Cambodian Gangsters, Crypto-Scams and Trafficked Laborers: Mobility as the Purview of the Rich and Constraint of the Poor

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Mobility is experienced as a freedom for the upper classes and as a constraint by the lower classes. Following a Marxian understanding of freedom and constraint, I argue that technologies of (im)mobility are designed to facilitate the interests of the upper classes, but in line with multi-stability and critical theory of technology, I note that they are also used by the lower classes in ways that are disruptive to the economic hegemony, though this outcome is still often harmful to the lower classes.

ICTs were utilized and developed (and Internet and phone networks fortified) to adjust for white-collar labor worldwide done from home instead of in offices at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Sabine Pfeiffer points out, however, digital capitalism in the end still boils down to physical products in physical space. Removing white-collar labor from physical spaces and removing bourgeois capital from flowing in geographic space had dire repercussions on poor communities, many of whom were compelled to find new ways to make ends meet through forced mobilization facilitated by ICTs (e.g. delivery drivers).
As a particularly disturbing case of this power imbalance, I consider criminal activity by dispossessed gangsters in Cambodia, who lured unemployed laborers from all over southeast Asia with promises of jobs and trafficked them into large phone scam operations, syphoning off millions of dollars from global elites in Cryptocurrency. The same technologies meant to safeguard capitalist interests in the pandemic were employed in nefarious ways against the rich, but those most harmed by this were the laborers trafficked by promises of gainful employment. Even when technologies are used against the wealthy, the poor still fare the worst.

Thus, mobility functions within a constellation of power relations where the less powerful are acted upon, both by the wealthy who no longer patronize them or employ them, secure as they are in their immobility, and by the unscrupulous who prey upon the vulnerability and forced relocation of the impoverished. Technology and the COVID pandemic amplify and recast the power dynamics involved in mobility, establishing (im)movement as the right of the rich and the constraint of the poor.


Conference23rd Biennial International Conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, SPT 2023
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