Google Maps, given their near monopoly on digital cartographic platforms would provide the canvas in which settler fabrica mundi (the literal writing of worlds) would be inscribed through the use of borders, or lines on a map to locate the settler origin story of Manifest Destiny (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2013b; Pickles, 2004; Mezzadra and Neilson, 2013a). The geotag of images of the events that would circulate with the #NoDAPL or #StandwithStandingRock hashtags, when geocoded on the Google platform, and overlaid as a layer against the backdrop of a Google base map would reveal a carto-visualization of a bounded Standing Rock in cartesian place, which iterates its place names according to settler history. Such circulated images taken of Dakota and Lakota peoples, allies, and others, from news media, police, and others would foster (other)ized and demonized iterations of state knowledge politics as cultural media representations (Rose, 2017; Rose, 2016b; Jefferson, 2018a).

This is especially the case when criminalized images of water protectors would circulate the internet, including water protector Red Fawn[ii], where pictures and images of her would be used to demonize and criminalize her in defense of water. Where on one hand circulated images of lands and bodies would foster the visualization and visiblization of the struggle at Standing Rock, another iteration of images of the same hashtag would racialize, dehumanize, and reterritorialize Indigenous peoples and their ceremonies of protest in protection of the sacred outside “acceptable” and “thinkable” national politics (Lane, 2018; Goeman and Denetdale, 2009; Lawson and Elwood, 2018; Simpson, 2017). The plethora of images that would circulate throughout represents the iterations of struggle over land already digitally enclosed by the proliferation of racialized and de-historicized Indigenous bodies and carto-visualizations by dislocating Indigenous bodies relationships from their land via racial capitalism. Moreover, a digital enclosure of space time itself.

Figure 3: Phyllis Young (Left) and Red Fawn (Right) in Denver, Colorado (Source, Free Red Fawn FB)


In summary, the digital enclosure of the Oceti Sakowin proceeds through the digital mediation of spatial media always in assertion to colonial representations of Indigeneity. Such mediation outside former, prior, and informed consent proceeds to dislocate, abstract, encase, and fabricate Lakota, Dakota, and Nahkota relationships to their land and non-human kin. The case of DAPL helps illustrate how digital mediation works in concert with racial capitalism through the geoweb to continue the unfinished project of settler colonialism. It is here, the geoweb through racial capitalism assembles spaces for settler territorialization to proceed as imperialism, or as Manu Karuka terms “continental imperialism,” to describe how racial capitalism and settler colonialism coalesce to foster Indigenous dispossession (Karuka, 2019). Where colonial infrastructures such as forts, railroads, and pipelines have assembled spatial frontiers for colonial expansion, infrastructures of the digital including the geoweb and the introduction of 5G internet grids contributes to new iterations of settler elimination in the form of digital enclosure. For the Oceti Sakowin, digital enclosure is not merely continental in scale, but also exists via the settler goal to digitize and control everything from the subsurface to the atmosphere, revealing new iterations of the cadastral survey. As elder, AIM leader, and citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe Phyllis Young notes: “we must be ready for this new elimination[iii].”


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[i] See Conquest by Law by Lindsay Robertson (2005) and Steven Newcomb’s Pagans in the Promise Land for a history of the Doctrine of Discovery and its institutionalization in law.[ii] See and for more information on the case of Red Fawn[iii] Oral interview at the Indigenous Water Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota (2019)