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.


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.


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) .

biopower, biosociality, biopolitics notes

Some definition notes about the concepts of biopolitics, biopower and biosociality.

Biopower appears in Foucault and The History of Sexuality vol. 1 and it examines sovereign power over bodies, or the Right of Death and Power over life. Life becomes the centre of attention in the modernist states of the late 18th century (developed in the 19th), whereby wars are no longer waged in the name of the sovereign but in the name of survival. There are two poles across which power is exersided- the personal (the body, the anatomic) and the public (regulations for polulation control, mechanisms of birth and death).

Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose in their ‘Thoughts on the concept of Biopower today’ clarify the distinction between biopower and biopolitics as: biopower is the attempt to intervene to human existence whereas biopolitics includes the strategies over knowledge, authorities and practices of intervention that are desirable and legitimate.

For Rabinow and Rose, we cannot project the concept of biopower to analyse today’s liberal societies because the notion of’the social’ has declined, several responsibilities have moved to transnational bodies (e.g. EU, WHO) and welfare states have taken up the role of the sovereign (they call these changes ‘mutation’ and they roughly refer to the politics of individual wellbeing(micro/molar) and the politics of polulations(macro/molecular), coming together under single governmental control bodies).

Rabinow’s (1992) concept of biosociality– as examined by Sarah Gibbon and Carlos Novas in the Introductory Chapter of  ‘Biosocialities, Genetics and Social Sciences’ (2008), but also explored in other chapters of the volume. The concept is interesting  to me because it can be employed to explain the emergence of new groupings around new biological identities. Social scientists have tried to understand how ‘potential transformations in understandings of “life” may be involved in reassembling existing cultural, social economic ethical and political practices’ (1). How emerging truths (about what life is, what human is) shape identities and activisms (disease related sociality-identity)-as definition of illness changes (reclassification of illness as genetic, being at genetic risk due to a ‘suspicious’ gene), so do the identities and what is done about them. New opportunities for identifying with others–>organising is different.


tactical biopolitics book review

Marcie Bianco of Feminist Review writes about the new book ‘Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience’, Edited by Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Philip, MIT Press. She notes that

‘The essay on subRosa’s subversive practices that intertwine art, biology, and politics nicely encapsulates the empowering, activist tone of’

the book.