Intersectional feminism and online harassment

November 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

Thinking Beyond ‘Free Speech’ in Responding to Online Harassment just came out in issue 10 of Ada: a journal of gender, new media, and technology.  This article is an attempt to consider what it might mean to take the possibilities and challenges of intersectionality seriously in our approaches to online harassment/abuse. In particular, I argue that it means being prepared to question whether ‘free speech’ should be the unquestioned basis of discussions about online safety.

Issue 10 of Ada also has a bunch of other great work, including articles on ‘revenge porn’, Black Lives Matter, the politics of Black visibility online, rap music, dating, university life, online dating, and superheroes. I’m looking forward to reading through it.

AoIR2016: Bending

October 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

This was a fascinating session run by The Fourchettes collective, with a focus on un-block-boxing, thinking about it through axes of power, and by recognising spaces of invisibility (and the importance of preparing them). It was facilitated by Alison Harvey (University of Leicester, United Kingdom), Mary Elizabeth Luka (York University, Canada), Jessalynn Keller (University of Calgary, Canada), Tamara Shepherd (University of Calgary, Canada), and Mélanie Millette (Université de Québec à Montréal, Canada).

I’m afraid my notes are rather partial here, as I’m not always good at balancing participation with note-taking in the enlarged-fishbowl-more-of-a-pond format.

Tamara Shepherd’s introduction was very effective in setting the context for the discussion, noting the need for critical approaches to methodology, and the complications and ambiguities in developing those approaches.

forkMary Elizabeth Luka talking about some of the ways in which an ethics of care is useful for thinking more deeply about methods. The ethics of care approach allows us to think about how ethics protocols obfuscate and manage different bodies of research. Building communities and networks is important, but this is often actually used with reference to ‘impact’ (in the ways it’s measured for academic work).

Mélanie Millette spoke on the paradoxes of balancing her personal experiences of research and the limitations of the formal ethics approach.

Jessalynn Keller talked about research pollination. Her research looks as how girls and women use digital technologies to challenge rape culture online, including their experiences and feelings around this kind of practice. This involves collecting a wide variety of materials across platforms. In constructing an archive of this material, it’s challenging to balance different priorities (including requirements as a junior researcher, and the desire to centre young women’s voices).

Alison Harvey talked about the obsession that develops in academia with typologies, and the benefits of taking individual words and thinking more deeply about them. Words that are very normalised in everyday practice, like, ‘data’ are beginning to feel uncomfortable. Her participants are experts sharing their stories, and talking to them doesn’t feel like, ‘data collection’. But we can’t just change these words, because we’re working within particular contexts. We also need to remember that no methodology is necessarily feminist. Feminist research approaches need to engage critically with the epistemological underpinnings of the process of research.

To give a very rough overview of some of the discussions that came up (perhaps more as a reminder to myself than anything else), with apologies for not being able to keep track of speakers:

  • Citation practices: who do we cite? Do we try to take texts that aren’t overtly feminist and try to read them against themselves? When we’re citing important contributions, including conference papers, how do we also protect people who may have been obfuscating their arguments for reasons like safety?
  • How do we support alternate citing practices as journal reviewers?
  • How do we find sources beyond the cannon? Especially when most of the tools we use (like Google Scholar and our internal library research) embed the existing status quo?
  • Open Humanities Press is a useful place to look for resources, in particular Photomediations.
  • How do we escape marginal spaces within academia? (For example, not getting stuck within ‘work on queer issues’, ‘work on country x’.) How do we as readers help in this (remembering that an article or conference presentation on India or Poland may still be relevant)?
  • Emma Lawson? ‘Publish and perish’ talks about the challenges of making research more open.
  • We need to think about how industries surrounding academia (like publishing) can also be engaged in this work.
  • How do we use our privilege, including our privilege as researchers, to create change?
  • When we think about what communities we work with want, we need to keep asking what will be useful. The answers are surprising: sometimes it is to publish academic articles. How do we ask what communities want at scale? Or when we’re bringing communities into being through our research?
  • When we’re working with ‘unlikeable’ movements, often we don’t want to point the ethics of care in their direction: we might be researching movements that we know don’t want to be researched, but their desires aren’t the most ethically pressing.
  • How do we use a feminist ethics of care when doing larger-scale research?
  • How do we use teaching to create change? Whose texts do we foreground? How do we make students pay attention to the authors of texts (many students assume that authors are white men)? What teaching practices create change?



AoIR2016: Representation, presentation, embodiment/emplacement

October 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

Crystal Abidin (Anthropology & sociology, communication & media studies, University of Western Australia) talked about her research on ‘Gross is the new like: allure, visceral camp, and carnivalesque commerce in grotesque microcelebrity’. Turner (2004) discusses celebrity’s cultural shift towards the momentary, visual, and sensational. Marhsall (2010) argues that we’re moving from representational media (where others manage our identity) to self-managed media.

yukaWhile some microcelebrities have highly-curated, fashionable and conventionally attractive online presences, others do things like livestreaming themselves brushing their teeth. Kinoshita Yuka is a very tiny lady who can eat a lot of food. She gets away with this because she’s a pretty young woman: she’s not grotesque in the moments she’s not actually eating. Upsetting the existing economy of microcelebrity opens it up to new participants.

Natalie Hendry (School of Education, Deakin University School of Media & Communication, RMIT Univerity) spoke about ‘The visual blog as a body’. She noted that Australia has significant funding for ‘solving’ youth suicide, often through technological approaches, but the resources for this don’t always connect well with people’s needs on the ground. This research focused on white girls aged 14 to 17 years old at a specific hospital.

Visibility in this sector is often framed as either a risk, or a solution, as survivors are positioned as taking a role in showing their linear progress from mental illness to health. Connection is pushed as a way of fixing mental illness: young people are seen as needing to connect to the ‘right’ people (a healthy community, mental health services) and separated from other ‘unhealthy’ communities (for example, people sharing images of self harm online).

Hendry focuses on one research participant, Beatrix, who collected a huge number of images. For her, anxiety is linked to the need to avoid the risk of negative affect. The curation of her identity differs significantly between Facebook (which she sees as more authentic) and Tumblr (which is more of an art gallery, but still represents her sense of self).

glitchKatie Margaret Warfield’s (Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada) research focuses on selfies, with this paper looking particular at young women’s experiences. Galit Wellner’s post-phenomenological work is useful, but brackets out power structures, which leaves a clear gap when it comes to understanding selfie practices.

The cellphone serves numerous roles, including as a mirror (as women arrange themselves for a photo), and as a camera (as a sense of a ‘real’ image was sought). Glitch feminism (from Legacy Russell) can be used to understand this: “the irruption of desire that happens online and between body-technology intimate/sexual encounters”.


kendallJill Walker Rettberg (Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen, Norway) started by saying that she was only partially going to support the argument she’s making in ‘An image is an Image, even if it’s on Instagram: Why we need to study social media images as representations’. While it is important to understand the context in which images are created and read, it’s also important to read them as symbols.For example, Jenner’s image can be read in the context of celebrity, but it can also be read as a deeply symbolic image that evokes others.

300px-john_everett_millais_-_ophelia_-_google_art_projectThis means we also need to remember that Western art history is not the only lens through which to read images. The most widely shared images of Alan Kurdi were different in the West and in Arabic countries, perhaps in part because of a different artistic, and therefore symbolic, tradition.

Kat Tiidenberg (Institue of Social Studies, Tallinn University, Estonia) discussed her attempts to find a useful theoretical framework for her work on ‘Socially-mediated bodies as practice: studying selfies in situ‘. Drawing on practice approaches is a useful way to think about selfies. It means that you need to think about a very broad range of practices that precede and surround the taking of a selfie. We also need to think about how the selfie as an object functions: how, and why, is it shared? What about selfies that are deleted, or sit waiting to be edited?


Post-Arab Spring Tunisia: women’s political participation and political decentralisation

July 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Admira Dini Salim, International Foundation for Electoral Systems
Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Indonesia
Indonesia’s performance on gender equality is lagging. The UNDP Gender Equality Index ranks it 108 out of 187 countries. Civil society continues to fight for change. A lower proportion of women  than men are registered to vote, but turnout is better among women. Despite this, only 23% of voters voted for female candidates in the 2014 elections. Unfortunately, a survey in 2013 showed that if male and female candidates were equally qualified, voters would prefer a male candidate (including female voters). In 2014, 17% of seats in the national parliament were held by women.

cniwbwsumaakyveThe quota system is evolving – at first it was at 30% of candidates that needed to be women (but with no sanctions), after the 2009 election, the election commission added a clause saying that the electoral authorities would announce all parties that didn’t meet the quota. In 2014, working through civil society, the election commission imposed a 1 in 3 quota around gender.

For regional head elections (264 regions) in 2014, female candidates were only 7.5% of candidates. Only 8.5% of female candidates won positions as regional heads or vice.

IFES is working on supporting women to work as election commissioners and in other official positions. The law mandates that 30% of election administrators should be women.

The challenges for women’s political participation are both regulatory and non-regulatory. Regulatory challenges include the lack of enforcement of the quota system, political parties lack of promotion of women as candidates or leaders, discriminatory legislation at the regional level in some areas (for example, in Aceh and other places, there are local regulations that impose curfews on women being out of the house in the evenings, which limits their ability to go to political meetings), and the high costs of elections limit women’s participation. Non-regulatory barriers include social and cultural roles and other factors.

IFES has several programs to improve gender representation, including the Women’s Electoral Leadership Program, She Leads, and the Training of Female Legislators program. These tie in with movements led by local civil society organisations. IFES is thinking about the full election cycles: it’s not just about election day, but about all the stages at which women might be better included.

There are a number of challenges to regulations that could improve women’s participation, including making the 30% quota obligatory and including a strong sanction; offering a subsidy as an incentive for parties to comply with gender quotas; maintaining the open list proportional system to minimize the control by a small political elite in allocating seats in parliament; requiring that female candidates make up 30% of candidates in party lists; and placing women candidates at the top of candidate lists for national, provincial, and regency elections. Civil society is playing an important role in developing and supporting legislation that supports women’s participation in the political system.

Najla Abbes, League of Tunisian Women Voters
Women’s Participation in Political and Public Life: Gains and Challenges

Abbes began by noting that both women and men took to the streets during the revolution. Since 2011, women have been taking part in all levels of elections. However, speaking from her own experience, she notes that the visibility of efforts for women’s rights wasn’t always high, and she began by worrying that women weren’t ready for political participation. But Abbes notes that both men and women were excluded from participation in the democratic process, so everyone will be learning together.

The ‘zipper system’, outlined in Article 16 of the Constitution, requires alternation between men and women in the lists. But at first, only 7% of the top of lists were women. Only one party implemented horizontal and vertical parity, and it was seen as ‘too modern’.

Parity is a great gain, but there’s been an ebb and flow. Abbes notes that Tunisian women get told, “Tunisia is far ahead of the rest of the Arab world, so you should be happy as things are”. But that’s not enough: the requirement of parity is in the Constitution, and it’s important to keep working towards it. Civil society needs to keep working to preserve and extend women’s rights. Part of this work has been pushing for both horizontal and vertical parity to be imposed, and for parties to face sanctions if their lists don’t support parity.

The League of Tunisian Women Voters has been working to support women candidates, including preparing them to participate effectively when elected. They’re also concerned that when women are elected, they’re representing their parties, rather than a ‘women’s agenda’.


Dina Afrianty, Australian Catholic University
Indonesia’s Democracy: Political Decentralisation and Local Women’s Movement
Afrianty’s research suggests that decentralisation has been seen by religious conservatives in Indonesia as an opportunity to return to an Islamic vision of politics. Initial attempts by Islamic political parties to gain power were not successful. After this, many conservative Muslims started to push for conservative interpretations of Islamic law to be incorporated at the local level.

Aceh is currently the only region that is governed by shariah law, with a number of laws brought in at the local level in 2009. These laws have been seen by much of civil society as discriminatory. After the tsunami, when international humanitarian organisations began working in Aceh, more space opened for civil society to voice their opposition. Many organisations from Aceh have pointed to a long history of women’s involvement in leadership in Aceh, including centuries ago when it was a Muslim kingdom, and are engaging in doctrinal debate to offer alternative visions of Islamic law.

Getting more women into power doesn’t necessarily lead to progress. There are several notable examples in Indonesia of women coming into power on platforms that are quite regressive.

UDC2015 Circuits of Struggle Day 3: commoning, digital infrastructures and/for social movements, and white men taking up space

May 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Social Reproduction and the Emerging Institutions of the Common opened with Fiona Jeffries’ and Pablo Mendez’ work on ‘Domesticating the struggle! Commoning Care in the Global Encampment’. Jeffries, presenting, framed the encampment protest-form recently (re)popularised by Occupy and other Squares movements as a way of making the domestic visible. The encampment challenges the binaries of public/private and personal/political, turning ‘home’ inside out. There’s been a lot of debate about the failure of political encampments, but Jeffries and Mendez argue that their significance lies in the ways in which they showed the necessity of placing social reproduction at the centre of struggle. The home space is where the crisis is experienced, and where people have to address it. Silvia Federici reminds us that home has a double character, both a site of reproduction of relations of domination, and as a site for potential resistance.

Elise Thorburn followed with ‘Communication Technologies and Social Reproduction: Securitized and Autonomous’, discussing the CUTV livestreaming of student strikes in Quebec. She began by noting some of the ways in which digital technologies can be seen as alienating us from our very existence as human beings: the neoliberal fixation on productivity and speed separates us from the solidarity and connections that would help us build resistance. There is a need to liberate our channels of communication (not just digital, but also embodied) from neoliberal control. CUTV made an attempt at this by using high-definition livestreaming equipment during student strikes in an attempt to humanise the protesters, to build audience’s connections with them, and to monitor police violence. For some protesters, livestreamers provide a sense of safety, a space which is at least moderately protected by counter-surveillance. Livestreaming technology is harder to shut down, because of the connection to different networks (including 3G and 4G) and the ability to turn the packs into wireless hotspots. However, livestreamers can also become a target for police violence, and livestreaming can be used by police to watch protesters (we also talked about some of the debates around livestreaming in our research on Occupy Oakland). After a certain point, CUTV made a decision to move away from filming people’s faces, and to avoid filming acts that protesters might be charged with. We need to be prepared to constantly adapt our uses of digital technologies, as repressed forces co-opt them or counter our efforts.

Symon Benetti, #Macao in Assemblea – #tuttisumacao

Enda Brophy ended the session by exploring the Cultural Workers Organize project. He emphasised the need for responses to increasing precarity among cultural workers that consider ways of decommodifying labour and build possibilities for escaping wage relations. The research team has been looking at some of the occupations of theatres, cinemas, and other spaces which began in 2011 (building on a longer history of related occupations). Many of these have become laboratories for horizontal management through open assembly. They also tend to be spaces in which there is a radical openness to the community around them, creating forms of organisation that are expressly articulated around the idea of the common, rejecting the binary of public/private. However, they face serious challenges, including evictions by the state (as has happened to the Cinema America) and the need to find income streams to support participants. The sheer audacity of these initiatives encourages us to aspire to something beyond the binary of ‘good work’ and ‘bad work’, and to look for ways to build institutions of the common.

The next session addressed Social Movements and Digital Technologies. Stephane Couture and Sophie Toupin opened by looking at two case studies in ‘Digital Infrastructures and/for Social Movement’, both of which respond to the increasing commodification and surveillance of the Internet. Stephane discussed the World Free Media Forum (there are also notes on this in my summary of day 1), which has lead to the production of the World Charter of Free Media and journal edition on Free Information and Open Internet. He talked about attempts to use free software in the organising of the Forum (for example, mumbles rather than skype), and to set up spaces for tech activists to share their knowledge with others. However, there are challenges to this work, including the difficulty of working some tools and ideological clashes. The second case study was about feminist servers, broadly defined to include software, hardware, code design, social solidarities, and space (this was also addressed at the FemHack event I went to in Montreal). Feminist servers are a response to violence, bullying, harassment, surveillance, and the corporatisation of the internet. Infrastructure matters, even if by design infrastructure is made to be ignored (we often forget the infrastructure, until it fails). And frequently infrastructure is not designed by people thinking about safety, particularly not from a feminist perspective. As in yesterday‘s presentation from Melissa Meade and Cricket Keating, Sophie emphasised the importance of a “do it together” rather than a DIY ethos. (And perhaps you can also do it together, as the next TransHackFeminist convergence happens in Mexico in July). Both Stephane and Sophie emphasised the difficulty of bringing different communities and struggles together, and the necessity and value of doing this work. There is a need for more spaces and people that do this bridging work.

Elisabetta Ferrari followed with ‘Social Media for the 99%? Rethinking Alternative Media and Social Movements’ Identity in the Corporate Web 2.0’. This research explores some of the changes to the alternative media landscape since the late 1990s. One of the issues for social movements is that corporate platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become vital spaces for making alternative perspectives visible. Elisabetta’s analysis of Occupy Chicago’s use of these platforms produced some surprising results: a very limited proportion of content deals with identity, and mass media content shared with endorsement outweighs the proportion that’s shared with critical commentary. This is in part because OC was making an attempt to develop relationships with mainstream media – putting out press releases, holding press conferences, running media training, and even producing PR guides. The lack of identity material can be seen as a response to the difficulty of defining “who we are” for Occupy: reporting an actions provided a way to balance this by saying “what we do” instead. The lack of identity content can also be seen as a coping mechanism for movements where there is a fundamental disjuncture between a diverse, decentralised movement and accounts on social media that are built around singular identities. It is useful to investigate the relationship between political choices and technological choices: movements benefit from using corporate social media, but at the same time the structures of these media exacerbate existing political tensions in decentralised movements.

Image from @ksurkan

Image from @ksurkan

Finally, Anne-Marie Romanko talked about ‘Pepper Spray, Photoshop, and Protest: The Meme as a Tool for Socio-Political Protest’. Romanko argues that photoshop memes can create opposition to hegemonic forces through powerful political messages, focusing on the image of Lieutenant John Pike pepperspraying protesters at UC Davis. Memes give agency to polyvocal discourse: they allow for the voice of the other to be included in the message. They can act as a way to influence or counter mainstream media discourse, and while some scholars believe images and politics are trivialised through memes, they create dialogue, and humour can be a powerful form of dissent. Memes can connect people who might otherwise have little in common.

Anyone following me on Twitter will have gathered that I found the ‘question’ session on this panel very frustrating. There are useful critiques to be made of question sessions, and of the hierarchical structure of experts and audience. However, the commonly-expressed frustration at “more-a-comment-than-a-question” is based in part on the fact that those making “more a comment” are often the privileged (rather than marginalised people disrupting power hierarchies). I expect a moderate level of “more a comment”s at conferences, and have learned to sigh and bear it, but this panel was particularly remarkable because there were five or six white men in a row who took the opportunity to talk at length about their own ideas, the case studies they thought were relevant, or the arguments they thought should be used to frame these issues. Only one of them appended any pretence at a question mark. I asked a question (and made a note that others hadn’t), and as soon as presenters answered, there were more “comments” from the audience. Frustrated, I nervously tried to speak up and point out what was happening. And then one of the female presenters got thirty seconds into talking about her arguments before another white man interrupted to argue with her.

There are obviously things that individual men could, and should, be doing to avoid this: being aware of the demographics of who speaks and who is interrupted and how they might be contributing to that dynamic is a good start. (Similarly, white women need to be aware of the ways in which our voices are privileged in some spaces.) Continuing on from my previous post on thinking about conferences as technologies which should be approached with the same critical perspective we’re turning on digital technologies, there are also steps that organisers can take to build a better “question session” technology. For example, it might be useful to set out guidelines for moderators that include using a progressive stack to take audience questions, and making it clear whether comments will be accepted (if they are, making this explicit will make space for those who don’t feel confident commenting in a question session).

If we’re going to talk about the ways in which particular digital platforms marginalise or facilitate particular voices, we should also be prepared to think about that in our own spaces.

UDC2015 Circuits of Struggle, Day 1: the World Forum of Free Media, community media in Oaxaca, Activating bodies, State violence, and an early night

May 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Montserrat Boix, Media, politics and civil rights Tunisia 2015 World Social Forum Casa do Brasil

The first session, with Stéphane Couture, Gretchen King, and Sophie Toupin of McGill University, looked at the World Forum of Free Media (WFFM) and the Charter of Free Media. This discussion touched on some of the issues I’ve felt myself around the World Social Forum, including its institutionalisation. However, the panellists noted that their experience of the 2015 Forum was that there was space (often outside of official scheduling) for important collaborations. Gretchen talked about some of the debates that informed the development of the Charter, and I particularly liked her point that ‘hegemonic’ media is a better term than ‘mainstream’ media: we want alternatives that challenge existing power structures and narratives, and that means that we do want some independent media to become mainstream, in the sense of being broadly accessible and reaching a wide audience. On a related point, both Sophie and Gretchen spoke about the need to create bridges between different communities: hackers, media activists, feminists, queer activists, and others. Often, the cultures within these groups may be different (even when they overlap), but there’s a need to find ways to collaborate (and, as Stephane says, there’s also a need for this to be fun). As the 2016 WSF approaches, there’s a hope that activists in Montreal can work to set up autonomous infrastructures, including mesh networks, that will not only be a resource for the forum but also continue afterwards, and be a space for people to learn how to set these up themselves.

I missed the second panel to go to the #SOSblakAustralia protest at the Australian embassy, although I didn’t manage to find the other protesters. Hopefully they made it there at some point!

Alejandro Linares Garcia, Tequio by Jose Marcos Zenteno Aguayo at the Alebrije Parade of the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City

The lunchtime talk, by Loreto Bravo and Peter Bloom, looked at community radio stations and cellphone networks in Oaxaca, Mexico. The growth of indigenous media in Oaxaca comes out of the specific history of the area, and a form of community governance and social reproduction that Floriberto Díaz, Jaime Martínez Luna, and others have called comunalidad. Comunalidad includes a concept of communities linked to specific territories; structures of community governance rooted in traditional law and community assemblies rather than representative politics; community work (tequio) which all community members must contribute to, even if overseas; and festivals that build connections and allow people to build their organising skills.

Loreto talked about the ways in which women have lead community media initiatives since the 2006 protests in Oaxaca, when a group of women took over the mainstream TV station, Channel 9, living inside the station for a month, as well as 12 radio stations. After 2006, many local radio stations have started in the area, with people talking about their own issues in their languages, but the challenge is to provide education in relevant technology-especially free software-to allow them to appropriate it. This means not just how to use computers and mixers, but also how to fix radio transmitters and other hardware problems.

Peter’s talk focused on Rhizomatica‘s work setting up autonomous GSM networks, at first working with people from community radios and extending those networks and then building cellular networks for communities from scratch. Rhizomatica can do this much more cheaply than major cellular providers, at a cost that communities can fund themselves, which also makes it much cheaper to make and receive calls. However, all of this was done illegally at first: only .14% of the spectrum is available to freely use without permission, and Rhizomatica set up community networks before getting permission. Usually, all of the spectrum is sold off to the highest bidder often for billions of dollars). Rhizomatica was lucky in that the Mexican government had a portion of unused spectrum, and gave retrospective permission for it to be used. It’s important to think about how to set up networks that can be defended from attacks by the state or capital: in the case of these cellular networks, there are 19 different networks, one in each community, and they network but would have to be shut down individually. If the government tried it then communities wouldn’t cooperate, and the government would then also need to answer questions about their failure to provide coverage.

There were also some hints at the challenges involved in how these networks are run and might reproduce existing structural inequalities. Hosting communications data (such as records of calls) within the community may allow people to escape external surveillance. However, it can also expose at-risk groups to surveillance within the community: Peter noted that men had asked him, “what if someone calls my wife while I’m out? How will I know?” Loreto also talked about the ways in which women’s work with community radio might strain their financial resources, create problems with childcare, and expose them to the risk of paramilitary attack.

The Women Stayed: the untold story of the Euromaidan

The Women Stayed: the untold story of the Euromaidan

The panel on Activating Bodies In/to Digital Media Networks: Materiality, Narratives and Molotov Cocktails began with Marusya Bociurkiw’s work on feminist involvement in the Euromaidan movement. She talked about the absolute necessity of combining digital research with embodied research (which we’ve also argued for here and here). Marusya said that her initial ideas about the importance of social media in the protests were challenged once she travelled to Ukraine: Facebook and Twitter mattered, but it was the massed bodies on the ground, people’s willingness to face risks for their beliefs, that made the real difference. Her documentary focused on the Women’s Battalion, which started on Facebook but was used to organise actions on the ground.

I liked Laura Forlano’s discussion of the ways in which her diabetes diagnosis prompted her reflections on ‘Hacking the Feminist Body: Media, Materiality and Things’. Laura critiqued the ways in which hacker/maker identities are constructed, and suggested that a feminist hacker ethic would be built on a deeply personal reflective practice. Rather than making sweeping revolutionary calls for openness based on false discourses of meritocracy, feminist hacker ethics would be based on our own hybrid modes of existence. This also needs to create interventions into the capitalist cycle of consumption.

bodywirelessMél Hogan’s ‘Electromagnetic Soup: EMFs, Bodies, and Surveillance’ built on these themes, opening with a discussion of the invisibility of how wireless data transfers and is stored. Cell phones become an extension of our bodies, our brains, and also our privacies, and this is an embodied process: we hold phones carry, them, expose our voices to them, and the hardware we use is produced and discarded in processes which are often tremendously environmentally damaging. This opens up questions of ownership and responsibility that are rarely addressed, including issues about how our bodies might interact with the electromagnetic fields that increasingly surround us.

The final presentation in the panel, from Mary Elizabeth Luka, looked at the CRTC consultation process around ‘Let’s talk TV’ and the ways in which rhetorics of consultation and collaboration are frequently undermined by an emphasis on the ‘citizen-consumer’. There’s an assumption that a more “competitive” television model will automatically benefit consumers, but this is often in opposition to the idea of media as a public good that facilitates (and is facilitated by) citizen engagement.

The final panel, Policing the Populace: Corporate Media, Social Media and the Mobilization of State Violence against Racialized Minorities, is topical at the moment. I’m glad that many of the presenters addressed their own personal standpoints with regard to state violence: it feels surreal, sometimes, for presentations on such deep issues to be presented at such a distance from our lives. I can understand the impulse, though, both for those privileged enough not to be personally affected and for those whose lives are shaped by the threat or actuality of violence, and of course do it myself (since it’s often hard to overcome this academic training in a pretence at ‘objectivity’).

Elsipogtog land defender Annie Clair (centre) is fighting legal charges

Derek Antoine and Miranda J. Brady talked about the media discourses around the Elsipogtog struggle, contrasting mainstream media representations with those from the Halifax media co-op. Mainstream media coverage of Indigenous issues in Canada shifts between a binary of ‘noble or ignoble savages’, with Native peoples positioned as outside of the Western narrative of technology and progress. Struggles like those at Elsipogtog are presented as issues of law and order, or of well-intentioned but naive groups resisting technological progress. In contrast, the Halifax media co-op contextualised this struggle with reference to a history of colonialism, settler violence, broken treaties, and Indigenous resistance, as well as highlighting the processes of organising and deliberation happening around the Elsipogtog protests.

We the protesters

We the protesters

Chenjerai Kumanyika followed with ‘Beyond Techno-Utopianism: The Twitter Activism of @OpFerguson’. He argued that @OpFerguson, as well as being a valuable tool for organising, has also served as a key archive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Kumanyika said that while there are valid concerns around ‘Twitter activism’, these should not centre on whether it displaces on-the-ground work, but rather on the various ways in which capitalist platforms like Twitter and their media ecologies rely on systems of racial inequality and environmentally-unsustainable production and disposal. We also need to remember that while we often think of social media as authentic, what we see is mediated by algorithms and other aspects of the platforms. Nevertheless, @OpFerguson has served important important functions for organisers, providing counter-news information, promoting offline efforts, fundraising, representing and building solidarity, and also playing a role in consolidating leadership. Accounts like @OpFerguson can also help share attention for new waves of organising.

Aziz Douai and Julianne Condon spoke on ‘Police Brutality in the Age of New Media: Online Audiences and the Framing of Police Use of Force against Racial Minorities in Canada’, focusing on the 2013 police shooting of Sammy Yatim. They noted that while the Toronto Sun’s coverage of the shooting was conservative, erasing issues of structural inequality and framing the killing as a law and order issue, a significant proportion of users rejected this narrative in their comments. Instead, readers provided counter-framing, citing issues with systemic racism and police inability to deal with mental health issues.

Finally, Doug Tewksbury spoke on ‘Social Media, Shared Empathy, and Online-Offline Interconnectedness among Ferguson Protesters’. He talked about the ways in which social media can build community, interacting with offline interactions. He drew on Kirsty Robertson’s work on tear gas epiphanies: moments of embodied togetherness and a shared rejection of the disciplinary system (unevenly) imposed on them. (Which for me also suggests moments in which relatively-privileged protesters become aware of state violence that’s a part of others’ everyday experiences.) Social media can bolster the togetherness that comes out of these moments, allowing people to share ideas, knowledge, narratives, and also feelings that are necessary to create movements.

Sadly, I’ve missed the night’s keynote from Astra Taylor – it looks amazing, but 9am-9pm is too many hours of conference for me, so I’ll console myself with reading a little more of her excellent book tonight.

Anarchist and anti-capitalist approaches to feminism

April 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

At the first AdaCamp, I noticed that quite a few participants were talking about a politics of openness, drawing on their experiences of ‘open stuff’ (primarily free and open source software politics), but without necessarily having the background to connect this to other political threads that might be relevant.

This is understandable: not only are a lot of people attending AdaCamp coming from a technical (rather than humanities) background, but even my post-graduate degree in political science frankly did little to connect me to political traditions that felt useful to me, and I’m trying to learn for myself now. People are looking for these traditions, though, and so we need to help each other find them.

Lucy Parsons

Anticapitalist approaches to feminism are vitally important. Capitalism is inherently exploitative. It relies on workers making a profit for others within workplaces in which they often have little control over what they produce or the conditions under which it’s producedand on the unpaid or vastly-underpaid labour of marginalised groups (particularly women, and most especially women of colour). It’s also an economic system which relies on constant and hugely-damaging expansion, which we cannot sustain environmentally.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we should condemn everyone working within the capitalist system: there is no ‘outside’ to capitalism. But we should be thinking carefully about the tactics and strategies that we employ in our feminisms. It’s easy to fall for the rhetoric of leaning in: to push for more women CEOs and other highly-valued positions, and individualistic solutions which require women to work alone to push back against sexism in their workplaces.

Instead, we need to be thinking about how to change or build alternatives to existing structures where we can. Co-ops and other worker-run organisations are one approach. We can also think carefully about payscales (what’s the ratio between the pay of the highest and lowest paid worker at your workplace? and what is it if you include work that’s contracted out?), and about building solidarity between people in different roles within an industry. We should recognise the importance of caring work and other forms of unpaid labour, and build structures which distribute this labour more evenly.

IMG_5294We also need to more consciously build the skills that allow us to organise and cooperate. I’ve been seeing ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness‘ by Jo Freeman mentioned quite often, sometimes with the unspoken assumption that the problems Freeman discusses (which are significant) mean horizontal organising is inevitably doomed. But as Freeman says herself in the closing section of her essay, there are specific steps we can take to ensure that horizontally-organised spaces aren’t structureless.

This requires learning new skills, and often building new cultures. One aspect of John Restakis’ work that I found interesting was his discussion of the difference between places with a culture of cooperative work (like Emilia Romagna in Italy and Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain) and places which have rapidly collectivised in response to crisis (he discusses Argentina in particular). It takes time to learn to be patient with long meetings and to interact with others in good faith to build collaboration rather than competition.

We also need to do more, I think, to recognise and help develop the emotional skills necessary for effective organising, which requires active reflection on the invisible work in our spaces: including people’s efforts to smooth conflict and help others feel valued. Anarchism (and specifically anarchafeminism) is one framework for this that I find useful, because it focuses heavily on processes (rather than end goals). It also offers an alternative to the libertarian* approach with its focus entirely on individual freedom, instead understanding individual autonomy as always being embedded within community.

Anarchist feminists have also been dealing with some of the same issues that have affected women in open stuff: how to deal with harassment or abuse in a supposedly-decentralised, supposedly-liberatory community; how to develop processes of self-governance that don’t reinforce existing oppressions; how to build change within (frequently) male-dominated communities. Drawing on these experiences, and the praxis that has come out of them, can help enrich our approaches.

Hopefully that’s provided a useful 101 for people who wanted a little more information after the AdaCamp Montreal session on this. There are a lot of directions for additional reading and discussion, and I’ve linked to a few of them here: feel free to leave helpful links in the comments also. I also highly recommend checking out the report (and more detailed notes) from the Femhack gathering on autonomous feminist infrastructures, which was on just before AdaCamp.

* I use ‘libertarian’ here in the sense it’s used in the US, and particularly in tech communities, to mean an ideology that’s focused on individual freedoms without challenging the market as the main way of organising distribution of resources. In Europe, ‘libertarian’ (and especially ‘libertarian socialist’) often means something different and more in line with anarchism.

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