UDC2015 Circuits of Struggle Day 2: journalism and climate change, culture/appropriation, struggles over digital technologies, and femtechnet

The second day of Circuits of Struggle opened with Robert Hackett arguing that the global climate crisis changes everything, including journalism. We need to be looking at the ways in which the logic of capitalism shapes journalistic institutions, and how the need to make a profit creates a form of censorship. In building these critiques, it’s vital to look for journalistic forms that can facilitate an appropriate societal response to climate change. Part of this requires changes within the existing structures of media, including reconsidering the frames through which climate change is presented. For example, we need to build narratives that combat people’s alienation from processes of political change: this means presenting success stories around climate change, normalising political action (rather than building a divide between ‘activists’ and the many people who don’t think of themselves this way), connecting struggles around different issues, rejecting consumerist greenwashing and false opposition between employment and the environment, and reframing conflict as being between the global fossil fuel industry and global civil society. Journalists need to report in depth, not just act as stenographers for politicians and industry. It’s also vital to explore alternative media forms that can work without succumbing to market pressures. Finally, we have to recognise that radical structural change towards a post-capitalist society is the only way to effectively deal with climate change.

The second panel I attended was on Seizing Culture, Heritage, and Citizenship: Struggles Against the Appropriation of Tradition. Patrick MacInnis began with ‘Appropriating City Spaces: Exploring Practice, Process and Policy in Aboriginal Street Art’, talking about the 7th Generation Image Makers. This project aims to centre Aboriginal people and Aboriginal issues in Canadian cities, as well as providing space to explore the complexities of urban Aboriginal identity. Patrick made a distinction between ‘open access’ and ‘cultural commons’, noting that murals by the 7th Generation project are not open access in the sense of being instantly accessible to passers-by. Instead, understanding of the murals draws on cultural commons: particular symbols and histories linked to Anishinaabe culture (which are not shared between all Anishinaabe communities). It is possible to see street art as a kind of urban enchantement: it takes you out of the flow of urban life and grounds you in a specific moment, inviting an encounter which may not be easy (or even fully accessible). These murals are an attempt to reappropriate Aboriginal cultural rights, and to think about how they can relate to urban life.

A screenshot from TimeTraveller.

Eva Athanasiu followed this with ‘Survivance Stories: Aboriginal Networks of Resistance and New Media Art in Canada’. This project combines networked Aboriginal histories with digital art histories, looking at Aboriginal art communities producing digital art, such as CyberPowWow, and Abtec. Some of the critical themes emerging from this work are survivance (a continuation and ongoing transformation of culture and community), the importance of networks and networking, and the need for problem-posing education. This work is also a reminder that networks of resistance and decolonising projects are extensive and complex: moments of visible protest such as marches are supported and sustained by ongoing networks and communities.

Lauren Cruikshank, Relaxomaxoscope, 2014

Henry Svec’s artistic work at the New Brunswick Laboratory of Imaginary Media Research + Design explores media that might become real, that we dream of, and that is dead or obsolete. Henry argued that the imaginary is an important component of media history, and that it provides opportunities to explore  counterhegemonic tactical media assemblages, particularly if we focus on how are our attempts to think the impossible are coralled or blocked by our society.

Lourdes Morales ended the session with ‘Digital Citizen Strategies: The Present Case of the Mexican Movement for Peace’. She traced some of the effects of the Mexican government’s ‘War on Drugs’, a process of militarised policing which has done little to address the underlying political corruption that sustains the drug trade, while at the same time leading to huge increases in homicides, kidnapping (levantón), extortion, and missing people. In this context, people are trying to develop forms of communication which can help them survive. #Red132NoEstanSolos is one example of this:  it’s a network of parents trying to support the political activities of their children. For example, when police surround protesters, parents walking at the back of the protest will try to stay in touch with them. The network also distributes information on what to do in cases of arbitrary detention. These efforts are dangerous, with many of those who are involved being murdered. Surveillance technologies like Kingfisher have been found on servers in Mexico, not run by the government but by private security companies, and these expose people to the risk of violence. Nevertheless, communities continue to build resistance, producing cartographies that map the risks around them and potential strategies for avoiding or managing them. Fear and anger work as a productive power (potenza) in these efforts.

The Struggles over Digital Technologies began with Sherry Yu’s work on ‘Ethnic Media and New Media Technologies’. Sherry pointed out that often when we raise concerns about media centralisation, we turn to alternative media (and noting this makes it clear to me how often our visions of ‘alternative media’ are very white, and very Anglocentric). Ethnic media (media by and for immigrants) can be an important form of alternative media that deserves more attention. It is frequently both diasporic and hyperlocal, with a focus on revenue generation rather than intercultural communication strategies. This is because the political economy of an analogue era continues within ethnic media.

Ultra-red, Sixty Sounds of the War on the Poor, 2007–2011, image from CD insert

David Jackson followed with a discussion of Ultra-red’s work on militant sound investigations. He focused particular on a project called Structural Adjustments, which explores “the sound of the war on the poor”. Neoliberal narratives around gentrification muffle the voices of displaced communities: they don’t ask (or answer) questions about where people go once public housing is privatised, or what happens to communities that are ‘developed’. Ultra-red uses field recordings as a way to provoke, reveal, and critique neoliberal framings, using listening as a political tool to make community voices audible. By sonically organising the social field Ultra-red is attempting to reconfigure space and find strategies to oppose oppression in the form of ‘development’. Listening can become a tool, an empathic practice that roots the body in the world.

Elise Thorburn raised some important provocations around the ways in which surveillance studies, as a field, tends to be structured by whiteness and a non-intersectional approach. While there’s a growing narrative around a tide of surveillance’ washing over all of us, it’s vital to recognise that surveillance targets particular bodies. Similarly, while critical discussions of digital technologies occasionally touch on the ways these are used within prisons, this is mostly as a mere footnote, or otherwise the prison is discussed purely as a metaphor. However, the prison abolition movement is a key site for anti-authoritarian politics today; we need to think more deeply about the ways in which digital technologies are used in (and move out from) systems of surveillance and control in prisons. We also need to be aware of the links between carceral and extra-carceral spaces: Elise mentioned catering companies that serve both prisons and many North American universities, and in the Australian context it’s hard not to think of the spreading influence of SERCO and G4S. A closer examination of the role of digital technologies in the prison system can be a vital starting-point to recognising potentials for resistance and struggle.

Finally, Andrew Mestrinaro argued for understanding Silk Road as a heterotopia, a space of counter-cultural community and otherness, which has both elements of shared experience and is, at the same time, placeless. This raises some interesting contradictions, as it’s both a place of deviance and privilege (requiring particular knowledge and technologies to access it).
The final panel looked at feminist activism and pedagogies, with most panellists coming from FemTechNet. Melissa Meade and Cricket Keating opened with a talk on shifting “from ‘Do it Yourself’ to ‘Doing With Others'”. This work explored a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) launched 2015, a feminist response to MOOCs. Melissa and Cricket collaborated on a shared syllabus with overlapping assignments and readings. While they started with a DIY ethos, they began to move beyond individualist expressions of identity and isolated and isolating digital practices, thinking instead about connected learning. This also requires thinking carefully about issues to do with solidarity and coalition, remembering that we should not confuse home (a place of comfort) and coalition (which is often deeply uncomfortable). There was also some useful reflection on the discomfort and ambivalence with students’ preferred technologies [for more on this, I recommend my and other chapters in An Education in Facebook?]. I enjoyed the prompts from the FemTechNet manifesto, including: “Collaboration is a feminist technology”, “Care is a feminist technology”, “Irony, comedy, making a mess, and gravitas are feminist technologies.” It feels reassuring to see these ideas (and these emotions) centred, when they are so often absent from academia.

Joan Donovan followed with ‘What is a Broadcast? Activist Archives and Transmedia Storytelling’, talking about the role of livestreaming in protests. Livestreamers and citizen journalists covering protests on Twitter or other platforms strengthen connections between what could be considered discrete events. While new people might emerge covering each event, there are also networks of people who travel between protests, building narratives (and also sharing knowledge with each other about the technology they’re using). Livestreamers are not just a tether between the streets and online networks: online networks also provide useful information back to the streets as people share knowledge. (Tim and I have also written a bit about this as it relates to #oo).

KJ Surkan spoke about his experience ‘Hacking the Global Map: Connected Cartography in the Feminist Classroom’.  The FemTechNet Situated Knowledges Map is a way of working with feminist practices of mapping, recognising that “maps are active…they exercise power”. This is an experiment in thinking about the relationship between space, place, mobility, and knowledge production and circulation. Asking students to pin a google map with places that are significant to them and add narratives helps to explore issues through situated knowledges. This doesn’t always go smoothly, but important dialogue develops between pins as students question each others’ frames and add nuance.

This was a great session – I’m really glad my talk got put in and gave me a change to connect my current work with FemTechNet perspectives. I’m looking forward to exploring the FemTechNet site for some upcoming projects.

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