"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

Archive for the ‘Digital Humanities’ Category

Upcoming Panel on Transgression, Gender Disturbance, and Feminist Sci-Fi Futures at #NWSA2014:

I am very excited to be presenting at the National Women’s Studies Association Meeting, Nov 13 – 16, 2014. Below you can find our panel description and abstracts of our individual talks.

Conference Theme: Feminist Transgressions Subtheme: Technologizing futures

Panel Title: Transgression, Gender Disturbance, and Feminist Sci-Fi Futures

Keywords: Intersectionality, Technology, New Media

Science fiction and other speculative genres engage technological imaginaries to problematize social ills and elaborate possibilities for change. Historically associated with men ─ dominated by white cis male authors and related to so-called “masculine” subjects of science and technology ─ science fiction has been troubled with colonial, sexist, and transphobic content. However,  feminist, queer, third world women, and women of color authors and artists also mobilize the conventions of the genre for critique, activism, and imagining new worlds. This panel brings together early career academics working in diverse areas of critical media and technology studies as scholars, activists, and makers. The panelists offer intersectional, queer, and transfeminist readings of literary and new media texts that emphasize their relevance to contemporary political and social issues including gender and sexual identity, neocolonial police states, reproductive rights, and others. The panel explicitly addresses the conference theme of “Feminist Trangression” by analyzing disruptive feminisms in literature, new media, and real-world activism. These texts subvert generic conventions to perform transformative critical interventions. Offering a multi-layered approach to “Technologizing Futures,” this panel examines media and genre as technologies themselves that are often used to enable but also sometimes fight against white cisgender heteronormative futurity. It explores material technologies ─ including both existing technologies/platforms (Youtube, Twitter, music videos, and video games) and imagined future technologies (robotics, androids, and clones) ─ that offer critiques of how feminist technologies can subvert and disrupt hegemonic futures. (more…)

Quick Post: Impressions from #2014ASA Feminist Making I #feministdh

I always have grand plans of writing up blog posts after a conference. And it never happens. I am off to another conference four days after I return from this one so rather than be frustrated with myself for once again not getting around to my post-conference recap in a timely manner, I thought I’d try something new. Quick, impressionistic posts that share some of the ideas from and in response to panels relevant to The Spiral Dance.

This morning, my first panel of the day was Feminist Making I: Building Critical Contexts with Susan Garfinkel, Liz Losh, micha cárdenas, and moderator Lauren Klein.

(nota bene: I’m jet lagged and was hungry and had a head ache during this panel, so I may have misheard or misinterpreted some things.

I really enjoyed Susan Garfinkel’s idea that thinking of objects as performance (influenced by Schechner) allows us to incorporate both the object and the maker into the frame of study. I am also sympathetic to the urge to resist the pink & hearts m.o. of trying to get more girls involved in tech. During discussion, in response to an audience comment about the tension between giving girls “what they want” and the feminist critique of pinkification, Susan articulated something that has been on my mind for a while. Although I don’t like the color pink much myself, I am often made uncomfortable by the denigration of it. But I’ve also written elsewhere on this blog about my frustration with pink tools. And I tend to be really conflicted about it. This is connected to my frustration with “gender neutrality” (I’m not convinced that such a thing is possible) as really meaning things that are not pastel colored. And also connected to the tendency for things that are seen as feminine or feminized as being minimized or dismissed. Susan summed up this tension so well when she responded that there is a difference between turning tech pink and a more substantive effort to address underlying issues. So pink is not the issue. The thing that is offensive is the superficial attempt to attract women to tech by making essentialist assumptions about what women want / like.

I always find Liz’s work so thought provoking and inspiring and today was no exception. I appreciated that she started off the conversation about the problematic notion of transparency and brought in some video of Wendy Chun talking about the problems with assuming that access to source code equates to transparency.

micha picked up the thread of transparency as a problematic tool of domination and I really appreciated the way she talked about transparency as a white patriarchal tool for oppression. I knew of her project autonets but I was really inspired by the way she framed it as addressing how safety from violence feels in the body and in relation to concrete skills for collectively responding to violence.

During discussion, the talk turned to 3d printing and discussants were articulating tensions around what seemed to be questions of the possibility of intervention when one downloads and prints a 3d design. More than one person talked about how something that seems less creative can be a gateway to more investigation, experimentation, and learning. The panel ended as I finally articulated a thought I wanted to share and that was that a lot of the questions about the degree of intervention made through acts of downloading and printing seem to some degree to relate to issues of true creativity and originality, which in other arenas we already recognize as unstable and perhaps unachievable ideals. Had a thought that I wanted to ask and that was about whether this notion in and of itself might be growing out of notions of the sanctity/veneration of the author as individual, and whether pushing against that in and of itself could be a productive feminist act.

Also, during discussion, the question arose of where the makers in the room practice and whether they are comfortable in traditional “maker” spaces. One audience member mentioned that she does a lot at home where she can be embarrassed and frustrated by herself. She made a sort of self-deprecating joke about academic narcissistic work habits, but I think the underlying point of her comment, about privacy, is a really important one. We require privacy to formulate ideas and try and fail in safety. That does not always mean alone, but it does mean within a safe space. And I echo her that for me, that space does not tend to be in traditional maker settings. One of my co-panelists for tomorrow, Lone K. Hansen, and I spoke brieflly afterwards about how that isn’t necessarily a question of male / female space compositions, but more about diversity in a space that is not dominated by hypermasculine “bro” figures (my words, not Lone’s; she was much more articulate).

Last thought: I was really intrigued by the audience question of whether feminism is a process or a product and I thought Liz’s response about the processes involved in building collectives was really productive. I will be thinking about this and all of the above questions for time to come.

I’ll add links and images later, but for now, time to head to Feminist Making II.

Moving the Field Forward: Privileged Places and Inclusive Spaces

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Last week I attended the Media Places: Infrastructure | Space | Media conference at Umeå University. The conference was sponsored by The Peter Wallenberg Foundation and universities of Umeå, Stanford, and Lund. The conference was invite-only and I was honored to be asked, not only to attend, but also to give a short presentation as part of a panel on “Moving the Field Forward.”

This was the second conference I attended this semester and each was an interdisciplinary approach to a narrowly focused topic. I really like this format. Media Places had only one track of sessions, so it was great to know that everyone saw the same things and heard the same ideas. This made for frictionless conversation and “networking” as we gathered during breaks and meals. It was as painless as networking can possibly be.

As I mentioned above, I was asked to participate in one of the panels. Patrik Svensson asked myself and two other “junior” faculty members to speak to the issue of moving the field forward, and if possible, to tie it into the conference theme. What follows is a recreation of my talk from my notes. I actually had to edit some of this out on the fly as I was bumping up against the 8-minute time limit. Since I can’t remember what I cut, I’ll just include it all here, as I initially rehearsed it:

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I’m a girl. (What) do I dig? A response to Bethany Nowviskie’s “what do girls dig?”

I am writing this post in response to Bethany Nowviskie’s excellent storify collection that asks some important questions about the gender imbalance visible at the Digging into Data conference. Be sure to click “load more” and read the comments as well.

As a first year assistant professor, I have to admit that I am more concerned with learning the ropes at my new university and keeping my head above the waters of teaching and service than with applying for a grant of this scale.

However, I do a bit of data analysis in my dissertation/book project so it isn’t inconceivable that some day I could find myself wanting to apply for this grant, or another like it. I admit to feeling intimidated by the thought due to A) a lack of statistics training and B) (possibly arising out of the former) a reluctance to commit to this type of engagement with data. I find myself less interested in “digging into” data than playing with it, poking at it, batting it around, deforming it (in the Jerome McGann / Lisa Samuels sense), and perhaps even breaking it. I suspect this is the response to framing and rhetoric noted by Nowviskie.

At MLA 2009, I heard a Digital Humanities talk in which one of the speakers encouraged the audience to move away from “doing science badly.” The phrase has really stuck with me, though likely not for the reason the speaker intended. I am fascinated with what we might learn from doing science badly. It’s not that I want to be irresponsible to the data. I don’t. But I take inspiration from this quote in Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage,

Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. (93)

So perhaps I should say that it’s less that I want to do science badly, than that I am reluctant to do it “professionally.” I like being a data amateur. Again, this may be related to a lack of statistical training. Though truth be told, this is not an insurmountable issue. I could easily pick up some books and even audit some classes at my university were I interested in overcoming this particular obstacle. So far, I’m not.

I am hesitant to label this an effect of gender, however. I do recall that as a child my well-meaning mother, perhaps in an effort to celebrate my natural affinity for words and reading, set up a dichotomy in which those who were good at words, were not good at numbers. Wanting to emulate my mother, who introduced me to the Bronte sisters when I was in fifth grade, I embraced my love of words. I took the minimal amount of math required and I suspect that I subconsciously wrote off any challenges with numbers as the unfortunate by-product of my linguistic prowess. It wasn’t until many years later, when I thrived at a job in which I was responsible for large financial forecasts and budgets, that I realized how deeply ingrained that dichotomy had been and as with many dichotomies, just how false it was. Again, this is not necessarily a gender issue. Though one might argue for it as the legacy of attitudes toward women in math and science from when my mother was in school in the 1960’s.  However, I now recognize that I am not bad at numbers and I could develop my skills further in this area. But for whatever reason, I don’t.

Perhaps it is a matter of the right research question coming along. Perhaps someday the siren call of a large-scale data set will prompt me to step outside the realm of the amateur. Perhaps after I’ve found my footing as an assistant professor, I might have the intellectual resources to point in this direction. But for now, I find a certain liberty in the position of the amateur and am content to watch from the sidelines as the professionals do the digging.

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