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.

Autumn 2014 update!

There has been so much going on during the last few months and so little time to update the blog! After coming back from the States (my activities there are summarised in this report:  AFotopoulou_Nemode End of Placement052014 –Tracking biodata: Ownership & sharing, research placement output, RCUK Digital Economy NEMODE), I’ve been busy writing up a bunch of articles. My research in San Francisco was only partly about the Quantified Self (there is plenty of ethnographic research being done by anthropologists at the moment, such as Dawn Nafus), and it has resulted in a rather sociological approach to the phenomenon – which got published recently in Open Democracy. Here I raise some questions about the political potential of formations that engage with data policy in some way or another (such as the Quantified Self), and propose that this experimental engagement (a bit geeky, technical, but at the same time involving storytelling and meeting offline) might signify a new type of public, what I heuristically call ‘smart publics’. Of course this idea, and a theorisation of ‘smart publics’, is developed more clearly in an academic article (forthcoming, watch this space!).

At this point, priority for me has taken writing about cultural understandings of data sharing, and the underlying discourses that circulate in the media, particularly in fiction. I have been exploring how circulating ideas of ‘data utopia’ (a utopia of data abundance and a particular vision of democracy) informs user practices. I happily completed a draft of the article, with a working title ‘All these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data’ and due for submission any time now, during a three-day writing retreat at Forrest Hills, in Lancaster, organised by the Department of Sociology. Of course I’ve been testing these ideas since February this year, first in an invited talk at the Center for Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, and then at Crossroads 2014,  the Cultural Studies Conference, in July in Finland, in a panel on Permeable Boundaries: Bodies in Science, Medicine, and Culture.

Joining the Department of Sociology in Lancaster University, on September 1st, has of course been absolutely thrilling – it’s a top department and a great fit for my work – especially because of the Centre for Science Studies and the Gender & Women’s Studies Centre (with current directors Imogen Tyler & Celia Roberts, and former directors Jackie Stacey, Sara Ahmed, Celia Lury, Bev Skeggs, Gail Lewis, Lynne Pearce, Anne-Marie Fortier, Vicky Singleton and Maureen McNeil). I have now the opportunity to complete my monograph ‘Feminist activism and new media: digital and networked by default?’, which will be published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2016. This is based on my PhD thesis but will include some new research and a refined theoretical framework. I pose a question in the subtitle, which many people have found intriguing – and I explain why I pose the question in the article Digital and Networked by default? Women’s organisations and the social imaginary of networked feminism, coming out any day now in New Media & Society. (So watch this space too!)

July also brought about the publication of the special issue on Queer feminist media praxis, which I co-edited with Alex Juhasz and Kate O’Riordan in  Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.5. And the launch of  SusNet – the CCN+ funded network which brings together feminist cultural production, art and activist practices and enables exchanges between different researchers, activists, artists and aims to contribute to knowledge exchanges across these areas and beyond.


So a lot of research activity and productive interactions this Autumn – but I’m also looking forward to teaching Media and Cultural Studies courses. This term I’m teaching the 101 course in Media and Cultural Studies with Adam Fish, and Critical Cultural Theory with Debra Ferreday. Good stuff!


Kira O’Reilly in the plenary discussion Radical art, feminism, new technologies and performance

It is great pleasure to announce that Kira O’Reilly will be participating in the closing plenary session Radical art practices, feminism, new technologies and performance, of the workshop Queer feminist social media praxis (University of Sussex,  Friday 17th May) which I am organising.

More here: Kira O’Reilly in the plenary discussion Radical art, feminism, new technologies and performance.

YECREA representative for the Digital Culture and Communication section

I’m the new elected ECREA Young Scholars Network representative in the Digital Culture and Communication section. In this blog I introduce myself. If you are an early career scholar or Doctoral student working in some aspect of Digital Culture and Communication, do get in contact.

My paper at the Articulating alternatives: agents, spaces and communication in/of a time of crisis

On May 3rd, 2012, I will be giving the paper Digital networks and women: emerging political subjectivities in a time of crisis, at the new scholar workshop Articulating alternatives: agents, spaces and communication in/of a time of crisis, in Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy, Goldsmiths, University of London. This workshop is organised by research felllows Eleftheria Lekakis and Hilde Stephansen. I’m really looking forward to this, especially since the format of the workshop promises to be innovative as well.

I will be arguing in favour of a global governmentality (biopolitical) approach to the crisis – and indicate how my empirical research draws me towards such an analytical approach and away from global civil society frameworks (for instance Connoly 2001, Keane 2003) .