Preempting Dissent

July 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Cover of 'Preempting Dissent' book

The Preempting Dissent documentary builds on the book of the same name: you might also want to read ‘Infrastructure Critical’ for more on the Toronto G20.

Today I went to an advance screening and Q&A on Preempting Dissent, about the application of the ‘Miami model’ of policing to the G20 protests in Toronto.

The documentary started with an overview of changes to policing tactics in North America, looking at how Giuliani’s ‘broken window’ theory got applied to protest policing: no loss of control should be allowed, lest it get out of hand. In particular, following the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle police have begun to treat events which might attract protest as national security events. The US PATRIOT act exacerbated this tendency, with a further shutting-down of the space for protest.

The ‘Miami model’ includes cooperation between police and federal agencies; extensive surveillance in the lead-up to protests, including raids on meeting spaces, preemptive arrests and searches; the (mis)use of ‘less than lethal‘ weapons during protests; and the development of ‘free speech zones’ which separate protesters from events and contain them.

Preempting Dissent points out that a Canadian government investigation has acknowledged that protesters had no way to know in advance that the police were enacting previous wartime legislation to, in effect, bring in martial law during the G20. Even protesters who took care to educate themselves about the law surrounding protests ‘had no way of knowing they were walking into a trap’.

A line of riot police with helmets and shields

Image by Joshua Scott

The documentary ends by talking about the need to challenge the ‘security logic’ that underpins the Miami model of policing. In the Q&A session afterwards Greg Elmer talked about the need to move away from planned events which lead to protesters walking into a trap, suggesting that more mobile and fluid protest tactics are one way of responding to changes in policing. He also emphasised the need to respond to intimidation tactics which try to scare protesters off the streets.

One of the questions about the shift from surveillance to preemption brought up an important point: that ‘surveillance’ often isn’t about information-gathering. It’s simply another form of intimidation, a way of letting activists know that they’re being watched, and of undermining organisation. The discussion session brought up quite a few other interesting issues: the need to consider race (and particularly racism) when thinking about the dynamics of protest policing; the ethics of showing images of protesters in the current surveillance environment; and the ethics of making sensitive footage available under a creative commons license which might allow for problematic uses.

There was also some useful sharing of resources: I liked the suggestion that protesters carry a self-addressed envelope with them so that if necessary they can mail their SD cards back to themselves to prevent police wiping phones used to document violence, and someone from the What World Productions team mentioned their documentary on police violence against homeless, poor, and other marginalised groups in Toronto.

I highly recommend watching Preempting Dissent and reading the companion book for more detail, as well as Infrastructure Critical.


Trigger warnings: there’s some quite intense footage here, including of protesters being kettled, tazed, pepper-sprayed, and violently arrested.

How private funding influences GM research

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The private sector has driven GM research – but in whose interests? International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

I have a new article up on The Conversation arguing that it’s important to think about the economic context in which GM crops are developed. While GM crops are often promoted as being the solution to world hunger, most of the research on GM crops is driven by private industry, or ‘public-private partnerships’ between industry and research institutions. This has important impacts on the kinds of research being done, and should invite scepticism about claims that GM crops will help support a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Of course, the article length is quite limited. For a longer discussion of these issues, order my forthcoming book: Global Justice and the Politics of Information: the Struggle Over Knowledge.

Anarchist perspectives on feminism: further reading

June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Several people requested more reading to accompany my talk on anarchist perspectives on feminism.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list: the goal is just to provide a few starting points for reading, most of which can be found online.

For explanations of anarchism and anarchafeminism:

  • Emma Goldman’s Anarchism: what it really stands for in her collection of essays provides a good overview. Goldman’s writing style is not for everyone, being quite passionate (which I think was a political choice for her), but I enjoy it.
  • The opening chapters of Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism give a concise and readable overview of anarchism and its relationship to socialism.
  • History and actuality of anarcha-feminism: lessons from Spain, by Marta Iniguez de Heredia, provides a readable overview of anarchafeminism.
  • bell hooks’ work is not explicitly anarchist or about anarchism as a theory, but her work is an excellent perspective on anarchafeminist ideas. I’d recommend Feminism is for everybody and Feminist theory: from margins to centre as useful starting-points. The first of these, and much of her other work, can be found online.

Lateral perspectives:

As I explained in the workshop, much of my learning and thinking about anarchism hasn’t come through political theory, but rather through fiction. Marge Piercy’s Woman at the Edge of Time was quite influential for me (which makes me all the more disappointed to read that she signed on to a 2013 transphobic open letter), and I read a lot of Kim Stanley Robinson’s work as explorations of how we might end up with an anarchist society, especially the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy (although he can be quite technocratic at times). Reading the lives of anarchist women is interesting. Emma Goldman’s Living my Life is a fascinating read, and hopefully provides an antidote to putting Goldman on a pedestal.

Other places to look:

  • Project Gutenberg has quite a few works on anarchism which might be interesting, particularly for those who want to get a more historical perspective.
  • The Anarchist Library has a section on feminism, as well as a broad selection of other writings.
  • Libcom has a lot of posts and articles on feminism, including quite a few from non-Western perspectives. Be warned that your mileage may vary here, as some of the discussion posts are anti-feminist.

These are, of course, just a starting-point, and limited by my own experiences. I’m trying to do more to explore perspectives that are more marginalised and hopefully will have continue to develop this list over time.

Why I’m ending my short experiment with Gittip [now Gratipay], or: why we can’t have nice things, part 2,039

June 20, 2014 § 11 Comments

I love doing teaching and research, but I also want to be doing more to engage and build communities outside of academia. Recently, I decided to start experimenting with Gittip [Edit: this has now been rebranded as Gratipay] as a way to support that. Gittip “is a way to give small weekly cash gifts to people you love and are inspired by. Gifts are weekly. The intention is for people to depend on money received through Gittip in order to pay their bills, and bills are recurring.” I like the idea, and I liked that the ‘top receivers’ shown on the front page included several activists working on diversity issues, which suggested that it wasn’t just a tool for programmers to use, and that it’s possible to make a decent (if far from extravagant) income doing public outreach and community-building work.

Then, someone on Hacker News criticised the site for supporting people who ‘yell on Twitter and demonize men’, saying the site had become ‘a joke dominated by professional victims’. Sadly, this is not unexpected. The level of daily vitriol directed at women who actively address sexism in tech culture (and in other spaces) is astounding. What was unfortunately is that Chad Whitacre, founder of Gittip, responded this comment by thanking the poster for his feedback.

When people called Whitacre out on this, he responded by saying that he was talking about the part of the comment that referred to the how ‘leaderboards’ were displayed: he was agreeing that perhaps the front page on Gittip shouldn’t focus so heavily on those who give and receive the most funds. I was hopeful that he’d follow this up with a simple and unequivocal statement along the lines of, “Of course we want diversity activists using Gittip! This is an excellent use for the tool and it’s important that we support them.”

Instead, Whitacre’s responses have both tacitly and explicitly supported the ongoing harassment that many of Gittip’s (previous) top users, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, and Nóirín Plunkett face. Tacitly, by thanking misogynists for their feedback and not speaking up against misogyny, Whitacre supports a culture of harassment that pushes women out of geek communities:


Explicitly, Whitacre has contributed to the ongoing harassment that women working on diversity issues in geek communities face by writing a blog post explicitly attacking Shanley, particularly for the tone of her criticisms of him. I am not going to link to the blog post. And just in case anyone wants to say that Whitacre would have responded better if only someone had explained it to him more politely, it’s clear that other people have been approaching these discussions in a gentler way, and haven’t managed to shift Whitacre’s approach. [Edit: also see Julie Pagano’s email to Whitacre.]

In response to this, many of Gittip’s users have been leaving or are going to leave, including Shanley, Ashe Dryden, Steve Klabnik, and probably many others that I’ve missed [Edit: including Skud]. For many, this comes at a huge cost: people like Ashe Dryden have spent a long time building up their support base on Gittip, and get a significant proportion of their income from the tool. This isn’t a decision taken lightly.

This is what builds homogenous communities. When privileged people fail to stand up for marginalised groups within their communities, those groups eventually understand that they’re not welcome and won’t be supported and leave. Initial shifts towards diversity are rapidly undone.

I’ve shut down my account, too. I don’t want to work to build support through a platform where key communities members are not only unwilling to support their top users, but are also willing to actively attack them.

[Edit: there’s now a page up about this on the Geek Feminism Wiki: Gittip crisis. I’m hoping that in coming days there’ll also be resources compiled around alternatives to Gittip, and about how people can support people who’ve stopped using Gittip.]

Advance, somewhat informal, praise for ‘Global Justice and the Politics of Information’

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

The cover for 'Global Justice and the Politics of Information'Hugh Goldring, who’s been kind enough to take on the task of indexing Global Justice and the Politics of Information, sent through his preliminary thoughts on the book, and they’re lovely enough that I can’t help but share:

This is a thoughtful and intelligent book that does a rare thing – it lays out obstacles to solidarity in an effort to encourage understanding of the importance of building solidarity. It could be a blueprint for people looking to build linkages aimed at strengthening both the digital liberties movement and the global justice movement writ large.

If you’d like to read more of Hugh’s thoughts on books (mostly of the graphic novel variety), check out Ad Astra Comix!


Upcoming talk in the Bay Area: Anarchist perspectives on feminism

June 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

A black and purple flag, bisected diagonally.Where: The Sudo Room, 2141 Broadway, upstairs (entrance on 22nd. St.), Oakland.

When: 3pm to 4:30pm, Sunday 22nd June.

Cost: entry by donation.

RSVP: in the comments here, on the Facebook event page, or by email (scroeser at gmail).

What: This talk is a brief introduction to anarchist strands of feminism. It aims to provide an overview of the history and concepts that underpin anarchafeminism, and to open up discussion about how anarchafeminist approaches might be useful today. Reclaiming our radical histories provides us with vital resources. Too often we don’t have access to stories about the people and movements who have faced issues similar to those we are addressing today. We have to reinvent tactics and ideas. For those frustrated with the limitations of mainstream, predominantly liberal or neo-liberal feminism, anarchafeminism offers helpful frameworks for thinking about class, race, gender relations, organising methods, and feminists’ relationship to the state. We’ll close the session with a discussion about how to apply these ideas to areas people are working on today.

About me:
I’m a teacher, researcher, and activist currently based in Toronto. My work focuses on how activists use and shape technology, and about how to build possibilities for radical social change. If you’d like to see me give more talks and workshops more often, please consider supporting me on gittip.


Changing Facebook’s architecture

May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest book chapter, ‘Changing Facebook’s architecture’ has come out in An education in facebook?, edited by Mike Kent and Tama Leaver. I just got my review copy in the mail and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to explore it. Mike and Tama have put together an excellent collection that’s well-grounded in empirical research from a teaching and learning perspective while also drawing on more critical perspectives, including work on surveillance, privacy, accessibility, and cultural issues.

My own chapter looks particularly at tensions with using a commercial platform which systematically collects users’ data and shares it with both business and state organisations, suggesting that at the very least educators should be considering privacy-enhancing and ad-blocking browser extensions as an essential part of any use of Facebook in education.

Changing Facebook’s architecture: abstract

This chapter looks at the use of browser extensions by students to shape their experience of Facebook, and suggests ways in which educators at the tertiary level might encourage the use of extensions as a strategy for ameliorating some of the concerns associated with Facebook use. The focus is primarily on privacy concerns (cf. Hew, 2011), particularly those related to institutional privacy (cf. Raynes-Goldie, 2010), and on the ethical issues associated with encouraging or requiring students to use a platform for education which displays targeted advertising, which have thus far received woefully little attention.

While there is some recognition that educational ‘consumers’ of services such as Facebook need not take them at face value, accepting the norms, etiquette, and affordances encouraged by the site’s architecture, most work on Facebook and education focuses on individual responses used by teachers or students. While this work is valuable, it predominantly fits within the scope of what de Certeau called ‘tactics': hidden, “clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things” (1984, p. xix). Tactical responses do not change Facebook’s architecture, rather they respond to it in a temporary way, contingent on Facebook’s tacit approval or inability to enforce its terms of service. For example, Munoz and Towner recommend that teachers create profile pages “for professional use only” (2009, p. 8), which directly contravenes Facebook’s ban on multiple accounts (Facebook Help Centre, 2012) if teaching staff already have a profile. In contrast to this, browser extensions arguably work at the level of strategy. While de Certeau sees strategies as primarily deployed by those in power, he defines them with reference to the structure of systems and totalizing discourses, the way in which (physical) spaces are organised and controlled (1984, p. 38). Browser extensions which combat Facebook’s ability to track users across external sites (Felix, 2012) as well as blocking advertising on the site make fundamental shifts to the users’ experience of Facebook and the structure of the site architecture, changing the way in which the space is organised and controlled.

Despite the potential benefits of browser extensions as a strategy for (re)gaining user control of the Web, only a small percentage of Internet users employ browser extensions. Adblock, the “most popular extension for Chrome” (Gundlach, 2012), is only installed by approximately ten per cent of Chrome users. Around nine per cent of users across browsers have some sort of ad-blocking extension, although this is higher for visitors to technology-related content (ClarityRay, 2012). There is therefore a need for increased education around the use of these strategies, as well as further discussion of the contradictions involved in using a commercial platform while simultaneously attempting to subvert it. This chapter concludes by suggesting a framework for the use of browser extensions for teachers who wish to use Facebook in their teaching.

Certeau, M. D. (1984). The practice of everyday life: Michel de Certeau ; translated by Steven Rendall. (S. F. Rendall, Trans.). University of California Press.
ClarityRay. (2012, May). Ad-blocking, measured. Retrieved from
Facebook Help Centre. (2012). Disabled – Multiple Accounts. Facebook. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from
Felix, S. (2012, September 9). This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. Business Insider. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from
Gundlach, M. (2012). AdBlock. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from
Hew, K. F. (2011). Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020
Munoz, C., & Towner, T. (2009). Opening Facebook: How to Use Facebook in the College Classroom. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2009, 2009(1), 2623–2627.
Raynes-Goldie, K. (2010). Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook. First Monday, 15(1). Retrieved from



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