ICA18 Day 2: narrating voice, digital media and the body, feminist theorisation beyond western cultures, collective memory, and voices of freedom and constraint

Narrating Voice and Building Self on Digital and Social Media
thisislebanon‘This is Lebanon’: Narrating Migrant Labor to Resistive Public. Rayya El Zein, University of Pennsylvania. This research looks at the calling into being of an ideal political subject through social media. ‘This is Lebanon’ is a platform run by a Nepalese immigrant, Dipendra Upetry, where migrant workers have been sharing stories of labour abuses. The Lebanese system for migrant work is particularly conducive to labour abuses, as workers often have a ‘sponsor’ who they may also live with. El Zein is looking at how the voices of labourers affect the political imagination around what it means to be Lebanese. ‘This is Lebanon’ inverts a popular tourism hashtag, #thisislebanon, and when Lebanese citizens complain that “this isn’t Lebanon”, Upetry invites them to change working conditions if they want that to be true. The Kafa campaign, run by a Lebanon NGO in coordination with the International Labour Union, shared a series of ads about a young couple trying to decide what the right thing to do is regarding the person doing domestic work with them, imagining change as coming from educated middle class people who just need guidance. These are ideologically-inflected ideas of politics that position the individual as the mechanism of change.

Instagramming Persian Identity: Ritual Identity Negotiations of Iranians and Persians in/out of Iran. Samira Rajabi, University of Pennsylvania. This research came out of trying to understand why some people refer to themselves as Persians, and others as Iranians. Rajabi looked at how identity is being negotiated on social media, particularly Instagram, which led to exploring particularly the ways in which identity are written on women’s bodies. Many women were part of the Iranian revolution, but they were the first losers after the revolution. Trauma has had a huge impact on how identity is negotiated, and tactical media can be one way to respond to the deep symbolic trauma many people from Iran have experienced.

Hijacking Religion on Facebook. Mona Abdel-Fadil, University of Oslo. This focuses on the Norwegian Cross-Case – a newsreader tried to wear a cross while reading the news, and was told she was in breach of guidelines. There’s a Facebook group: “Yes to wearing the cross whenever I choose”. This is a good case study for understanding identity politics, the role of social media users in amplifying conflicts about religion, modes of performing conflict (and understanding who they are performing to), and the politics of affect. The Facebook group is dominated by conservative Christians who are worried about losing Norway’s Christian heritage; nationalists who see Norwegian identity as inextricably tied to Christianity; humanists (predominantly women) who try to bridge differences; fortified secularists, who argue ferociously, particularly against the nationalists; ardent atheists (predominantly men), who tend to be fan the flames by abusing religious people, then step back. The group is shaped by master narratives that require engagement: that wearing the cross is an act of defiance (often against Muslim attack); that Norwegian cultural heritage is under threat (with compliance from politicians). There’s an intensification and amplification of conflict, including distorting and adding to the original conflict. We need to understand that for some people this is entertainment – an attraction to the tension in the group, and how easy it is to inflame emotions.

Discussion session: Lilie Chouliaraki, in responding, noted the role of trauma and victimhood, inviting speakers to reflect on the role of victimhood and self-victimhood in constituting subjects and identities here. Rajabi noted that trauma requires a different level of response – the stakes are different. But trauma is medicalised, we treat it as something to be dealt with individually rather than politically. Abdel-Fadil is trying to work out how to write from a place of vulnerability about this: how to take the sense of suffering expressed by these people who feel like Christianity or Norwegian identity is under threat seriously, while not necessarily accepting that they are actually victims.

Digital Media and the Body

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Drawing from Abigail Selzer King

Towards a theory of projectilic media: Notes on Islamic State’s Deployment of Fire. Marwan M. Kraidy, Annenberg, University of Pennsylvania. Kraidy asks why ISIS uses the symbolism of fire so frequently. There’s a distinction between digital images, operative images (for example, drone footages) that are part of an image; projectilic images (images as weapons); and prophylactic images (which build a sense of safety and security). In ISIS’s symbolism, fire becomes a metaphor for sudden birth and sudden death, for the war machine, and for flames of justice. Speed is essential to the war machine, and to fire. A one-hour ISIS video would have about half an hour of projectilic sequences. ISIS uses a torch as a metaphor for the war machine, and the hearth as a a metaphor for the utopian homeland. Fire activates new connections between words and images. Immolation confuses the customary chronology (for example, of beheading videos).

You Have Been Tagged: Incanting Names and Incarnating Bodies on Social Media. Paul Frosh, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Tagging has become a prevalent technique for circulating images on social media, and serves various purposes for social media platforms (for example, adding more data). Naming and figuration are linked to the life of the self. Names aren’t just linguistic designators – they’re also signifiers of power. Names perform the entanglement of the social subject. Tagging requires a systematic circulation of the name (you must join the platform). Tagging interpolates us as subjects of a particular system, and revitalises the ancient magical power of action at a distance through naming. Tagging is a magical act of germination. Being tagged carries a social weight, prompting us to respond. Tagging sends social signals through others’ images, as opposed to selfies. Tagging goes against the grain of networked selfhood in digital culture, re-centring the body. Tagging is the fleshing out of informational networks.

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Selfies as Testimonies of the Flesh. Lilie Chouliaraki, London School of Economics and Political Science. Aesthetic corporeality becomes important when we think about vulnerable bodies. Digital testimonies produced in conflict zones are elements of a broader landscape of violence and suffering. How does the selfie mediate the faces of refugees? What does the remediation of these faces in Western news sites tell us? Three types of images: refugees being photographed to take selfies; refugee selfies with global leaders; celebrities taking photos as if they were refugees. Chouliaraki notes that refugees taking selfies in Lesbos are celebrating not just having arrived, but also having survived the deadliest sea crossing. Refugee selfies are remediated through a series of disembodiments; their faces are, at best, an absent presence, or, at worst, fully absent.

Feminist Theorizations Beyond Western Cultures
Orientalism, Gender, and Media Representation: A Textual Analysis of Afghan Women in US, Afghan, and Chinese Media. Azeta Hatef, Pennsylvania State University and Luwei Rose Luqui, Hong Kong Baptist University. This study looks at media representations of women in Afghanistan, thinking about the purposes these images serve in relation the war on Afghanistan. Media coverage in China is controlled by the government, but soft news is offered a bit more leeway than hard news outlets. Nevertheless, in China mainstream media conveys the same theme: Afghan women oppressed by brown men. Both US and Chinese media portrays Afghanistan as backwards, with women’s freedoms entirely limited. While violence against women in Afghanistan is worthy of attention, but these media representations operate to amplify distinctions between “us” and “them”, justifying intervention (and failing to recognise the violence done by that intervention).

Production of subject of politics through social media: a practice of Iranian women activists. Gilda Seddighi, University of Bergen. This research looked at an Iranian online network of mourning mothers, drawing on Butler’s conceptualization of politicization. There was a group, “Supporters of Mourning Mothers Harstad”, composed mainly of asylum seekers, connected by Facebook and other mechanisms. Motherhood can be seen here as a source of recognition of political subjects across national border. The notion of motherhood was expanded to include children beyond their own. Nevertheless, many women interviewed spoke of their activism as apolitical, and belonging to a particular nation-state was taken for granted.

Subject Transformations: New Media, New Feminist Discourses. Nithila Kanagasabai, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This research attempts to look at new strands of feminism in India, particularly in smaller towns in Tamil Nadu. Work from urban areas has tended to position Women’s Studies as urban, upper-caste, middle-class, English-speaking, online, and speaking for marginalised groups. Students who Kanagasabai interviewed drew on ‘the feminist canon’ (for example, Virginia Woolf, Shulamith Firestone), but also on little magazines – small local literary magazines in regional dialects of Tamil, which previously circulated predominantly among unemployed, educated men. These magazines have shifted to allow women, Dalits, and people from scheduled tribes to express themselves. Little magazines open space for subjectivity, offering a critique of seemingly universal social norms, including casteism and gender roles. Students interviewed mention these magazines alongside sources like Jstor and Economic and Political Weekly, which speaks to the development of new methodologies. Publishing in little magazines (as opposed to mainstream feminist journals) is seen not just as convenient, but also as a political decision. Moving online did not mean that little magazines transcended the local or temporal – readership remains limited and local, but they are still important spaces. Following feminists online has lead to a deeper everyday engagement with feminist literature. Lurking needs to be viewed within the framework of collaborative learning, and engagement can happen during key moments. Most students didn’t relate to the title of feminism (which they felt required a particular kind of academic competence), but instead related to women’s studies.

Collective Identities and Memories
Collective Memory Matters: Mobilizing Activist Memory in Autonomous Media. Kamilla Petrick, Sandra Jeppesen, Ellen Craig, Cassidy Croft, & Sharmeen Khan, Lakehead University. Unpaid labour within collectives means that institutional memory isn’t actively shared, but instead embodied within long-term members (who may leave).

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By Király-Seth – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42295509

Emergent Voices in Material Memories: Conceptualizing Public Voices of Segregated Memories in Detroit. Scott Mitchell, Wayne State University. An eight-mile wall remains as a visible reminder of the history of segregation in Detroit, also serving as a space of education and hope. The wall was constructed by developers to raise property values for the White area by separating it from Black communities. Grassroots efforts to add a mural have shifted its meaning.

 

Repertoires, Identities, and Issues of Collective Actions of the Candlelight Movements in S. Korea. Young-Gil Chae, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Inho Cho, Hanyang UJaehee Cho, Chung-Ang University.

The Mnemonic Black Hole at Guantánamo: Memory and Counter-Memory Digital Practices on Twitter. Muira McCammon, Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Guantánamo is often left off maps: Johann Stein has called it a “legal black hole”. McCammon tried to go to the library at Guantánamo for detainees – being unsuccessful, she tried following the Joint Task Force for Guantánamo on Twitter. McCammon asks what some of the mnemonic strategies used on the Twitter feed are. Only images of higher-up command and celebrities are posted. Traces of Guantánamo as a ‘space of exception’ have been deleted (for example, tweets noting the lack of Internet connection). The official ‘memory maker’, when posting on Twitter, can’t escape others’ memory-making (for example, responses to an official tweet about sexual harassment training at Guantánamo which pointed out the tremendous irony). When studying these issues, there are few systematic ways to track and trace digital military memory makers.

The Voice of Silence: Practices of Participation Among East Jerusalem Palestinians. Maya de Vries, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This research focuses on participation avoidance, for example the boycotting of Facebook over the ways in which it censors Palestinian content, as an active form of resistance. de Vries notes the complexity of power relations in working with Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Interviewees choose not to engage in anything political on Facebook, knowing that it is monitored by the Israeli state. This state monitoring affects their choices around Facebook. There is also kinship monitoring – knowing that family are reading. Self-monitoring also plays a role. One interviewee notes that when she had to put her location down, there was no option for “East Jerusalem, Palestine”. These layers of monitoring mean that Palestinians negotiate their engagement with Facebook cautiously, frequently choosing non-participation.

Voices of Freedom, Voices of Constraint: Race, Citizenship and Public Memory – Then and Now
Selected Research: “The Fire Next Time in the Civil Sphere: Literary Journalism and Justice in America 1963. Kathy Roberts Forde, Associate Professor, Journalism Department, University of Massachusetts-Amherst. After the end of slavery, new systems were put in place to control Black people, and exploit their labour. Black resistance continued, building a vibrant Black public sphere and paving the way for the civil rights movement. James Baldwin wrote that the only thing that White people had that Black people needed was power. White people should not be a model for how to live. White people destroyed, and were destroying, thousands of lives, and did not know it, and did not want to know it. Baldwin’s writing was hugely influential.

Selected Research: Newspaper Wars: Civil Rights and White Resistance in South Carolina, 1935-1965, 2017. Sid Bedingfield, Assistant Professor, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Talks about NAACP leader Roy Wilkins’ 1964 opinion piece complaining about Black youth crime. This had parallels with segregationists’ narratives, and Wilkins’ had cordial communications with some segregationists. These narratives stripped away historical context and ongoing oppression when covering Black protests and expressions of anger and frustration.

Selected Research: Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon, 2017, 2nd edition; Rebel Media: Adventures in the History of the Black Public Sphere, In Progress; Jane Rhodes, Professor and Department Head, African American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago. Almost everything Rhodes finds in the discourses of the 1960s is still relevant today in discourses of nationalism and race. Stuart Hall argues that each surge of social anxiety finds a temporary respite in the projection of fears onto compellingly anxiety-laden themes – like moral panics about Black people and other racialised others. US coverage of Britain in the 1960s tended to frame Britain as having issues with race, but an unwillingness to deal with it. Meanwhile, British press seemed to have almost a lurid fascination with racial violence in the US (with an undercurrent of fear for white safety in the US, and subsequently in Britain). Deep-seated anxieties around race and social change aren’t subtle. As Enoch Powell came to power, media seemed to be tangled in debates about whether US or UK racism was worse.

ICA Day 1: Kurdish transnational media, racism online, digital labour, and public scholarship

My rough and very incomplete notes from the first day of ICA. There were a bunch of interesting points that I haven’t noted because I was distracted or tired or too busy listening, and great papers that I sadly missed. I mostly use these notes to follow up on work later, but if they’re useful to you too, that’s great!

a_time_for_drunken_horsesUnderstanding Kurdish Media and Communications: Space, Place and Materiality
Theaters of Inhibition and Cinemas of Strategy: Censorship, Space, and Struggle at a Film Festival in Turkey. Josh Carney, American University of Beirut, spoke about Bakur (North), a film about the everyday life of PKK guerrillas. When the Turkish government banned screenings of Bakur, people met at the theatres anyway to discuss the censorship. The directors of Bakur will go on trial in a few days for ‘terrorist propaganda’. Struggles over censorship were tied to struggles over the city space of Istanbul, perhaps in response to the Turkish government’s attempts to erase ideas and spaces that it finds disagreeable. The government wanted to erase Bakur because it was a testament to the peace process, and to the government’s withdrawal from it. This censorship can be seen as an attempt to erase the promise and possibility of peace.

Cinematic Spaces of Solitude, Exile, and Resistance: Telling Kurdish Stories from Norway, Iran, and Turkey. Suncem Koçer, Kadir Has University, spoke on Kurdish filmmaking as a transnational platform for identity politics. Bahman Ghobadi talks about Kurds as a people on the move, and says that cinema as the art of movement is therefore the most suitable medium for documenting Kurdish stories.

Infrastructures, Colonialism and Struggle. Burce Celik, Loughborough University, argues that Kurdish transnational media is still embedded in historical, political, and territorial contexts. Technical and economic concerns, as well as national borders, also shape networks. State interventions can take place at multiple levels. For example, while the Turkish government may not be able to stop television transmissions from Europe, there are reports of police smashing satellite antennas in Kurdish villages. While there are no country-wide Internet shut-downs, there have been region-wide shut-downs in Kurdish provinces of Turkey. We need to consider the materiality of media infrastructures.

Questions: I asked if there were attempts to shift film screenings and other spaces that had been shut down online. Carney noted that film-makers were very resistant to doing this, as film screenings and movie festivals were seen as important. Bakur was leaked online, and the directors asked that people didn’t share or watch it. Koçer affirmed this, and said that censorship in a way also served a generative purpose for film-makers.

Racism in Digital Media Space

Racism in the Hybrid Media System: Analyzing the Finnish ‘Immigration Debate’Gavan Titley, University of Helsinki. Mervi Pantti, U of Helsinki and Kaarina Nikunen, U of Tampere. Pantti opens by noting that even naming racism as racism is often contentious. ‘Hybra’ project – looking at understandings of racism shaped and contested in the interactive everyday cultures of digital media. This paper looks particularly at Suomi24, ‘Finland 24’, one of the largest non-English-language commenting site online. Anti-racist activism in the 1990s helped to fix racism in the public imagination as a result of movements of people, rather than deeper structures. ‘Racism’ is used broadly in Finnish public discourse to mean ‘discrimination’ (for example, ‘obesity racism’), which removes it from it’s particular context. Conservatives talk about “opinion racism”: claims that journalists and others with a ‘multicultural agenda’ are intolerant of other viewpoints. Politically, it’s very difficult to mobilise in terms of racism and anti-racism because of the ways in which this language works.

goodes-smallMore Than Meets the Eye: Understanding Networks of Images in Controversies Around Racism on Social Media. Tim Highfield, Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, and Ariadna Matamoros-Fernandez, Queensland University of Technology. This research, focused on everyday visual representations of racism and counter-racism practices, comes out of the wider literature on racism online that have largely focused on text. It draws on Matamoros-Fernandez’s conceptual work around platform racism. This article looks at the online responses to Adam Goodes’ war cry, many of which used images as a way to push the boundaries for racist viewpoints (often via homophobia). Indigenous social media users frequently added their own images to push back against the racism expressed against Goodes. Mainstream media, though, frequently reinforced hegemonic discourses of racism, rather than giving space to Indigenous voices. There were salient practices on Twitter that are interesting when thinking about platform racism: visual call-outs of racism, often of which were a way of performing distance from Australian racism, which had the effect of amplifying racism. Rather than performing ‘white solidarity’ by amplifying racism, it would be useful to do more to share Indigenous voices and critiques of racism, and link this particular incident to broader structures of racism in Australian society. Visual cultures are an opportunity to understand cover and everyday racism on social media platforms. Even with changes introduced by various platforms to combat racism (after user pressure), there is a lack of consistency and transparency in responses to platformed racism.

Online Hate Speech: Genealogies, Tensions and Contentions. Eugenia Siapera, Dublin City University, Paloma Viejo, Dublin City University and Elena Moreo, Dublin City University.

Theorising Online Racism: The Stream, Affect and Power Laws. Sanjay Sharma, Brunel University. Racialism isn’t an individual act, it’s embedded in material techno-social relations. Ambient racism creates an atmosphere of background hostility. Microaggressions may seem isolated and minor, but they can be all-pervasive.

Working it Out: Emergent Forms of Labor in the Global Digital Economy
Nothing left to lose: bureaucrats in Googleland: Vicki Mayer, Tulane. Stories about Google’s centrality to the economy are highly mediated, even for those working within the organisation. Bureaucrats aren’t meant to sell Google, but they have been pushed to ‘samenwerking’ (planned collaboration) to ‘solve problems’ individually with little structural support. Interviewees used the word “innovative” most often to describe how workers were trying to do more varied tasks with less time and money, while also trying to publicise their achievements. New companies come in all the time saying that they’ll create thousands of jobs, but with limited real results.

radioindigenaDeveloping a Farmworker Low-Power Radio Station in Southern California. Carlos Jimenez, University of Denver. Local Indigenous workers speak Mixteco and Zapotec (sp?) (which is very different from English and Spanish), and listen to Chilena songs – no radio stations in Oxnard catered to this language or musical tastes. The Mexteco Indigena Community Organizing Project partnered with the community. When there was an application made for Radio Indígena for a relatively low-powered antenna, another station fifty miles away, KDB93.7PM, registered a complaint. At first Radio Indígena organisers called to ask them to remove their complaint, but they refused until they received a letter from farmworkers in the area. After a while, the radio community wanted to try shifting towards online transmissions rather than through the radio antenna. But they found that farmworkers’ typical data plans would stop them from listening in. The cost of new media technologies place a greater burden on individual listeners, rather than on the broadcaster.

Production, moderation, representation: three ways of seeing women of color labor in digital culture, Lisa Nakamura, University of Michigan. The lower you go in the chain of production, the more people who aren’t white men you see. It is useful to ask whose labour we misattribute to white men, or even algorithms, on digital platforms. US digital work has been both outsourced and insourced, including to women on reservations. Fairchild ‘invaded’ reservations, and was one of the largest employers in the Navajo Nation until resistance to firings from the American Indian Movement, and unionisation, lead to them leaving. The plant there had produced “high reliability” components, which needed very low failure rates. Employing Navajo workers allowed Fairchild to pay less than the minimum wage. Workers were told that they were building parts for televisions, radios, calculators, and so on (with military applications not mentioned). In a current analogue, moderation work on sites like Facebook is outsourced, sometimes to volunteers. We might also look at the ways in which people like Alexis Ohanian (of Reddit) took credit for the work of teenager Rayouf Alhumedhi in the creation of a hijab emoji.

e2f47f3bc0604084ad088276d23ff610Riot Practices: Immaterial Labor and the Prison-Industrial Complex. Li Cornfeld, Amherst College. There’s a ‘mock prison riot’ at the former state penitentiary in Moundsville yearly, which is a combination of a trade show and a training exercise for ‘correctional officers’. This isn’t what we think of when we consider ‘tech events’, but we should take its claims to be a tech event seriously. It’s a private event, with global attendees. This is one of the ways in which the US exports its technologies of control and norms. It’s also a space to incorporate participants in the tech development process (for example, adding cords to radios for places where batteries are scarce). Technologies of control aren’t just weapons, they include phones, wristbands, and other tracking technologies – many of these are marketed as being not just for prisons, but also for other settings, such as hospitals.

Moving Broadband From Sea to Land: Internet Infrastructure and Labor in Tanzania. Lisa Parks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Parks wanted to understand how internet moves from sea to land, and what kinds of digital labor exist in Tanzania to help carry out these operations. She spoke to people who are both formal and informal IT workers, often carrying out risky forms of labour to make the internet more widely available. Drawing on Vicki Mayer, and Labato and Thomas’ The Informal Media Economy. IT ‘development’ projects often lead to unused infrastructure – technology that’s in place, but left unpowered, disconnected, in need of assembly or repair. In Bunda, there are people working in vital jobs like repairing or charging phones. The cost of charging phones is scaled by income. Mobile phone repair workers have designed their own phone which they are going to ask Foxconn to manufacture.

Public Scholars: Engaging With Mainstream Media as Activism

dedcksowaaasm_xThis was a panel discussion, with Amy Adele Hasinoff, University of Colorado Denver;  Charlton McIlwain, New York University; Jean Burgess, Queensland University of Technology; Victor W. Pickard and Maria Repnikova, Georgia State University.
The benefits of media engagement aren’t always direct and obvious – sometimes, for example, they connect unexpected groups and help build alliances. Framing material for a public audience with interventions from editors can be useful in thinking about how we communicate our research, including to other academics outside our own disciplines. Speakers were unsure about the benefits of engaging in hostile spaces – are there useful ways to engage with right-wing media, for example?

There was a lot of interest in the potential issues with engaging with the media. People’s experiences with engaging has differed – some speakers had been discouraged for engaging too much, others felt it was seen as a fundamental part of their job. However, there can be a problem keeping a balance between public scholarship (including dealing with hostile responses) and more traditional academic outputs. It’s important to discriminate between ‘high value’ engagement opportunities and junk.

University support for academics under attack can vary – sometimes they’ll provide legal support, but this isn’t necessarily reliable (or publicised). You’ll often only find out what the university responses to these issues are when a problem comes up. Many of the attacks academics face when speaking publicly aren’t necessarily overt: they might include subtle red-baiting, or questioning about how your background (for example, noting Maria Repnikova’s Russian surname) impacts on your ideas.

There were suggestions for those starting out with media engagement and not yet inundated with media requests:

  • Make sure your colleagues know that you’re interested in media engagement: they should be passing on relevant media queries;
  • Actively contact media when you have research that’s relevant and important – this might involve proposing stories to journalists/editors, or tweeting at journalists.
  • Have useful research to share (especially quantitative data).

How not to get fired? You can’t avoid making any controversial statements – if the press decide to go after you, they will. But aim to have evidence to back your point up, and hopefully aim to also have solidarity networks. (I’d add: maybe join your union!)

When engaging with the media, consider the formats that work for you: text, radio, or television?

Activism, Social Justice and the Role of Contemporary Scholarship
Sasha Costanza-Chock, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Out of the Shadows, into the Streets! was the result of hands-on, participatory media processes. There isn’t a divide between scholarship and working with social justice organisations: it makes the work more accountable to the people working on the ground, and to their needs. Work with Out for Change led Costanza-Chock to shift their theoretical framework to one of transformative media: it’s about media-making as a healing and identity-forming process.

Kevin Michael Carragee, Suffolk University, began by making a distinction between activist scholarship and scholarship on activism. The former requires establishing partnerships with organisations and movements – there are more calls for this than actual examples. Carragee talked about his work with the Media Research and Action Project. One of the lessons of MRAP is that you want to try to increase the resources available to the group you’re working with. We need to recognise activists as lay scholars. Activists and scholars don’t share the same goals, discourses, and practices – we need to remember that.

Rosemary Clark-Parsons, The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Clark-Parsons draws on feminist standpoint theory: all knowledge is contextually situated; marginalised communities are situated in ways that give them a broader view of power relations; research on those power relations should begin with and centre marginalised communities. To do participatory research, we must position ourselves with activists, but we have to be reflexive about what solidarity means and what power relationships are involved. It’s important to ground theory in practitioners’ perspectives.

Jack Linchuan Qiu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, talked about the problems with the ‘engagement and impact’ framework, which doesn’t consider how our work has an impact, and to what ends. We need to have hope. As academics we have the luxury of finding hope, and using our classrooms and publications to share that hope.

Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rutgers University – School of Communication and Information. This kind of research offers a corrective to some of the tendencies that exist in our field. Everything Kumanyika has done that’s had an impact has been an “irresponsible job decision”. We have to push back against the priorities of the university, which are about extending empire. We have to push back against understanding class just as an identity parameter, as opposed to a relation between struggles. We need to sneak into the university, be in but not of it.

It was a wrench leaving this final panel of the day, but I had to go meet my partner and Nonsense Baby, so sadly I left before the end.

Mothering

Today I am thinking about mothering as a way in which we can make the world (in all its messiness and difficulty) better.

“Children are the ways that the world begins again and again. If you fasten upon that concept of their promise, you will have trouble finding anything more awesome, and also anything more extraordinarily exhilarating, than the opportunity or/and the obligation to nurture a child into his or her own freedom.” – June Jordan

Mothering is often treated by our society as an inherently conservative activity, something that’s about preserving the past (past traditions, past family structures, past values). But I’m learning from so many people (including people who aren’t biological mothers) who are knitting together strands from the past and hopes for the future.

Care for nature, for the world around us, for our mothers’ and grandmothers’ knowledge and experience. And dreams of more space for children to be who they want to be, to welcome and nurture others, to grow freely.

My mother and grandmother taught me so much, and still do. They are kind and fierce and have managed change and dislocation while always providing me with a steady point in the world.

My beautiful friends who are mothers teach me every day through their examples and their honesty about the difficult moments as well as the wonderful ones.

And I learn from mothers beyond my little circles, too.

From Noongar mothers, and other Aboriginal mothers who fought for recognition of the kidnapping of their children, and who are working today to build a society where their children will be safe and valued as they should be.

From Black mothers like June Jordan, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and others in the ‘Revolutionary Mothering’ collection, which I return to again and again. They have done so much to help me understand other mothers’ experiences, and to see the possibilities and work that I should be taking up. And others, like Sylvia Federici, who have helped me see what I might not have, otherwise.

From mothers who must be brave enough to leave war or economic insecurity, hoping for safety, even though it also means leaving behind family and friends and home and the language and culture that has been held dear.

From mothers who work quietly and consistently and without recognition, from mothers who are sometimes difficult because of the work they do, from mothers who struggle with their own pasts, and who nevertheless keep trying to create the world anew, more full of love and possibility than before.

Motherhood, hope, and 76% less snark

Oh, hi.

I had that baby I was growing in my last post. She’s an amazing little person. She’s learned to clap her hands in the last week, and I am full of wonder and delight. She’s been sick, and I fretted for hours about her rash. (Should I call the doctor? Should I not? Is it a purple rash? Is it getting worse.)

I’m back at work, sitting in my office, relieved to have time to read and write and teach, and missing her fiercely. I feel this all at once: the relief of time and space away, and the missing. I think about her all the time, but also get bored by the way motherhood enfolds me.

At home, we walk in endless circles around the house as she holds out a hand for mine, demands the other hand, then drags me off to open cupboards or visit each room in turn. (At the same time, I love to see her do this: so clearly show me what she wants, so clearly refuse if I put my right hand in her left, or give her only one hand.)

someproblemsweshare

Motherhood has changed me, and I don’t know how I feel about that. (I don’t have much time to work out how I feel about anything.) It is almost physically painful to think of parents losing children to war or violence. Of wanting to feed a hungry child and not being able to. I have the luxury of being able to look away, to take a break from imagining these scenes.

For the last few months the change to my work has been in the time and energy available. Everything needs to be broken up into smaller, more digestible chunks, to manage in nap times and evenings and while so very tired most of the time.

As I finished my undergraduate, I decided to focus on researching movements that gave me hope. Imperfect, complex movements with many flaws, but nevertheless full of people trying to change things for the better. I wanted, and want, to believe that we have the potential to change this. That hungry children can be fed, that we can look after our neighbours, that we can resist and fight back against tides of hatred and fear.

Last year, I found myself writing a presentation and a book chapter that shifted to focusing on the flaws in these movements. I was tired, and I got snarky and impatient with the imperfection of activists (particularly white men) who didn’t listen and try to define what counts as ‘radical’ and what doesn’t. I still feel that impatience, but that work was depressing. The snark of it was satisfying, but I’m not sure of the use of it and frankly I am subject to many of the same critiques.

As I try to find my way back into research and writing, I’m trying to recommit to finding threads of hope. Critique is important, especially the critiques I need to listen to from the margins of academia and activism: of white women’s role in feminism(s), of settler societies, of academic power structures. In my own writing I want to be finding materials to stitch into alternatives. I want to be finding spaces where my voice can be useful, rather than just adding more noise.

And it’s a terrible cliche, but the urgency of it comes through when I look at this tiny person and imagine other parents doing the same, hoping for safety and flourishing and care for these wonders we are trying to nourish.

 

Motherhood and work

I’ve written this post, in my head, so many times and in so many different forms over the last months.

A version where I wrote about how a particular mix of circumstances (a baby coming, a ‘budget tightening’ at the university, the privilege of a well-paid partner) meant that I would probably be leaving academia, probably for good.

A version where I wrote about my mixed feelings about gaining the security of an ongoing position amidst the insecurity of academia generally, and the job losses at my university specifically.

A version where I ignored all this complexity and just wrote about what I published last year, what I’ll do this year.

I found out that I was pregnant in July, the same week that I put in my application for an ongoing position that I dearly wanted. The two felt deeply linked. Job security would mean maternity leave, a path to come back to.

It was ‘too early’ to tell people about the pregnancy (an idea that felt strange to me: if I had a miscarriage, I wasn’t sure I’d want to carry that sadness and loss in private). I thought I’d wait until I knew whether or not I got the job – I was still in the first trimester anyway, and it felt like so much was at stake, I’d hate to have even a shadow of a doubt that my pregnancy affected the job application.

The application process dragged out. I spent the first trimester exhausted, wanting desperately to lie down on the floor by the middle of each work day, wanting to tell people that I’d like to take on less of that extra work that academia offers in such abundance (especially to women). A tension between knowing the ways in which feminine embodiment is constructed as weakness, and the power of feminist narratives about the importance of acknowledging our embodied selves. (My tired body, not weak, but growing a whole new potential-person.)

I look for spaces in academia to think about and write about the issues that matter to me. I’d been thinking about parenting, and about motherhood specifically, for years before my partner and I decided to try for a baby. Thinking about the ways in which academia is constructed around particular bodies and career patterns: still the norm of a white, cis, heterosexual male with few caring responsibilities, someone who’s cared for (usually invisibly) by others. Others, often women, who do childcare and other reproductive work, who take on more of the caring labour of teaching, who empty the bins and vacuum the offices. Thinking about reproductive choices, and gender inequality, and capitalism, and racism, and this bundle of other factors that structure our experiences of motherhood.

It felt strange to be silent about the ways in which that thinking tied to my own experiences, or at least to only discuss it in much more private spaces. I was thinking a lot about the politics of mothering, particularly as set out in the powerful essays collected in Revolutionary Mothering. I was noticing the split between my experience of pregnancy and my male partner’s, including that he talked to his manager about it very early, and thinking about Andie Fox‘s reflections on the micropolitics of parenting and gender roles. I felt a deep resistance, during those early months, to people calling this spark inside me a ‘baby’ (seeing the ways in which that language is used by people controlling reproductive choice). Having tried to learn more about trans people’s experiences of the world, I looked for ways to push back against assumptions that there would be an easy, definite answer, to the constant question: “Do you know what you’re having?” (A baby, probably. Maybe a kitten. But we’re pretty sure it’ll be a baby.)

All of this felt artificially separated from my academic work. It felt odd to have this area of analysis, something that felt so deeply consuming, and so interesting in so many ways, needing to be put out of the way, particularly given that Internet Studies as a field often seems so given to a certain kind of openness in connecting analysis to personal experience.

I got back from travel, including attending a conference where I felt terribly disconnected (perhaps because of this sense of much of my thought and experience needing to be tucked out of sight), and almost immediately had a meeting where I was told that the fixed-term contract I was on would not be renewed in 2017. I still had no idea whether I’d even made the shortlist for the ongoing position.

I spent more time considering what I would do if I didn’t get the job. With the baby coming, it seemed like the uphill battle of finding job security within academia would be even more challenging, and even more unlikely to be successful. It felt ridiculous to plan research for 2017 not knowing whether I would be in a position to carry on with my work. I felt uncomfortable coming in to work with the awkwardness of the job application looming, and with my pregnancy feeling increasingly visible.

In the end, at the end of the year and with the holiday shut-down rapidly approaching, I did make the shortlist, and did get the job. I’ve spent much of the time since then trying to re-engage with my research, after all that soul-searching about what I might do instead of academia, trying to work out what comes next. It feels hard to plan for the arrival of a new human, who I haven’t met yet, who may sleep or not sleep. It feels hard to know how I’ll feel about mothering.

Many people say that mothering fundamentally transforms you. That you won’t want to be apart from the baby. That you won’t care about work anymore, anyway. That, in fact, you’ll be failing as a mother if you want time apart from the baby. (Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anyone say this about becoming a father.) Other people say you’ll just be the same you, but much more tired.

I don’t know exactly how I’ll feel. I’m excited to meet this new person, and scared, and worried about all the structures that shape how we parent and how children grow up. This experience has already shifted my focus, as I think more about mothering as a political act and the balances we walk between managing within existing institutions and changing them. This post has been the first attempt to start more publicly sorting through this tangle of ideas and experiences: I imagine that there’ll be more, as I go along. And some silences, too, hopefully of the comfortable sort – silences that come not from uncertainty, but from cocooning and growth and taking time to explore new spaces with a new tiny human.

Reimagining Australia: solidarity with Indonesia and Indigenous representation

indonesia_calling_128480x48029286b0b06d5ca4909a223c77f41144a091329In Indonesia Calling and other stories, Ariel Heryanto spoke on the extraordinary moments of solidarity between Indonesia and Australia in the 1940s – moments which have been almost entirely erased from the memory of both countries. Heryanto argues that this may be because remembering would involve acknowledging the past power of the left in our region. He discussed Joris Ivens’ film, Indonesia Calling, which gives the exact opposite message of the one he was commissioned for: it envisaged a future of an Australia with strong ties to an independent Indonesia. The making of this film was also surrounded by the growth of different links and networks of solidarity, but these has been largely forgotten, and aren’t referenced in current discussions of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. The military regime in Indonesia is one of the many factors in the forcible erasure of this history of solidarity.

The Indigenous Representation, Politics and Recognition panel opened with Sharon Mascher and Simon Young‘s work on Re-Imagining Australia’s Constitutional Relationship with Indigenous Peoples: Lessons from the Canadian Experience. They noted that while there are important lessons to be learned by making comparisons, we should be cautious about trying to transplant bits of law between different contexts. The Canadian experience is very striking, especially the scale of the initiatives taken in 1982, and Canadian constitutional reform has had interesting (and sometimes unexpected) effects that are worth examining further.

Angelique Stastny spoke on Stereotypical representations of settlers and Indigenous people in school history textbook then and now. Stastny asks whether revised history has translated into new modes of knowledge and a critical shift in the representations of settler-Indigenous relationships in textbooks, or if old colonial tropes have emerged in new forms. Looking at Australian textbooks over time, the proportion of material addressing settler-Indigenous relationships is reasonably steady. Most textbook authors are male, though with a growing proportion of female authors. Textbooks only started including Indigenous sources from around the 1970s, though there are still a small proportion of sources. Content names few women (either Indigenous or non-Indigenous). Almost all textbooks mention violent conflict between settlers and Indigenous people, and this makes up a significant proportion of the content. In the 1960s to 1980s, content shifts from describing Indigenous people as threatening and politically distinct – around this time, there’s a shift to describing them within frameworks of dependency. What is at stake might be not just how Indigenous people are represented, but also who does the work of representing.

Finally, Michael R. Griffiths presented on the Distribution of Settlement: Indigeneity, Recognition and the Politics of Visibility. He notes the forcible making-visible of Indigenous tropes through white Australian creative writing: a kind of appropriation of Indigenous history as a way of Indigenizing settler culture. The presentation focuses on Indigenous writers’ work, which often responds and critiques these trends. Griffiths asks how settlers read Indigenous writing today, and how Indigenous writers navigate the politics of visibility in their writing. He draws on theory about the engagement that comes with refusal, the tension between the politics of visibility and the right to opacity.

 

Reimagining Australia: Islamophobia and reimagining landscape and sustainability

dummyRanda Abdel-Fattah: ‘Racial Australianisation’ and the affective registers and emotional practices of Islamophobia
Abdel-Fatteh talks about the ways in which the Lakemba area has been racialised as a dangerous, Muslim space of otherness. Even a modified shop dummy becomes a symbol of threat. Racial meanings have been embedded across a range of symbols, including halal certifications, particular food, clothing, and Arabic script. This needs to be understood in the context of Australia’s history. We also need to understand Islamophobia as a range of practices: a problematisation of Muslim identity that we can see as related to the history of whiteness in Australia.

Interviews displayed the ways in which white Australians set themselves up as arbiters of Australian identity: interviewees emphasised that they saw Australia as having Judeo Christian values, and that they felt they could ‘read’ the affective gestures of Muslim Lebanese around them (and could identify Muslim people specifically through their affective gestures). Over the last years, attention to Muslims (or people seen as Muslim) has become ever more sharply trained in Australia, through the lens of Islamophobia. We’ve seen a socialised affective practice around the understanding of Islam, a belief that white Australians know the real essence of Muslims (a similar process to that around anti-semitism). White Australians ‘stick’ the label of could-be-terrorist to all Muslim bodies, which also implies a constant fear of all Muslims.

The question for anti-racist activists is how to intervene in these affective associations. We need to create processes of unsettlement. This needs to go beyond myth-busting: Islamophobia can’t be challenged only through the provision of facts. Islamophobia isn’t a Muslim problem, it’s an Australian problem.

The Reimagining Landscape and Sustainability panel opened with Zafu Teferi and Paul Newman’s work on Indian Ocean Settlements. Teferi’s research on Addis Ababa slums includes a recognition of the sense of community and social solidarity in these informal settlement. Rather than destroying slums, it’s possible to think about how to renew dense informal settlements and provide decentralised infrastructure without destroying them. This will require new systems of governance based on the already-existing community structures. While the context may be very different in Australia, the White Gum Valley demonstrates some important links, including a focus on community-focused sustainable living with a distributed infrastructure.

Gary Burke spoke on Re-Imagining Economics: sustainability-information economics, accounting, taxation and narrative to foster creative well-being. Economics is a mythology, rather than a science. We need to think critically about economic systems, and about how we understand sustainability. Neoclassical economists construct analysis as if economic activity is a machine: this means reframing the issues to suit the existing conceptual paradigm.

Danielle Brady’s (co-authoring with Jeff Murray) Reimagining Perth’s Lost Wetlands tracked the history of draining, filling-in, or reducing Perth’s wetland areas. Not only have these wetlands physically disappeared, even the memory of their presence and effects on the development of Perth are also largely forgotten. Brady presented while wearing a ‘Say no to Roe 8’ shirt, noting that as she was speaking others are involved in an effort to save the Beeliar Wetlands: protesters are being issued move-on notices, with threats of arrests to follow, and there are calls for support, including to phone the Premier. We do have wetlands left in Perth, and knowing their history may help us in imagining a future version of the city that incorporates and values wetlands. This also needs to be linked to processes of decolonisation.

Finally, Andrea Gaynor talked about Re-imagining Australian wheatlands: heartlands to artlands? Gaynor is asking whether art can help build sustainable rural communities, putting the question in the historical context of rural depopulation, efforts to bring ‘culture’ to the country, and changing configurations of community and belonging. While we sometimes romanticise rural Australian life, we should remember that rural communities have been build on the violence of colonisation, and that rural community built hierarchies of belonging and control.

rusty-cockatoo-by-sean-meany-1-768x512Large international, externally-run part projects, like the silo art trail, have the potential to contribute to building more sustainable rural communities, there are also important limitations to what they might achieve. The silo art project was developed without consultation with local communities. The idea was that people from the city would drive out on a rural art project. This might be seen as part of a broader trend: the commodification of nature within the global tourist economy, and one shaped by metropolitan sensibilities rather than building rural community and artistic expression. There are other art projects that are community-driven, drawing on farmers’ skills to create art, like the one in Lockhart.