Feminist Activism and digital networks :Talk @University of Leeds

9781137504708On Wednesday last week, I had a great time talking about feminist activism and digital media at the School of Media and Communications, University of Leeds, amongst the company of good friends and colleagues. Nancy invited me to speak in the Department’s Research Seminars last year, and I finally made it there this year, just two weeks after my book ‘Feminist Activism and Digital Networks: Between Empowerment and Vulnerability’ got published.

So I thought that talking about feminism in this Research Seminar now was important. Feminist and queer activism are constantly shifting and changing as the identities that are associated with them change, but it is in this historical and sociopolitical conjunction that feminism seems more relevant than ever to people, to their everyday lives and struggles in a very bleak world. In the last few months, we have witnessed how feminism just ‘clicked’ – millions of people recently marched around the world against Trump’s misogyny and right-wing populism, and digital culture has been thriving with feminist memes, hashtags and other forms of participatory media that has given many of us hope about the future of bottom-up organizing. It is the first time after many years that feminist issues are the central issues in cultural and political life, and not just the preoccupations of feminist. The first time in years of feminist backlash when we are not operating within an assumption that feminism has met its aims and is a matter of the past; it clearly has not.
CuNOs3CXYAENcM4But as feminist cultural production flourishes in the streets and online, so does hate speech, cyberbullying and online misogyny. I showed the audience of the talk the top results that my search of the word ‘feminism’ returned on YouTube on Monday. YouTube is populated with Feminist Cringe, a supposedly comedy genre that ridicules feminists who are articulating any kind of counter-discourse to the misogyny in the media and in protests. The hate speech that the comments attract is appalling and worrying, and it begs the question: are we taking one step forward and two stps backwards?

4500But do these comments really matter, you may ask? Can this kind of online anonymous, and perceived as intangible hate speech really hurt a movement that is physically present in the streets? How much power do social media actually have? I think they do – and in what followed in my speech I tried to unravel how I think about the complex dynamics of content production and control that constitute online networks as contradictory spaces of both vulnerability and empowerment for feminist and queer politics. In this long talk, I visited some of the key concept in my new book. A key theoretical concept that I introduce is that of biodigital vulnerability. My argument is that corporeal vulnerability, and the new forms of governmentality that appear due to technoscientific acceleration, when made public can have great political potential and can be empowering for communities and individuals that have been marginalised or victimised due to sexuality or gender.

Through a discussion of the development of the concept of biodigital vulnerability and a key investigation of the different temporalities of digital media and everyday activism, in this talk I revisited the central themes of the book: labour, embodiment, affect, practices and materiality.

Watch this space for the slides from the talk!

Materiality, Publicness & Digital Media

cropped-headerI look forward to talking at the workshop Materiality, Publicness and Digital Media, at the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies. The workshop is part of the Series ‘Trajectories of Publicness and Contestation’ series, (25-26 October 2016). This second workshop in the series focuses on materiality, aiming to explore and theorize how popular protests are articulated through particular technologies and material settings (ranging from face-to-face communication to global social platforms), which ‘mediate’ how these protests take shape.

My session is called (Dis)engagement & Disobedience (Chair: Stefania Milan), with co-speakers Anne Kaun (Södertörn University) who will be talking about ‘Disconnection activism: the slow media movement’, Sebastian Kubitschko & Sigrid Kannengießer, (University of Bremen) who will present on ‘Repairing and hacking as examples of acting on materiality’, and I will be talking about ‘Feminist ‘smart’ publics: Feminism in the era of the Quantified Self’ – work that I have developed in my book and here.

Queering big data

images-32Back from Berlin, having met so many good people. After the discussions in the Feminist Big Data plenary and the Bodies session (in AioR 2016), I am sharing here the key points of my intervention. In the paper that I presented in the Bodies panel, I talked about my research on reproductive health and wellbeing apps and cultures of self-tracking. A steady line of inquiry in my current work and in my book, that is coming out in March,  is the reshaping of feminist practices with digital media. I find it necessary to ask what form feminist politics around reproductive rights take with new data practices, and more generally, what might a feminist critique to data collection look like? For me, this use raises some critical social, political and ethical questions around data ownership and power, labour and exploitation. But they also offer the possibility for new modes of engagement with our bodies, our data, and with biomedical knowledge; they also may present new  feminist frontiers and realities.

My provocation during the plenary discussion, as a contribution to what a feminist approach to big data would entail, was about queering big data. First, I brought as an example the QSXX groups (women-identified only Quantified Self meet-ups), to suggest the necessity for situated (digital media) practices in relation to self-tracking and big data – I write about these in my new book on Feminist activism and Digital Networks. I used ‘situated’ borrowing from Donna Haraway’s work on seeing things from an always partial perspective and from the social context where one finds themselves standing in. Why is it necessary and relevant to a feminist big data perspective to look at situated practices like this? Because such spaces and groups may be reflexive of the exclusions they perform and of their own privilege. And because here ‘small data’ approaches and storytelling can be politically productive ways of working with data.

Then I argued that we need to move beyond critiques of masculinist design, and actually queer big data. How? First, queering data, as a critique means resisting the marketing pitch of products and services that reproduce the heterosexual, nuclear family. Second, we need to turn the discourse of risk around, and conceptualise uncertainty and risk in ways that don’t victimise women, but instead, enable political action. And third, we need to challenge the positivist perception that more data will bring about more certainty in the future.

This is an epigrammatic post, and probably only resonates with those already in the audience, but after the wealth of tweets from the two talks, some misconceptions that need clarification, and requests for slides, I thought I’d leave this here, before the more elaborate discussion of the journal article (and the book) come out.

Feminist Big Data & session Bodies in #Aoir2016 Berlin

I can’t wait to talk about feminist research methods, big data and self-tracking in Berlin.

fleshmachineOn Thursday, October 6 between 16:00 – 17:30, I will be presenting work in the Panel ‘Bodies’, chaired by Gina Neff. My paper is about Feminism in the era of the Quantified Self: Agency, labour and future markets. I examine dominant discourses of empowerment in apps targeting women (reproductive health and well being), and I discuss how far data collection has the potential to make the voices of women heard, beyond the articulation of consumer demands about digital health. This is new work in progress. 

 

On Friday, October 7, between 11:00 – 12:30, we’re discussing feminist approaches to big data culture with Helen Kennedy (Sheffield), Jean Burgess, Kate Crawford, Rosemary Lucy Hill, & Kate O’Riordan, in the first roundtable session. The plenary session focuses on visions and imagining of feminist big data futures. The key question is: what would feminist big data, data studies and datavis look like? And as the organiser Helen K. put it in the abstract for the session: ‘How can and should feminists respond to the rise of big data? Given that critique of the assumed objectivity and neutrality of big data and related methods has a feminist history, feminist scholars are well-placed to respond to the problems that big data usher forth. One outcome of objectivity critique is a heavy reliance on qualitative methods in feminist research, yet it is precisely because of the types of problems that feminist scholarship has been so good at identifying that there is a need not just for feminist critiques of quantitative methods, data and assumptions of objectivity, but for feminism to do big data and data visualisation. In other words, we need feminist data studies which is active in creating, representing and communicating data. How do we move forward from critiques of data as not really objective, but cooked, to understanding how and why it matters to feminists and feminism? How do we respond to Haraway’s proposal that encoding and visualisation are inherently patriarchal projects? What might feminist big data, data studies and datavis look like?’

Feminism, hormones and the Quantified Self: Imagining data futures

I look forward to talking about feminism and data in the University of Leeds (School of Media and Communication) soon. This is work that will appear in a Chapter about reproductive rights, digital media and feminism in my forthcoming book, later this year.

March 23rd, 2016 | Time: 16:15 — 17:30

Media and Communication, University of Leeds

Room G.12, Clothworkers’ North Building.

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Feminism, hormones and the Quantified Self: Imagining data futures

There is a proliferation of tracking apps today that can be used to monitor fertility and reproductive hormones (Lupton, 2015). Reproductive control has been a key issue for feminism, and women have always logged their data in some way; however, it is with digital technologies and smart phones that data collection carries a promise of significant life changes. 

Although the Quantified Self has been described to be mostly about ‘toys for boys’, smart, geeky, talented’ women involved in sensor hacking organise women-only Quantified Self meetups in the US, to discuss hormonal tracking. At the same time, projects such as the Hormone Project aim to bring together women who self-track, doctors and researchers, in order to influence innovation in biotech and personalized health. This paper examines such developments and asks how far data collection has the potential to make the voices of women heard, beyond the articulation of consumer demands about digital health. Placing my analysis within frameworks of gendered and reproductive labour and their centrality to global capitalism (Dickenson, 2007; Franklin and Lock, 2003; Thompson, 2005), I discuss how the material and semiotic intersect in the making of data and feminist futures.