Paper at the FWSA’s 2013 conference ‘The Lady Doth Protest: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations’ news that my paper Feminist spaces and digital methodologies: Mapping the issue of reproductive technologies as a social controversy (such a long title!), has been accepted for the FWSA’s 2013 conference ‘The Lady Doth Protest: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations’, 21st – 23rd June 2013 (FWSA is the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association, UK & Ireland).

This paper maps debates around reproductive technologies and commercialisation which evolved in the global public sphere after the 2011 consultation on egg donation. The consultation was launched by the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and concerned, amongst other issues, the review of payment for egg donors for IVF. This is primarily a digital issue-netwok mapping (of a social controversy  online), including key policy and feminist iterations from campaigns, the news, weblogs and academic papers. The paper also reflects on digital issue mapping as a methodological choice for researching feminist spaces and interventions.

Keywords: reproductive technologies, commercialisation, digital mapping, egg donation, social controversy

Article published: Intersectionality Queer Studies and Hybridity

My article Intersectionality Queer Studies and Hybridity: Methodological Frameworks for Social Research has been published, along with the other winning and shortlisted essays of the 2010 Feminist and Women’s studies Association (FWSA) and is available online (see Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol 13, #2, March 2012).

This article seeks to draw links between intersectionality and queer studies as epistemological strands by examining their common methodological tasks and by tracing some similar difficulties of translating theory into research methods. Intersectionality is the systematic study of the ways in which differences such as race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity and other sociopolitical and cultural identities interrelate. Queer theory, when applied as a distinct methodological approach to the study of gender and sexuality, has sought to denaturalise categories of analysis and make normativity visible. By examining existing research projects framed as ‘queer’ alongside ones that use intersectionality, I consider the importance of positionality in research accounts. I revisit Judith Halberstam’s (1998) ‘Female Masculinity’ and Gloria Anzaldua’s (1987) ‘Borderlands’ and discuss the tension between the act of naming and the critical strategical adoption of categorical thinking. Finally, I suggest hybridity as one possible complementary methodological approach to those of intersectionality and queer studies. Hybridity can facilitate an understanding of shifting textual and material borders and can operate as a creative and political mode of destabilising not only complex social locations, but also research frameworks.
Keywords: intersectionality, hybridity, queer studies

IR12 paper: Web crawling, network narratives and performing political identities

In IR12, my paper was part of the panel Political subjects and political fields: Or how technology happens twice, with Dr. Caroline Bassett and Dr. Kate O’Riordan. Axel Bruns (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia) has blogged about the paper.

Further to my previous post about Seattle, here is the Abstract of my paper:

Digital mapping tools, like the Issue Crawler, have been employed to visualise networks of civil society organisations and other political actors around specific issues. This application poses questions about how objects of study, like the mediated activity of emerging political collectivities, can be thought in relation to research tools. What is the role of network mapping in framing and enabling activist identities? This paper draws on empirical work which studied a network forming around the Feminism in London 2009 conference and foregrounds the disarticulation between individual ethnographic accounts and the narrative provided by web crawling. In this case, the performance of political identities, fostered by imaginaries of a networked movement, informs the formation of agenda issues. The intensification of issue-oriented political activity and its mediation online involve practices of reading and the exchange of stories which stabilise these identities. Digital maps showing this mediated activity only manage to depict a single issue bound to a single political identity. In other words, web crawling absorbs the tensions, heterogeneity, and the complex practices of imagining, interpreting and archiving narratives involved in the making of contemporary feminist identities. In this way, Issue Crawler is at the same time a representational technology and a digital narrative which creates the conditions for certain political identities to be publicly visible. It therefore needs to be critically approached as itself a context which legitimises certain stories over others and therefore, along with the researcher, as a political actor in the production of knowledge.

Digifem conference odyssey and other adventures

EDIT 22 July:

The digifem Doctoral conference I organised with Laurence happened on the 5th of July and it was good – we got lots of good feedback, lots of love and hugs – new faces and exciting projects, all in one day’s programme. Some people said this was pretty intense and felt a bit squashed at times – and I too would have appreciated a bit more space for discussion.

Anne Welsh wrote a review about the day in the UCL Digital Humanities blog – and eagerly tweeted along with Karen and Catherine Redfern (f-word, one of the invited keynote speakers) during the day as well (the archive of the tweets here).

I am particularly sensitive to Adi’s critique of the day (Adi Kuntsman was one of the invited keynote speakers) as an event focused on white, middle-class, educated and gender-normative feminism. The scopes of the day were to give voice to interdisciplinarity, to talk about methods, and bring together researchers who are positioned as feminists in their work (this was also the idea behind the words ‘feminist approaches’ for me – Kate O’Riordan posed a question about how ‘feminist approaches’ can be equally essentialist to ‘feminist methods’). The Call for Papers went out to lists like the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), Brighton and Sussex Sexuality Network (BSSN), Womens Studies, the Media, Cultural Studies and Communication Association (MeCCSA) and various other academic lists. It also went arount non-academic lists like the Feminist Activist Forum (about it ) and Feminist Fightback list and, I think,  it went out to the Queer Mutiny Brighton folk as well. I’m saying that we consciously tried to engage with a broad definition of ‘feminist’ – both academic and non-academic. It seems that this is not always succesful or perhaps different positions within feminism were not heard explicitly during the day. I think that asking what is  ‘feminist’ or ‘queer’  in approaches and methodologies is important, especially when these words operate as umbrella terms for a set of assumptions.

But I am also very uncomfortable with the characterisation ‘middle-class’ – to clarify, I understand and accept that Adi’s critique concerns the focus of the event, the kinds of feminism which were examined, and not persons. My uncomfortability is with ‘middle-class’ when this is used to describe all people involved in higher education or working within academia. Many of the speakers were unfunded students, many were non-british, and some were on benefits. It is important to be reflexive of our own privileges as researchers placed within the academy or/and as using Doctorate studies as a transition from working class to middle-class status. Still for some this transition takes longer than for others and for some it never actually happens. Sleeping in a hostel or desperately trying to find somebody to host you at their airbed so that you can attend a free-event (free food) and minimise costs (to travel expenses) while on a strict budget is a material reality for some Doctoral students during a minimum of three years. This kind of reality is difficult to grasp for middle class people – and it is the specificity of raciality and ethnicity that need to be accounted as well – middle class in greece and middle class in britain is a different set of conditions. I think that the tendency to name  educational events and cultures middle class actually performatively operates as an interpelation (see Judith Butler’s work on Athusser’s concept of interpellation) – it constructs the subjects it supposedly questions (middle class as tantamount to educated) and it makes working class, non-britishness and non-whiteness invisible.

Apart from feeling a bit invisible in terms of class and ethnicity, I feel happy to have met Zem Moffat and hear her talk about Mirror Mirror (I’ve written about this here last year) and ask her questions and also speed-date with her academically at the dinner in Planet India later. Sussex holds a copy of her film, and she told me there is a course on Shared Anthropology which will be including it in the student material. And I’m happy to have met Red (again) and hear her talk with enthusiasm about her PhD project on feminist memory .

I’ll soon complete a proper report for the event – which will be for the Sussex Doctoral School blog.

As for other adventures, Red kindly asked me for an interview and she even called me inspirational! Thanks Red, I may be grumpy about research blogs but I actually take this as an invitation to reconnect with my blog 🙂

And Kate O’Riordan revisits internet research ethics in a e-research ethics blog post where she draws

‘attention to mediation, to the relations between technologies, spaces, texts and people. My manifesto point is that importing one size fits all models of informed consent [which themselves have problematic provenance] – or assuming that human subjects do not appear – can both be failures to open up an ethical space. Conversely a close attention to the relations of internet research – and a relational account – could provide an opportunity to develop a more critical analysis of the current technocultural conjuncture’ (my emphasis).

Notes – ANT and topology

Notes from Law, J. (1999) ‘After ANT: Complexity, naming and topology’ in Law, J. amd Hassard, J. (eds) Actor Network Theory and after, Blackwell

Here John Law addresses the problem of ANT becoming a homogeneous ‘theory’ whose ‘productive non-coherence’ and ‘capacity to apprehend complexity'(8) has been eroded by the very incorporation of ANT. What has come to hardly matter is exactly the tension between ‘actor’ and ‘networ’, which in the process of naming was an oxymoron intentionally created. Drawing on the history of actor-network-theory, he points to two different approaches to what ANT has come to be understood as.

  1. relational materiality (or semiotics of materiality):  As such, ANT represents an anti-essentialist framework whereby entities have no inherent qualities and are produced in relations. Divisions are understood as effects and outcomes and not given in  the order of things.
  2. performativity: entities are performed by and through these relations. The question of how, the how these entities gain their fixity through performativity, is for Law what ANT came to be associated with, a managerial task as he calls it.

What ANT clearly did, and as Annemarie Mol points out, is provide an alternative non-conformable spatiality which wages war to Euclidean topology. And to make this meaningful, stress how Euclidean spatiality carries with it certain understandings and socio-technical discourses and practices.  ANT de-naturalises these notions of the topographically natural and essentialist difference. It is in networks that regions are constituted and networks become this way alternative topological systems (nation-states in Mol are made of telephone systems paperwork etc).

The problem for Law is how the notion of the network has itself become naturalised and by this he refers to the process of ANT studies to refer to the how. For him the network concept leaves the character of relations open, does not aim to fix them, to stabilise them in an interpretation, just to translate them (make equivalents).

It is unclear to me if Law means that the problem with what ANT has come to mean or to be used as is actually its virtue as a form of spatiality. Does he mean that translation is a descriptive and neutral practice? Does he detest the fact that, as an alternative form of spatiality, the network limits the possible links that can be made (and thus the possible entities that can be produced)? Because as I understand this, noting the restrictions and the limits of possible relations is not tantamount to homogenising the links. This is not even my understanding of naturalisation, but on  the contrary, of de-naturalisation.  Seeing the notion of the network as an endless possibility and unproblematically incorporating it as an alternative topology carries itself certain assumptions and has its own underpinnings of socio-technical practices. It is also confusing how object integrity is thought as a matter of retaining the links, and just that. To be frank, I don’t get why there is such an insistence about not looking at the how.