January 29, 2013 § 5 Comments
After Radia Perlman’s keynote talk, I spent today at the Haecksen miniconference, which focuses on women in open source. It was great to see a mixed audience, rather than an all-woman audience.
While much of Radia Perlman‘s talk on networks was focused on technical systems that are beyond me, it was still interesting because she talked a bit about the reasoning behind the adoption of different network protocols. She emphasised that the protocols which are widely adopted are not always those that are best, and made it clear that the development of network technology doesn’t always follow a ‘rational’ path of development. I also liked that she illustrated her talk with references to her children: it’s good to have people talk about their work in ways that acknowledge that it’s just one part of their lives.
I gave the first talk at Haecksen, critiquing ‘open-source politics’: you can find my slides and the abstract here.
- Watch your language: don’t reinforce the problem, for example by saying that you’re “just” or “only” a beginner (or a researcher, or whatever it is you are); avoid “I think” – this is implied by what you’re saying; avoid saying that you “should have…” done things a certain way; you could try a ‘self-deprecating language’ jar.
- Teach what you know, even if you think you don’t know it. Explaining something will help you to realise what you know.
- Question corrections (especially nitpicking about small details, but also larger criticisms). Have faith in your own work, and remember that not all criticisms are legitimate.
- Ask questions.
- Ask for perspective checks from a friend.
- Keep a list of your accomplishments.
- Get background information for comparison: if your boss or colleague is being very critical, for example, there’s a chance that it’s not you. Talking to other people who have worked with this person might give you more of an idea of what’s going on.
- Remember that you are awesome.
Denise also talked briefly about how helping other people overcome their imposter syndrome: by providing appropriate support and encouragement, Dreamwidth has ended up with contributions from a much more diverse range of people than most other projects.
Next up, Joh Pirie-Clark gave an excellent critique of ‘cyberwar’ rhetoric, Cyberwar: Mo’ Metaphor, Mo’ Money, Mo’ problems? She argued that the analogies we use to describe the world shape how we respond, and the language of ‘cyberwar’ is problematic because it applies terms that refer to massive damage and loss of life to digital attacks which, for the most part, don’t. For example, NZ laws around “making, selling, or possessing software for committing crime” are clearly modelled around drug and gun laws, whereas it would be far more appropriate to base them on dual-use tools (like crowbars) that have legal uses. The cyberwar narrative is building a million-dollar industry, particularly in the use, and contributing to a sense of states under siege by vague and shadowy sources.
After lunch, there were a couple of talks looking at cool geeky craft stuff: Kathy Reid talked about integrating the Arduino Lilypad with knitting projects, and Ruth Ellison spoke on laser-cut jewellery (including some cool climate data visualisation jewellery).
Fee Plumley‘s talk on Open Source Cities raised some interesting points about how we think about cities, diasporas, and nomadic living. I was quite uncomfortable with the use of the term gypsy throughout the talk (more about this here). I’m always nervous about raising issues with problematic language at conferences, but happily Fee was open and asked for more resources to read up on: always a good way of responding if you get a call-out, even if you ultimately don’t end up agreeing with what’s said. We all make mistakes, including me, and I’ve had some great moments of learning when people have pulled me up.
Katie Miller spoke on programs for teaching school-aged girls how to use FOSS, using FOSS programs. She had some good suggestions on specific lessons learned, including the need to break up large chunks of text and to include examples. Jacinta Richardson’s suggestions on getting your conference talk accepted had helpful tips, especially for those starting out: think about how difficult it is to get accepted to a particular conference; make sure that you write well, because organisers are likely to use this is a shortcut to guessing whether you’re a good speaker (including using clear language good paragraph structure); skip titles like “x for fun and profit” and “making x sexy”; consider asking for help from people who know the area, including people from the papers committee.
While the technical content of Mary Gardiner and Breanna Laugher’s demonstration of py.test didn’t make much sense to me, I liked the format of the talk. Breanna gave instructions to Mary (who hadn’t used py.test before) on how to use it for various tasks and Mary typed up her work on the screen. This seems like a useful way to make discussions less abstract, as well as to ensure that issues an experienced user might forget to cover are made visible.
Finally, Samantha Cheah and Lauren Hassall talked about the Robogals project, which uses university volunteers to run robotics workshops for highschool students. These workshops are designed to introduce girls to engineering in a fun way, with positive and relatable role models. The project’s been very successful, with several chapters in the Asia-Pacific (including Perth), UK, and North America.
Despite some initial worries that my knowledge base is too far away from the focus of Linux Conference, it’s been great so far. Even talks where I didn’t get all the technical detail were useful in other ways, and of course it’s lovely to meet new people, as well as meeting people in person who I usually only see online.
January 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
Next week I’ll be heading over to Canberra for Linux Conference Australia, where I’ll be giving a couple of talks. These will have a slightly less academic focus than many of my conference presentations: while they still draw significantly on my research, I’ll be giving a freer rein to my activist interests. During the main program I’ll be talking about free and open source software and activism:
Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement have made the need for user-controlled digital technologies clear, as activists have used the Internet and mobile phones to organise and to communicate with each other and with potential supporters. The consequences of failures in these systems, particularly security breaches, can be extreme: activists may face fines, jail time, or even death. Free and open source software (FOSS) provides one potential solution to these problems, as it is focused on users’ needs. FOSS communities also already overlap significantly with many other activist communities, and are working to develop cross-movement connections as well as useful tools. However, many FOSS communities, and particularly those defined by a commitment to open source, rather than than free, software, are reluctant to take overt political stands. Similarly, many activists on both the left and the right have an aversion to digital technologies for both ideological and practical reasons. This means that there are frequently significant barriers to increasing the links between FOSS and progressive political movements. This presentation explores the connections between FOSS communities and the broader activist landscape. It looks at the politics of FOSS, the ways in which global movements and FOSS communities are building links, and the potential benefits of actively seeking cross-fertilisation of ideas and politics between FOSS and progressive movements.
I’ll also be speaking at the Haecksen mini-conference that runs alongside the main programme. Haecksen, organised by the Oceania Women of Open Technology group, will “feature women speakers and panellists on technical and community topics related to free software and women in free software.” I’ll be talking about feminism, anarchism, and FOSS:
The language of open software is increasingly being applied to politics, as people talk about and develop “open government” projects. However, much of this discussion does not unpack the politics of “openness”, instead taking for granted that it involves a technologically-enhanced model of existing liberal democratic ideals. However, there are other ways to interpret what free and open source politics might look like. One is to more thoroughly apply the politics espoused by key figures within the free and open software movements, such as Stallman and Raymond. Another, more radical, route is to take the commitment to decentralisation of power that lies at the heart of free and open source software and apply it not only to an analysis of politics, but also to the existing free and open source software movement. This route demonstrates that there are useful lessons to be learned from looking at the interaction between free software principles, anarchism, and feminism.
This will be my first time at Linux Conference, and the mailing list has made it clear that the conference has a vibrant community around it. I’m also really happy to see that Linux Conference has a great Code of Conduct and is offering free childcare. While I don’t have kids, things like this seem like a good sign that the conference organisers are taking active steps to being an inclusive space that allows space for parents and supports groups that might otherwise be marginalised. I wish more academic conferences did this. If you’re going, please feel free to say hi to me!
October 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
October 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
It was refreshing to begin the conference with plenary speakers bringing excellent feminist and queer analysis to bear on Internet Studies. Mary Gray, Larissa Hjorth, and Susanna Paasonen all posed challenges to the dominant focuses of Internet Studies. Gray questioned technology- (and particularly device-) centred approaches, and the accompanying focus on ‘big data’. (I’ve also been having some useful discussions around this latter focus as gendered: this push towards a ‘scientific’ and quantitative approach has important implications when women are still discouraged-both subtly and unsubtly-from engagement in STEM fields and the statistical training required for big data projects.)
Gray also critiqued the ongoing focus on normative users in research, looking instead at ‘boundary publics’ – in this case queer rural youth. Hjorth, similarly, implicitly challenged the common focus on (young, well-off) men and technology use by looking at the ways in which mobile use is affecting the space of ‘the domestic’, and the relationship between mothering, smartphones, and labour.
Finally, Susanna Paasonen provided a useful counter to the assumption (perhaps more common in popular narratives than academic discourse) that digital content is disembodied. This is often tied either to a narrative of loss (of authenticity, of tactility), or a narrative of freedom (from physical limitations). Paasonen argues, in contrast, that the materiality of consuming digital content matters: digital content is always mediated through particular devices, which have different affordances and encourage particular kinds of uses. Paasonen also got quite a few scandalised/delighted titters from the audience by showing a short clip from a porn film (which, she notes, she inherited in Super 8 form from her parents). While this added some (more) humour to the talk, I think it’s also important politically. The politics of pornography have always played a large role in discussions of the Internet. We need to be able to talk productively about pornography not only in order to understand the Internet, but also because it plays such a large role in the construction of sexuality and desire in many societies.
I’m looking forward to reading more work by all of these speakers, especially as my still-slighly-jetlagged self is having some trouble processing the more theoretically dense aspects of the talks in aural form. Corrections, comments, and reading suggestions are welcome!
January 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
I didn’t take too many notes at AdaCamp, partly because I wanted to be participating fully and partly to respect that we were working under Chatham House rules (which I think will probably be modified for future conferences, as many participants seemed happy to be identified). This summary is therefore quite general, and will just pick up on some of the themes and ideas that came up in the sessions. There’s also a brief wrap-up over at the Ada Initiative blog which links to other posts about the camp.
The first session I went to was on mothering/caring friendly spaces. Several of the participants spoke about the ways in which many geeky spaces marginalise children, which can also make parents feel unwelcome. For example, children are often uniformly banned from hackerspaces, rather than creating safe areas for younger children and/or recognising that older children can work on potentially-risky equipment as long as they’re given the right training. People raised a number of different potential strategies for dealing with this, including asking people to think back to their own experiences when they were young and trying to support mentoring programmes. At a more abstract level, I also think that it’s important to actively address the ways in which caring work is gendered: to encourage more men to recognise the value of caring work and to participate in it.
There were plenty of links between this session and the following one on how to teach and learn about feminism in geek communities. People shared some great ideas on creative strategies for making material available (like using videos and comments), as well as potential issues with some of these strategies (women talking about feminism in a video that allows comments are almost certain to experience a heap of draining harassment, including comments on their appearance). We also talked about ‘magic man sparkles’: the tendency for people to pay attention to messages from men that they ignore or react to with hostility when coming from women. I feel quite conflicted about actively trying to use ‘magic man sparkles’ to get the message across: on the one hand it feeds into sexism, but on the other it allows allies to play a role in supporting the movement and it can be quite an effective strategy.
The session on gendered divisions of labour within geek communities had some great input from participants working in open tech and culture – I really appreciated the chance to hear more about this from the perspective of women working in FOSS and related areas. For example, people talked about the ways in which hierarchies of value play out in FOSS communities, with developers seen as most important and contributions of designers, testers, administrative workers, and other non-coding areas being marginalised. People also raised some interesting questions about the methodology for assessing contributions: someone pointed out that studies showing very little participation from women in Wikipedia may be skewed because women might be making small contributions without logging in, or may not feel comfortable identifying their gender online.
The session on ‘open * philosophy’ and the links between different ‘open’ projects was perhaps the most interesting to me, given my background. Many of the participants at AdaCamp came from programming or other open tech backgrounds and are largely self-taught in feminism, which they drew on in really nuanced and interesting ways during the discussions. However, there seemed to be less awareness of some of the political philosophies and traditions that might be useful when thinking about women in open tech and culture. This is understandable: not everyone has time to wade through a heap of political philosophy, especially when some of the more relevant work has been incorporated into feminist theory/practice. One of the ways in which I’d like to contribute to the ongoing discussion around AdaCamp is to put together a short reading list for anyone who is interested in learning more about potentially-useful political ideas. If you have anything you think should be on the list, let me know in the comments.
I’m very glad that I went to AdaCamp. As several people noted in the wrap-up session, it was an inspiring and restorative experience to be able to talk knowing that there were certain basic understandings in place about things like feminism and privilege. It was also great to meet so many people that I’ve come across online, and many others who I hadn’t (including a few from Perth). I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations that began at AdaCamp over the coming months.