Special thanks to the Institute for for Research on Women and & Gender, Lisa Nakamura, Heidi Bennett, and Stephanie Rosen for all of their support in organizing and documenting this conference.
Earlier this year, FemTechNet hosted its first ever conference. The conference was titled Signal/Noise: A FemTechNet Conference on Pedagogy, Technology, and Transdisciplinarity. On April 8th, 2016, members of FemTechNet and other interested parties gathered at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for three days to explore, exchange, and develop ideas about transdisciplinary feminist pedagogy with/through/on technology. Participants included scholars, artists, makers, activists, and students from Asia, America, to Europe. Organized by Karen Keifer-Boyd and Marla Jaksch, this conference was made possible with the support from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan and with the help of various committees members of FemTechNet, including the 2015-2016 co-facilitators Anne Cong-Huyen, T.L. Cowan, Paula Gardner, Veronica Paredes, and Jasmine Rault.
The three day conference was organized both by theme, as well as different formats of engagement. The first day featured panel presentations, these were livestreamed online, and are also documented here as videos below. The opening panel provided an introduction to FemTechNet, its DOCC (distributed open collaborative course) history and structure, along with an overview of the collective’s curricular materials and the conference program; presenters included Karen Keifer-Boyd, Marla Jaksch, Veronica Paredes, Karl Surkan, and T.L. Cowan.
In the panels that followed, scholars and practitioners across disciplines presented their research on the themes of labor, mapping, and activism as they intersected with feminism and technology. To conclude the first day of the conference, we had an official launch party for the publication signal/noise: collected student works from a feminist docc.
The second day was composed of workshops, where participants and presenters worked together to explore various themes and projects. That day’s schedule included: Feminist Wikipedia editing; playful engagement with data, rulesets and systems via games and haptic interfaces; feminist mapping exercises; explorations of feminist writing and scholarship. To conclude the second day, we had a full group gathering to highlight and share experiences from DOCC instructors teaching or facilitating this year, and to make connections to the concerns, rewards and challenges identified from previous iterations of the DOCC.
On the last day of the conference, we heard from DJ Lynnée Denise and Marla Jaksch in a Radnote Dialogue on “Organic Intellectualism: DJ Scholarship, Black Feminism and Erasure Resistance.” This Radnote Dialogue was documented in both video and podcast form. Find the video documentation below, as well as an amazing podcast episode produced by Sandra Gabriele and Michelle Macklem.
On the last day, besides the Radnote Dialogue, we also broke into smaller working groups to discuss various aspects of FemTechNet, including pedagogical experiments, privacy and transparency in the network, statements of solidarity, and video dialogues and themes. In one of these breakout sessions, the FemTechNet Statement in support of Melissa Click and Concerned Student 1950 was developed and published.
JAMIE NESBITT GOLDEN @thewayoftheid MONIQUE JUDGE @thejournalista
It was just another day at the office for 25 year-old Twitter user @branfire when he logged onto his Twitter account one December morning to chat with friends and check on current events, part of a routine he’s had since college. When news of the Daniel Holtzclaw verdict hit his timeline, Branfire (who wishes to keep his real identity under wraps for now because of privacy) thought it would be the perfect time for a discussion on black men and rape culture.
JAMIE NESBITT GOLDEN @thewayoftheid MONIQUE JUDGE @thejournalista
I decided at the age of 40 to return to school and pursue a degree in journalism. As a lover of the written word and a bonafide information nerd, pursuing my passion was the next logical step after being laid off from my corporate job.
I started at El Camino College and cut my teeth at The Union newspaper under the brilliant tutelage of Kate McLaughlin. From the first day of J1 and continuing over the course of my tenure there, the tenets of accuracy and ethics were drilled into my psyche, and they became rules for me to live by as a journalist.
As scholars, makers and artists invested in feminist media and technology, we approach the issues raised by Concerned Student 1950 and the related firing of Dr. Melissa Click from the expertise of our collective. Numerous organisations and networks have issued statements of solidarity with Concerned Student 1950 and have rejected the University of Missouri’s unauthorized firing of Dr. Melissa Click for her actions in support of Concerned Student 1950. We also highlight our rejection of the mainstream media’s focus on first amendment rights of the press, and a resulting lack of attention to the civil rights concerns expressed by the Concerned Student 1950 movement.
We are concerned that video clips presented out of context in social and mainstream media have focused attention on Melissa Click, framing her as an agitator, and have removed attention from the civil rights demands of the Concerned Student 1950 movement. We find that Click’s taped actions, in fact, demonstrate support for students who felt unsafe in the face of violent threats issued against them on their university campus—both by protestors in the public Mizzou spaces and residence halls, and via social media. Feminist and critical media scholars have carefully documented practices whereby viral video footage fails as evidence because it shows only one part of a larger story. In this case, a student (who was not on assignment, and failed to present himself with reporting credentials) imposed aggressive body and verbal language upon Click and student protestors; nevertheless, viral video clips frame Click as aggressor and reporters as victims. Feminist media scholars understand that the individual holding the camera, rather than the subject of the camera, is deemed to hold greater power; viral repetitive of these biased clips created a story whereby Click and student protestors were represented as unwilling subjects of a valid and benevolent press. Feminist postcolonial scholars have also shown that mainstream rights to freedom of the press often trump the rights of populations who protest discrimination based on race and ethnicity. In fact, Concerned Student 1950 had provided unfettered access of the press to their protest until the moment that the University President met their request to resign. Following this announcement, there was significant campus unrest and no security was present to ensure safety; Concerned Student 1950 requested a private moment from the press to discuss and weigh safety concerns and determine their response to resignation. The disproportionate attention to the media’s supposed lack of access to student protestors for this short period served as a smokescreen that veiled the demands for safety and civil rights articulated by Concerned Student 1950.
Mainstream media has framed Click’s critical popular cultural scholarship as a form of “low culture” unworthy of a lauded educational institution. These claims reflect masculinist and racist biases that privilege the white, male, upper income culture associated with the leadership of the University of Missouri. The mainstream media and university framed Click as aggressive and potentially violent when she called for “muscle” to remove an aggressive reporter from the student encampment, reflecting a host of biases. Citing Click’s actions as aggressive, rather than as civil rights action, reflects the flawed assumption that female behaviour in public spaces should be passive and pleasing. These biases diminish the pain and fear of black students at Mizzou who routinely suffer racialized threats in campus and social media spaces, and feel unsafe at the university to which they pay tuition. Such comments reflect cultural class and racial biases that privilege the class of the reporter over the student or the civil rights advocate. In asking Click to conspire in these biases, Mizzou asks the public to demand that university professors comply with racist, classist and sexist standards of behavior.
We understand Click’s actions in support of Concerned Student 1950 as a welcome form of support for essential civil rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Click’s actions demonstrate behaviours that feminist scholars strive to enact across our many roles–as professors, citizens, colleagues, parents, friends, advocates and more. Decades of feminist scholarship supports our commitment to working in all spaces—both public and private– in manners that are ethical, compassionate and empathic, and we applaud Click’s actions in this regard.
FemTechNet makes the following demands:
That the University of Missouri:
Dialogue with and meet the demands of Concerned Student 1950. These demands include that the University:
Meets the Legion of Black of Black Collegians’ demands that were presented in 1969 for the betterment of the black community.
Creates and enforces comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments and units, mandatory for all students, faculty, staff, and administration. This curriculum must be vetted, maintained, and overseen by a board comprised of students, staff, and faculty of color.
That by the academic year 2017/18, the university increases the percentage of black faculty and staff campus wide to 10%.
That the University of Missouri composes a strategic 10-year plan by May 1, 2016, that will increase retention rates for marginalized students, sustain diversity curriculum and training and promote a safer and more inclusive campus.
As demanded by the American Association of University Professors (the AAUP,) that the University should reinstate Dr. Click to her faculty position, and adhere to common principles regarding academic freedom and tenure procedure (as detailed in the “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”). As such, the university should defer any questions regarding Click’s status to the faculty Council, who rightfully adjudicates any such cases, if and when they see fit.
Hello and welcome to the FemTechNet Year 3! It’s hard to believe that it was only in 2012 that Anne Balsamo and Alexandra Juhasz began bringing feminist scholars together to form FemTechNet, and that this September marks our third full season of running our Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) – this year offered again as “Collaborations in Feminism and Technology.” We have grown in numbers, projects, and community and our commitment to feminist technologies, including collaboration, care, and humor, have kept us all coming back! Last year co-facilitators Elizabeth Losh, Lisa Nakamura and Sharon Irish held our course steady and continued with the great foundational work of Anne and Alex. This year we have a team of five co-facilitators — the Feminist 5 #F5 — who will be working together and with the whole FemTechNet collective to help shape and sustain our work.
So, introducing the Feminist Five #F5:
In addition to a new team of co-facilitators, FemTechNet will be operating under a slightly shifted committee structure: this new structure reflects the work that is being done by our network and each committee welcomes new membership of feminist activists, artists, organizers, makers, hackers and scholars.
Committee Structure & Descriptions:
The Steering Committee is the decision-making, oversight and imagination body for the network. At the Steering Committee, we discuss and resolve topics and plans that affect the whole network. The Steering Committee is also where we gather regularly as a large group to connect with each other and check in on how we’re doing and where we’re going.
Starting in October, 2015, the Steering Committee will meet monthly on the First Friday of each month for two hours (which will include a 30min info session, a 30min social, and a 60min agenda-driven meeting). An open agenda will be posted (location TBA) and anyone involved, or who wants to be involved, with the work of FemTechNet is welcome and encouraged to attend and be part of the collective process.
Each Steering Committee meeting will be 2 hours long:
Dates: (First Friday Monthly) October 2; November 6; December 4; January 8 (second Friday); February 5; March 4; April 1; May 6; June 3
The first 30 minutes will function as an Information session for folks who are new to the network and others who have questions about how to be involved, how to get a FemTechNet project off the ground, etc. These information sessions will be hosted by at least one co-facilitator.
During the second 30 minutes we will host the FemTechNet Ultra Lounge (thanks to Lisa Nakamura for this name), which will be a FemTechNet Online Social – we’ll check in and catch up. Bring your beverage of choice!
The last hour of the meeting will be agenda-driven and chaired by one of the co-facilitators. The agenda will be an open document, posted the week before the meeting. If you would like to add an item to the agenda or if you would like to have input on an agenda item but can’t make it to the meeting, please add your thoughts to the document
All steering committee meetings will be held in FemTechNet Blue Jeans Meeting Room 1: please email femtechnetinquiriesATgmailDOTcom for the link*
The Community Engagement & WWW Committee builds relationships among institutions, organizations and individuals to expand FemTechNet beyond Canada and the US. This may include: offering “orientation”/get to know us sessions; presenting at consortial meetings, expanding the scope of our research activities and actions; outreach, recruitment and networking (especially encouraging DOCC teaching in new locations, and creating new collaborations with artists and activists). Plans for this year: offering “Meet Us!” orientation (live!) sessions; creating a “Meet us!” video with diverse FTN voices; outreach to community partners (advocacy & activist groups; art organizations); encouraging the development of new online town halls/teach-ins/art exhibitions/tech trainings, etc); outreach to new international participants (inviting teaching and action engagements)
The Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Committee creates interdisciplinary conversations, curriculum, and workshops by developing materials and activities that address issues of racialization, ethnic and cultural formation, power and identity. Our focus is on intersections of digital media and ethnic studies. Anchored in the legacy of critical race and ethnic studies, we are community activists engaged in practice-based scholarship and cultural work. We aim to engage public audiences with accessible media, community outreach, and feminisms inside and outside of the academy.
The Pedagogy Projects Committee (PedProCom)supports the various pedagogy projects of the network including the DOCC, our new Introduction to Online Safety & Risk activity; the Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Workbook; the Situated Knowledges Map; Keyword Videos; Town Hall Meetings; Online Pedagogy Workshops and any other teaching projects that you might want to initiate and work on. PedProComworks to mentor FemTechNet faculty, develop curricula, coordinate inter-institutional collaborations, and support community engaged learners. We are also a site of collaboration, whether for research-creation or to develop publishing projects on pedagogy related topics.
PedProCom Working Groups: DOCC Instructors (if you are teaching a DOCC, you are in this group); FTN Wikipedia
The Operations Committee facilitates the work of the network. The Committee shapes the virtual organization of FemTechNet’s socio-technical systems used to support FTN as a geographically distributed network that is accountable to differences of access along multiple vectors of power, including global location, race, class, gender, sex, and abilities that influence the network’s collaborative use of information and communication technologies. Specifically the committee manages FemTechNet Communications, Publicity, and Archiving. Currently, the Operations Committee is integrating Slack into the community’s workflow, it is also documenting the network’s uses of communication platforms throughout the collective’s history.
Operations Working Group: The purpose of the Tech Praxis Working Group is to shape, study and improve the infrastructure of FTN and assemble documentation on the interoperability of platforms. Plans for this year include: writing projects including grant applications, technical reports, peer reviewed essays, book chapters, and blog posts focused primarily on research and documentation around FemTechNet’s prototypes in designing, using, and hacking distributed learning systems.
As the renamed Operations Committee and its working group Tech Praxis signal, this year FemTechNet will continue to experiment with various learning and communication platforms, bending and building tools to facilitate feminist collaborations between instructors, researchers, committee and network members alike. The Tech Praxis Working Group is preparing for broader use of the EdCast learning network in FemTechNet courses and communication, which includes plans to study this platform, documenting what it enables and disables for FemTechNet, and situating it as an object of research within the collective’s fields of digital feminist tech praxis and digital media learning, through reports, posts and publications.
We’re also aiming to prioritize the social justice work already being done within the network, and to welcome and invite engagement, participation and partnerships with even more individuals and organizations working at the intersections of trans feminist anti-racist queer disability decolonizing economic social justice and technology. While many (and certainly not all) people who have been involved in FemTechNet are economically and professionally located in the university/college systems, the network is oriented as much (or more) to alter- counter- and anti-institutional impulses, initiatives and potentialities that work beyond, against and sometimes simultaneously within the university. We hope to keep bringing in and bringing out our activist, revolutionary, transformational, hacker movement builders.
More about the 2015-2016 Co-Facilitators:
Anne Cong-Huyen – Digital Scholar and Coordinator of Digital Liberal Arts Program at Whittier College (California); Co-founder of #transformDH, steering committee member of HASTAC, member of FemBot Collective.
Co-facilitator’s Focus: Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Committee
T.L. Cowan – Bicentennial Lecturer in Canadian Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Digital Humanities Fellow at Yale University (2015-16) & FemTechNet Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies at The New School; Independent Performance Artist; collective author, “We Are FemTechNet” Manifesto
Co-facilitator’s Focus: PedProCom; FemTechNet Roadshow Blog Series
Paula Gardner– Asper Chair in Communications, Faculty of Communication Studies and Multimedia, McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario); Senior Adjunct Professor, OCAD University (Toronto, Ontario); outgoing Chair Feminist Scholarship Division of International Communication Association, FemBot Collective Member
Co-facilitator’s Focus: WWW activities, Summer School Development and Organization; Seek funds for FTN activities
Veronica Paredes – Postdoctoral Research Associate at Department of Media and Cinema Studies at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. FemBot Collective Member.
Co-facilitator’s Focus: Tech Praxis Working Group; production guidance for new audio-visual materials
Jasmine Rault – Assistant Professor of Culture & Media, Eugene Lang College, The New School; former chair, FemTechNet White Paper Committee; collective author, “We Are FemTechNet” Manifesto
Co-facilitator’s Focus: Operations Committee; Social Justice Practice & Initiatives
A bit over a year ago, we (Lisa Nakamura, Liz Losh, and Sharon Irish) decided to serve as co-facilitators of FemTechNet. Anne Balsamo and Alex Juhasz, the co-founders and inaugural co-facilitators of FemTechNet (2012-14), set a very high bar! To guide and support this collective of amazing thinkers and doers has been heady, intense, fun, and hard. FemTechNet has grown quickly: we have about 400 people on our e-mailing list; nearly 800 on our Facebook page; and and over 100 people participated in our August 2015 workshop, from across about 12 countries and 12 time zones.
We added a Project Manager, the hyper-capable Ashley Walker, who moved us from chaos to less-chaos, and found a congenial and warm institutional grounding as a Research Program at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. In response to growing public awareness about online misogyny and racism, we helped create more public resources for rapid response. We created an Advisory Board and continued to connect with sister organizations in the world of feminist technology activism and scholarship. We’re making new content–podcasts are in our future. We have very active committees providing context and material for at least 15 distributed open courses being offered this year. We have collectively written grants and articles, and edited books and journals. We raised money; attended meetings online and face-to-face; traveled to conferences around the world; joined panels; gave talks; received and sent gi-normous amounts of email; and experimented with a range of different digital platforms, although trust and safe spaces will always be a concern.
The Distributed Open Collaborative Conference being organized by Karen Keifer-Boyd and Marla Jaksch, for April 8-10, 2016, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be another highpoint to showcase the work of our wonderful FemTechNet learning communities in developing the next generation of feminist researchers.
Guess what? We are tired from all this activity! In the process of moving to new responsibilities ourselves, we drafted procedures for future shifts in leadership. We three are not leaving FemTechNet, not by a long shot: Each of us has ongoing committee and publishing projects related to the collective.
We applaud the Feminist Five who have stepped forward to co-facilitate this year!
Over the past couple of months, about a dozen FemTechNet participants have presented work based on our research and teaching related to FemTechNet in a two-part FemTechNet Keywords Workshop at the CUNY Feminist Pedagogies Conference in April 2015, and at the Union for Democratic Communications Conference at the University of Toronto in May 2015. Since these gatherings brought together such divergent modes of FemTechNet engagement, we thought we’d collect and share this new work over the last two weeks of May, leading up to the 2015 FTN Summer Workshop and to the 2015-2016 season of FemTechNet’s Distributed Open Collaborative Course (the DOCC). For more information on this essay series, contact editor T.L. Cowan
by Melissa Meade, Colby-Sawyer College and Cricket Keating, Ohio State University
Comedian Tina Fey has recently foregrounded two key tenets of successful improvisation. The first she dubs the “Rule of Agreement.” In her words, “the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you” (Fey 2011). The second rule is that in addition to saying yes, you should add something of your own; that is, you should say “YES, AND.”
As an experiment in learning, the FemTechNet DOCC has been marked by an improvisational ethos. Indeed, from its open-ended organizational structure, which encourages educators of all sorts to join the collective, to its open-ended network of classes, to its key learning projects distributed across the network (such as Feminist Wiki-storming, Situated Knowledges Map, and Exquisite Engendering), FemTechNetters have said again and again “yes, and.”
In adding our “yes, ands” to the improvisation, we partnered the undergraduate students at Colby-Sawyer College (a private, liberal arts college of about 1400 students in central New Hampshire) and the Ohio State University (a large state university in central Ohio with about 44,000 undergraduates on a campus with about 58,000 students).
As instructors coming out of media and cultural history and political and feminist theory, neither of us particularly professionalized or skilled in digital media production, we joined this shared teaching and thinking project with a “DIY” mantra firmly in mind: a do-it-yourself feminist politics that suggests we ought not wait to be invited into circuits, but that we jump in and add our own.
As critical inspiration, we read Riot Grrrls and feminist DIY punk cultural production of the 1990s in our classes. They said, “Because we must take over the means of production in order to create our own moanings.” Yes, and we say “FemTechNet is a power tool” (FemTechNet Manifesto).
Animating a DIY approach with an improvisational spirit to us underscored that DIY is actually a misnomer. We need others — we need each other — to do the kind of work that will upend hierarchies, eliminate violence, create room for difference in the academy and beyond, and move past individual expressions of identity, the isolated and isolating digital practices. And so began our move from DIY to DWO (doing with others).
Much has been made of the role of the amateur in digital economies. Some have heralded its presence as a liberating creative spirit, with the ability to elide expertise and professionalism directly correlated to increased participation in the marketplace of ideas (see, for example, Lawrence Lessig and Clay Shirky). Carolyn Marvin has also critiqued the rise of the professional engineer and scientist of old technologies as tied to the exclusion of women and minorities in these fields (Marvin 1988). By squashing the tinkering impulse, and the tinkerer, we reinscribe hierarchies of thought, labor, and power.
Others have noted that amateurism is too easily coopted into the logic of neoliberal economies. DIY becomes a brand, and the amateur becomes a creative psychology useful to a growing economy. Astra Taylor has noted that “the grassroots rhetoric of networked amateurism has been harnessed to corporate strategy, continuing a nefarious tradition” and warns, “When we uphold amateur creativity, we are not necessarily resolving the deeper problems of entrenched privilege or the irresistible imperative of profit” (Taylor 2014, 63- 64).
In addition to jumping into the projects already in place in the network, we added some of our own, and invited others to join us. Inspired by the Object Making key learning project, and wanting to render visible what are often invisible gendered technologies, the Colby-Sawyer students developed a Bra Project that would be showcased at a Fem Fair. Inviting others to join us in this improvisation, we put out a “Call for “Bras” across FemTechNet. Here the network said yes, and sent dozens of bras, bindings and underthings through the mail. The students decorated, mutilated, and repurposed these into visual displays of gendered technologies. The Fem Fair took place in rural New Hampshire, while capturing the spirit of the dispersed and distributed FemTechNet.
Celebrating “The Bra Project” at Colby-Sawyer College, Fall 2013
At Ohio State, our class developed the idea of Freedom Recycling Bins. Taking inspiration from the “freedom trash cans” of the feminist protests at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, we repurposed trash cans so that they could be used as depositories of objects that symbolized or that perpetuated oppression. We then brainstormed how each object could be recycled and repurposed to serve liberatory ends. Later, we developed a game based on the idea. Here’s how to play!
Freedom Recycling Bin: The Game
To play, you will need:
A trash can
Markers, paper, playdough and other repurposing supplies
How to play:
Label a trash can a “freedom recycling bin” and put it in the middle of the room.
Set the timer for five minutes. In that time, each person places an object that represents or perpetuates some aspect of oppression in their lives (either the actual object or a representation of the object) into the recycling bin.
Break up into even-numbered teams.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Racing against the clock, each team picks an object from the recycling bin and repurposes it for liberatory ends. Keep going until all the objects in the recycling bin are repurposed or until the time runs out.
Groups share their repurposed objects with the others. The team with the most successfully repurposed objects wins the round.
Repeat as often as necessary.
Speaking of the imperative of coalition work, Bernice Johnson Reagon writes: “we have lived through a period where there have been things like railroads and telephones, and radios, TVs, and airplanes, and cars and transistors, and computers. And what this has done to the concept of human society, and human life is, to a large extent… what we have been trying to grapple with” (Reagon 2000, 365).
Reagon stresses that a consequence of these technological transformations is our vulnerability– “there is no hiding place”– and our connection– we have to build coalitions through and across difference in order to survive (Reagon, 365). Yes, and we say animating these coalitions, both on and off-line, with an improvisational spirit will help us to deepen, expand, and multiply them. There won’t be a place oppression can hide.
FemTechNet. “Manifesto.” Femtechnet.org, 2014.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants. Little, Brown and Company, 2011.
Marvin, Carolyn. When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press, 1988.
McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Bantam Books, 1967.
Freedom Trash Can Photo: https://mediamythalert.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/bra-burning_freedomtrashcan.jpg
Reagon, Bernice Johnson. “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century,” Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, Barbara Smith, ed. ([Kitchen Table Press, 1983] Rutgers University Press, 2000.
“Riot Grrrl Manifesto,” Bikini Kill Zine 2, 1991.
Taylor, Astra. The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. Metropolitan Books, 2014.
Over the last two decades, we have seen the emergence of a movement attempting to retain (or regain) democratic control of digital communications technologies. I’ve previously written about the activism emerging around this, framing it as a digital liberties movement (here and here), and Hector Postigo’s work on the digital rights movement offers another way of understanding it.
While the digital liberties movement is engaged in an important struggle, its politics create constraints in terms of the kinds of critiques – and solutions – it offers. It’s always tricky discussing the politics of social movements (which are always heterogeneous and fluid), but broadly speaking, the politics of the movement mostly fits within a liberal democratic framework. There are frequently challenges to aspects of the existing political systems activists are working within, but usually these go back to liberal ideals. So, for example, activists challenge state surveillance by appealing to concepts like freedom of association and freedom of speech, rather than by challenging the right of the state to exist. There’s also a strong streak of libertarianism in the movement, in the American sense of a politics which argues for greatly-restricted state power but few restrictions on the power of the market.
This translates into campaigns with a strong focus on individual freedom from government oppression, particularly with regards to protections for ‘free speech’ and limits on government surveillance; tactics that aim at reform, rather than deeper structural change; and appeals to an idealised free market (so, for example, complaints about the ways in which intellectual property law creates monopolies, and claims that more nimble entrepreneurship could balance the power of large corporations).
Many geek feminists work within, or began by working within, this movement: women have been key to the framing, campaigning, and specific projects within digital liberties activism. For example, women (including those who identify as feminists) have had an active presence in free and open source software communities, and in campaigns against online censorship and surveillance. However, many women who were initially involved in the movement have raised important criticisms of it, while others have never found the movement to represent their experiences of online technologies.
Obviously, there is no single political approach in geek feminist politics. There are many different, diverse, geek feminist communities – here I’m talking mostly about North American and Australian geek feminists, and what I say isn’t true for everyone who’d identify in that way. However, again, (very generally speaking) geek feminism often reproduces the focus on liberal ideals, in part because this is the politics which is most visible and available. As Alex Bayley says in a 2014 talk on the history of the Geek Feminist wiki (an important resource for the growth of the geek feminist movement, but not the only site for it), when she first began the wiki she had no education in feminism, gender studies, or related areas, and so the wiki was partly a space to host her own self education. This isn’t unusual, with many women in the geek feminist movement coming from technical backgrounds in which the only ‘activist’ politics present might be those around free software. However, resources like the Geek Feminist wiki, spaces like AdaCamp, and discussions around feminism on Twitter and in other places, is helping to establish a specific (but fluid and heterogenous) politics.
One of the key features here is an interest in intersectionality, an understanding of gendered oppression as intersecting with other forms of oppression. While this concept was initially developed specifically in the context of Black Feminism, by Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and others, it’s much more broadly (and sometimes shallowly), understood in the context of geek feminism today. This is leading to important critiques of the digital liberties movement’s work. For example, ‘free speech’ is both central to the politics of many digital liberties organisations, and a key feature of the rhetoric of many of those harassing women online or in other geek spaces. In the latter case, free speech is usually defined in an expansive way, in which any form of moderation of a space is positioned as ‘censorship’: this can be seen as partly the result of implementing the values of liberal democracy in spaces beyond the state (seeing governance of a conference or online community as mirroring governance of the state).
A blog post by Jem Yoshioka summarises the geek feminist critique of free speech discourse well:
The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community.
This not only critiques the idea that ‘free speech’ should be prioritised over all other values, but also signals a shift towards a more communitarian approach to governance. The appeal here is not to a top down mechanism, but rather to ‘us’: members of the communities themselves. It also represents an important shift away from individualistic liberal framings of atomised individuals, and towards an understanding of communities as shaped by structural inequalities which must be addressed through solidarity and mutual aid.
Geek feminism is also beginning to raise important critiques of capitalism, in opposition to the digital liberties’ tendency to valorise images of more flexible and technologically-enlightened capital. This is, of course, varied: faith in the market as the primary means of resource distribution is not absent from geek feminist communities. However, at the same time, there’s a growing understanding of the ways in which capitalism is inherently linked to structural oppression. This can be seen particularly in the responses to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book, Lean In, which have begun a broader conversation about the limitations of ‘success’ within a capitalist system.
Finally, whereas the digital liberties movement tends to frame government surveillance as a concern, geek feminists are increasingly arguing that for many women, trans people, queer people, and people of colour, the key threats don’t come from their government, or don’t only come from their government. For example, trans women, and particularly trans women of colour, are at threat of state violence, but they’ve also suffered from sustained harassment online and offline for years from trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Understanding ‘surveillance’ as enacted not just by the state but also by other citizens, and often even by peers (including other activists), radically changes the kinds of resistance we might envisage.
These challenges from geek feminists are broadening the way we think about the politics of digital technologies, and encouraging a more nuanced understanding of how we can struggle for more democratic control of vital technology. They’re not the only source of such challenges, and geek feminism itself is drawing on many other stands of activism, including trans activism and anticolonial analysis. Twitter’s recent policy changes around harassment are one sign of the impact of this work – hopefully there will be others, including more radical changes to communication technologies. I’m really looking forward to exploring this in more detail as I build on the work in Global Justice and the Politics of Information and start writing more about marginalised perspectives on Internet governance and online technologies.
In 2012, I responded to a FemTechNet (FTN) open invitation for a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC). I am interested in experimenting with potentials of new media for feminist pedagogy and DOCC theory resonated with me. Eileen Trauth and Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor at Penn State joined me in co-teaching a DOCC “node” in Fall 2013 that we called G-STEAM (Gender and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Each semester since Fall 2013, I have connected courses that I teach to DOCC and co-created pedagogical experiments: Performing Dialogue, Exquisite Engendering, and Feminist Mapping. My contribution to the FTN Roadshow Blog Series is about these DOCC pedagogical experiments situated in the keyword, COURSE.
The Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) is a feminist approach for 21st century learning and teaching in the age of social media connectivity. The DOCC is open access, multimodal publishing, collaborative research and publication, and transdisciplinary pedagogy. In this sense “course” is an ongoing DOCC discourse, a digital multi-continuum of open-ended courses. The DOCC has intervened in education discourse on the authority of insular knowledge and one-way modes of communication in massive online courses toward multivocal and multimodal communication, learning, and knowledge production. Jasmine Rault begins the FTN Roadshow Blog Series referring to DOCC as “experiments in pedagogical technologies” and “a kind of insurgent collectivity and distributive technology of care.” Karl Surkan in the Roadshow series emphasizes, “as we wrote in the FemTechNet Manifesto, ‘collaboration is a feminist technology’ – so the two are mutually constitutive.” The DOCC approach fosters rigorous dialogue to imagine, and then create, an equitable and socially just education. Maria-Belén Ordóñez in the Roadshow series states that “the point of the DOCC [is] to build a network of feminists who are committed to inclusive, democratic learning.” For me, the labor of teaching was not necessarily lightened but purpose, learning, and pleasure deepened in collaborating with Maria-Belén and others in the DOCC.
Lisa Brundage and Emily Sherwood in the FTN Roadshow series provide a feminist pedagogy example of DOCC theory in re-visioning their pedagogical technologies of linear digital architecture to a collage mural space for planning, dialogue, resources, and engaging the world. In the G-STEAM course in Fall 2013, while each week there was a different theme, many of which were shared themes with other DOCCs, there was one theme which was overarching: CREATIVITY. Not only creativity in what and how we read but also in the pedagogy. From the beginning of the COURSE, students discussed what a feminist approach to creativity might be, and about how feminist digital spaces could themselves be spaces of creativity.
alex cruse, in the FTN Roadside series, identifies DOCC goals to be “inclusive, participatory, decentralized, and nonhierarchical structures and processes.” T.L. Cowan in the Roadshow series writes on how “DOCC is an exemplar of cabaret pedagogy. … Cabaret is about people working together to make something that they couldn’t make alone, and its economic structure is more often driven by mutual support than by big cash rewards.” This is the (dis)COURSE of DOCC.
Maria-Belén Ordóñez in the Roadshow series discusses our cross-class project that had three parts from introductions of embodied theorizing of self through reading Erin Manning’s (2007) Politics of Touch and Allison Weir’s (2008) ideas of global solidarity and transformation. In my graduate course, Including Difference, the introduction of self to students in Dr. Ordóñez’s DOCC was a “Mapping Difference” assignment linked here. Visually mapping difference can be seen at all the students’ blogs linked to the assignment. For example, Becca Brittain Taudien’s identity map, linked here, and Eunjung Choi’s mapping of self, linked here, reveal their revelations regarding privilege, positionality, and difference in the process of mapping a relational self.
After introductions, students embarked on Difference Dialogue, an assignment described here. Both classes watched FemTechNet’s “Difference” Video Dialogue, a discussion featuring Shu Lea Cheang and Kim Sawchuk moderated by Sara Diamond.[i] Students in three courses (one undergraduate course and two graduate courses) in Fall 2014 used SoundCloud’s timeline for commentary; and students in my graduate-level course also used Zotero to build a bibliography of work referenced in FemTechNet’s “Difference” Video Dialogue. You are invited to join the FemTechNet collective bibliography group. Once in the FemTechNet group, you will find several folders including the “Difference” folder with full references and links to all the texts mentioned in the FTN Difference Video Dialogue.
The third part of the cross-class project we called “Performing Dialogue.” Students in my Including Difference graduate course wrote an interpretive script from their dialogue with students in Dr. Ordoñez’s graduate course and from in-class dialogue as well as course readings. Penn State students performed and video-recorded their scripted dialogue considering audience, that is, who they would like to communicate to in their performing dialogue. One student, Carla Fernandez, a Penn State doctoral student in psychology from Paraguay, joined the weekly three-hour class sessions from Italy where she had traveled during the course for a conference. During this time, the Performing Dialogues were due. Carla asked a stranger to her, a young woman from China, in a public plaza in Florence, Italy, to perform the dialogue with her. Students in the course at Penn State watched the video-recording in Pennsylvania, followed by discussion with Carla in Italy via video-conferencing technology. Carla’s script and performance is about difference beyond the physical into the psychological, which is linked here. Carla’s teaching in her Performing Dialogues spilled outside academia and is a good example of cabaret pedagogy.
DOCC feminist mapping entangles responsibility, identity, body, memory, lived experience, and knowledge.[ii] To introduce the Feminist Mapping project, I showed several examples of mapping such as Maya Lin’s What is Missing?, a science-based artwork as digital memorial, mapping the disappearance of species habitat degradation and loss.
Here, I provide links and brief descriptions of two feminist mapping projects from the Fall 2013 G-STEAM (Gender and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) course. Hyunji Kwon, a second year art education and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies doctoral student in Fall 2013, developed a visual feminist historiography of Kang Duk-kyung’s life, which includes Kang’s symbolic drawings about the atrocities of her experiences as a “Comfort Woman” sex slave. The map is linked here.
Veronica Hicks, a first semester art education and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies doctoral student in Fall 2013, used Inklewriter to create an interactive book, STEMINISTS IN THE MAKING. Veronica selected the theme “TRANSFORMATION: Creativity, Transformation, and Potentialities” for her turn in facilitating talking circles in the Including Difference course. She extended the FTN SYSTEMS 1.NARRATIVE Video Dialogue with Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray moderated by Anne Balsamo in creating a “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive book, which provided a game-like teaching approach to learn of women in STEM.
In 2014, T.L. Cowan, in collaboration with others, launched a DOCC feminist map, The Situated Knowledges Mapping Project, to make visible politics of location and identity. More on the mapping process is linked here and on the map as a “place to work out theoretical problems and positions relative to feminist thought in a very direct and personal way for the students reading and writing into it” is discussed in Karl Surkan’s post on Collaborative in the Roadshow series. The Situated Knowledges Map pin posts marking places of harassment remind me of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile art series, which addresses gender based street harassment by placing in public spaces where harassment occurred her drawn portraits of women with captions that speak directly to offenders.
The FTN DOCC “Exquisite Engendering Video ReMIX, MIXed Reality Art” project is a riff on the Dadaist’s Exquisite Corpse art process. Our project is “Exquisite Engendering,” inspired by Erin Manning’s (2007) book, Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. She describes engendering from Latin roots generrare, to generate. “To engender is to undertake a reworking of form. To engender is to potentialize matter. Engendering involves potentiality at its most fertile: it calls forth the link between the incorporeal and the material, between the virtual and the actual” (p. 90). In the second iteration of Exquisite Engendering in Spring 2015, we focused on racism. Penn State and University of North Carolina, Wilmington undergraduate students preparing to be teachers watched Comfortable: 50 People 1 Question (4:13 min.) and The Skin We’re In (6:13 min., 2013), a talk by Nina Jablonski, distinguished professor of anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University, who debunks supposedly connected biological, behaviorial, social, and cultural characteristics of people. Students used SoundCloud timeline for commentary (text and audio commentary is linked here). The videos and commentary focused the theme of race in the remixes students created, in this case, for viewing by fourth graders, an age when stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination can be entrenched, internalized, or disrupted. Strategies included:
Remix by visually manipulating prevalent, privileged, stereotyping media messages using strategies such as denoting empty space, overlaying, spotlighting, and repositioning. Empty space is used to draw viewers’ attention to what is missing. Overlay is used to layer other meanings onto a familiar object or image. Spotlighting and repositioning are used to provoke viewers to question assumptions by highlighting something in the image that they would normally minimize or marginalize.
Expose the unmarked, re-envision how marked, reveal what is absent, critique the prevalent cultural stories in visual culture.
Remix the message as well as the media. Mimic mass media forms to create a counter-narrative to prevalent, oppressive media messages. Use humor and irony. Use remix aesthetics: extensions, translations, selections.
For example, one student created a stop-action animation inspired from Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment in 1968, which continues to be a powerful controversial exercise to raise awareness about discrimination and privilege based on body differences. A group of 18 predominantly White fourth graders responses included that it is unfair that one pencil got the paper and sharpener, the other did not. Several students visually expressed sadness, sympathy, and/or empathy for the unfairness of privilege and depravity. The Exquisite Engendering Remix exhibition of the video art with surrounding individual and small group responses on VoiceThread is linked here.
FemTechNet Distributed Open Collaborative Course
I conclude with an invitation to move educational disCOURSE toward including difference in open networks of collective responsibility for well-being of all people. The course of FemTechNet’s DOCC flows from participants’ labor to end violence of dogmatic teaching and instead to practice eco-social justice education.
Manning, Erin. Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Weir, Alison. Global Feminism and Transformative Identity Politics. Hypatia, 23(4), 110-133, 2008.
[ii] For theoretical discussion and further examples of feminist mapping see:
Alexander, M. J., & Mohanty, C. (2010). Cartographies of knowledge and power: Transnational feminism as radical praxis. In A. L. Swarr & R. Nagar (Eds.), Critical transnational feminist praxis (pp. 23-45). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.