ICA18 Day 2: narrating voice, digital media and the body, feminist theorisation beyond western cultures, collective memory, and voices of freedom and constraint
May 26, 2018 § Leave a comment
Narrating Voice and Building Self on Digital and Social Media
‘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.
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.
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).
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.
April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
Governments around the world have been becoming interested in the possibilities that RFID chips and digital information systems open up for creating nationwide databases that gather information on citizens (or residents) across a variety of fields: health, citizenship status, access to services, and so on. Australia’s version of this was the Access Card, which seems to have died a quiet death. Most of these schemes seem to be justified through four frames: streamlining access to government services, tracking citizenship status, controlling crime (particularly ID theft), and combatting terrorism.
India’s version of the scheme is the Universal ID card, which is currently in the pilot phase. I went to an excellent session on national ID schemes on 21st March, organised by CIS and the Centre for Contemporary Studies. Dr. Ian Brown gave a talk on the UK’s National ID scheme, which was recently scrapped, looking at important questions about the scheme that also need to be raised in the Indian context. In particular, he focused on the government’s stated goals for the project, and the evidence for whether or not the National ID card would actually be an effective way of achieving those goals.
In the case of the UK scheme, even the conservative side of politics was unconvinced that the scheme would be an effective (including cost-effective) way of controlling crime, terrorism, social security fraud, ID theft, or illegal immigration.
Prashant Iyengar’s talk on India’s UID reinforced the concerns that Brown raised about the mismatch between stated goals and evidence. For example, while the UID is being billed as a way to prevent fraud in the access to government services, there’s very little evidence that the biometric cards will actually combat the causes of fraud (which seem to mostly be related to the massive power inequalities between those collecting benefits and those responsible for providing them).
Iyenger also addressed four myths that have been used to justify the UID scheme:
1) Registration is voluntary: it is, but only nominally – people will be able to opt out, but only if they’re willing/able to forgo access to all government services and basic citizenship rights.
2) Privacy is guaranteed: given the number of different agencies and companies who will be involved in the scheme, India’s “very leaky information system” (as Iyengar put it), and the limited penalties for information leaks by service providers, this “guarantee” doesn’t seem worth much.
3) The scheme will collect minimal information: even the minimum specified information (including name, residence, date of birth, and fingerprints) add up. As well as this, registrars (those collecting information) will also have significant discretion to collect more information.
4) The UID cards will only allow service providers to authenticate users’ identities, and will not provide information: there is actually a provision in the scheme by which the UID Authority can allow data sharing through prior written consent. This consent is routinely requested during the UID sign-up process, and it seems that there is also no way to proceed through the process without giving consent.
Given these issues, as well as other concerns that many civil liberties groups have with national ID schemes, considerable opposition to the UID is emerging. I’m not sure how effective it will end up being, but I’m definitely interested in exploring the way in which the issue is being addressed by different researchers and activists here.
March 15, 2011 § 6 Comments
Travelling is always a good reminder of everything that you don’t know about the world, and everything that you take for granted, particularly if you go to a place with quite a different language or culture. In Perth, I don’t think twice about planning a trip across the city on public transport, ordering food, looking up directions online, reading the body language of people around me. In Bangalore, the background information required to do all of these things becomes much clearer to me.
I try to order food, and don’t know: is it table service? Do I pay now, or later? Which things on the menu will I like? Is it polite to smile at the waiter, or make small talk with the cashier?
I walk past the bus stand, and all of the information is in a script I can’t read.
I use Google Maps to try to find my way around, and not only can’t find my current location, but also don’t know the language of the urban geography: how long will it take me to walk a block? Will I see that turnoff, if I walk past it?
When I walk around, people stare at me, and I don’t know if they’re being friendly or impolite or just curious. When I watch my Indian friend buy something at a shop, the discussion seems angry to me, although I know it isn’t – there’s just a different code to body language, and the Australian expectation that people will serve you with a smile (whether they’re happy or not) and “Have a nice day!” (whether they care or not) isn’t there.
At home, I’m highly literate. I can speak, read, and write in English. I can communicate effectively in social and academic settings, wearing different selves in different spaces. But here, I’m illiterate in so many ways: I can’t read the script, I can’t read body language, I can’t read the urban geography.
When I stumble on these illiteracies, I do it from a position of privilege. I can go online and ask for help, knowing that there’s a vast store of information in English. India’s colonial history means that many people speak English, and most signs are in English. I have the material resources to bypass difficulties: I can go to a restaurant that caters for foreigners, or hire an auto if buses are too complicated.
I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be trying to navigate these illiteracies from a marginalised position. To be a new immigrant in Perth, for example, who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t have a privileged economic position. Moving around the city, making friends, even everyday tasks like buying food, must be so very hard, so very tiring. And if you’re not literate in a language that’s well-represented online, you can’t just ask for help on Twitter or look up a guide on Wikipedia.
The group I’m working with here, Janastu, is starting some interesting projects related to Web accessibility for people who don’t read English. I’m also getting a chance to find out about other interesting projects to connect people online – today I had a look at the CGNet Swara blog, which lets people from the Central Gondwana region of India make blog posts by phone. I’m really curious to see how these projects work, and the ways in which they might transform some of the illiteracies that affect access to the Web.
And, while I’m doing it, I can work on becoming literate in new ways myself.