This special issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online, “Traversing Technologies,” emanated from a seven-month colloquia series held in 2013–2014, “Feminist & Queer Approaches to Technoscience,” hosted and primarily funded by the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto. The aim of the colloquia series was to explore different feminist and queer approaches to technoscience. Technoscience as a term follows a twentieth-century itinerary, from Gaston Bachelard to Bruno Latour to Donna Haraway, and has been used to connect the study of scientific and technical knowledge with the politics of its worldly results in processes as diverse as militarization, feminism, and governance. The colloquia examined myriad issues, including cyber-feminism, environmental politics, the colonial politics of data in scientific research, values in design, video and installation art, performance, gender and video games, hacktivism, surveillance technologies, and virtual technologies in militarism, to name a few. Each of the speakers in the colloquia and the authors in this issue take as a starting point that while the predominant technology policies, practices, and philosophies within Canada and the United States have delivered some benefits to some people in these countries, they have not been designed to respond to the needs and desires of different people around the world. Instead, they have been designed primarily to respond to the needs of states, militaries, and corporations. The speakers in the colloquia and authors in this issue offer alternative perspectives on technoscience that reimagine design, policy, use, and philosophy, grounded in ways that subvert these dominant knowledge production processes while offering alternative ways of knowing and creating technoscience.
This issue of S&F Online brings together a range of materials from the colloquia series and some additional content: articles from some of the speakers (micha cárdenas, Lisa Cartwright and Andy Rice, Anna Watkins Fisher, Janine Marchessault, Shaka McGlotten and Scott Webel), articles from additional contributors (Safiya Umoja Noble and Margaret Rhee), videos and transcripts of the talks (Shannon Bell, micha cárdenas, Lisa Cartwright, Jennifer Jenson, Janine Marchessault, Shaka McGlotten, Michelle Murphy, Zabet Patterson, Kavita Philip, David Phillips, and Lucy Suchman), and video art created and produced by Prabar Pilar.
The theme, “Traversing Technologies,” is meant to evoke the multifarious ways that technologies—both social and material—are deployed across a range of infrastructures that are themselves also technically or socially constructed. Implicated therein are issues of equity and social inclusion, race and racialization, intersectionality, the discriminatory impacts of surveillant assemblages, and the fate of feminist and queer techno-futures. “Traverse” as a term also evokes the way these authors and speakers, together and separately, trace the contours of feminist and queer approaches to technoscience and cross disciplinary and methodological boundaries, drawing from diverse critical traditions that expand technoscience studies.
Infrastructures of shit is the topic of Shaka McGlotten and Scott Webel’s “Poop Worlds: Material Culture and Copropower (or, Toward a Shitty Turn).” In this article, McGlotten and Webel take up a topic that has mostly escaped scholarly interrogation, despite the necessarily material qualities of excrement, non-discriminately involving bodies of all ages, types, genders, and cultures, as well as evolving modes of waste disposal systems and environmental concerns. Worlding poop, then, is their way to bring to light (and life) the history, racialized and sexualized politics, and semiotics of shit. They utilize the idea of copropower to discuss the biopolitical governmentalities surrounding poop. McGlotten and Webel’s scatalogical turn in scholarship is especially important when it comes to the policing, disciplining, and management of the human and ecological impacts of our everyday excrement.
In “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies,” Safiya Umoja Noble explores, through Black feminist traditions such as the Combahee River Collective, whether a liberatory and intersectional internet is possible. She contends that internet infrastructures contribute to the continuing oppressive conditions of Black life in the US and in the African diaspora, and her article eloquently strives to make these links visible. An intersectional analysis, she argues, brings together the material assemblages of technologies and labor that have very human implications for equity and health. Black lives are on the line when it comes to developing and mining the material infrastructures for internet and mobile technologies, such as coltan extraction in the Congo, the manufacturing of chips in Southeast Asia and Silicon Valley, and in the raced and gendered service industry propping up the vast wealth accumulated by social media firms. Keeping up the pressure for feminist interventions in the development and critique of technologies is key.
Margaret Rhee’s “In Search of My Robot: Race, Technology, and the Asian American Body” unpacks how public discourse, science fiction, and feminist cyborg scholarship have configured the Asian American as a racialized machine. Specifically, Rhee reveals how the robot serves as a trope for Asian Americans and a site of racialization redolent with political issues of labor (the “nimble fingers” of racialized women working in the IT industry) and immigration. In her analyses of cyborg imagery, she unpacks the notion of what she describes as “racial recalibration,” which positions the Asian American and Asian as robot through “aesthetic tinkering, hacking, and recreating with emergent technologies that re-wires racial knowledge.”
micha cárdenas’s article “Trans of Color Poetics: Stitching Bodies, Concepts, and Algorithms” uses examples from her own practice-based research projects and other media made by contemporary artists, including Adam Harvey, Zach Blas, and the Electronic Disturbance Theater, that explore the transformations of social relations. These artworks interrogate the impact of surveillance in our everyday lives and propose critical and creative modes to subvert and circumvent the surveillant gaze. cárdenas calls for a trans of color poetics to enable movement and mobility for trans people of color, who are unwanted recipients of surveillance from the state. To operationalize trans of color poetics, cárdenas evokes the avowedly feminist stitch that can create algorithmic methods that extend intersectional and assemblage models for challenging surveillance technologies. As the article explores, artists use the stitch to strengthen social ties and bonds, with the objective of reducing violence and creating sustainable and healthy livelihoods.
The history, culture, and gendered subjectivity and intersubjectivity of the small viewfinderless action camera is the topic of Lisa Cartwright and D. Andy Rice’s “My Hero: A Media Archaeology of Tiny Viewfinderless Cameras as Technologies of Intra-Subjective Action.” They propose that viewerless action cameras concentrate seeing as partial and negotiate a distributed subjectivity. As they document, the contemporary popularity of the GoPro Hero action cameras has historical antecedents in the Kodak Brownie, introduced at the turn of the twentieth century. But also, they argue, the technology of the sonogram and the Portapak video recorder used vividly by performance artists in the 1970s speak to a new type of distributed camera-body system. Tantalizingly, Cartwright and Rice argue that the overt reflexivity of such video and performance art (with examples provided from performance artists VALIE EXPORT and Vito Acconci) presaged the prevalence of contemporary selfie culture and the body-mounted action camera.
Anna Watkins Fisher, in her article “User Be Used: Leveraging the Play in the System” , provides a prehistory of parasitism in order to augment a political economy of networks characterized by monopolized power and the marketization of social media platforms such as Facebook. In describing the vexed nature of the participatory culture of such platforms, where the allure of friending and sharing obscures the overt commodification of users’ content, Fisher refers to the “the coercive hospitality of new media.” Indeed, the business model of social media and the algorithms that govern our participation are themselves embedded in a deeper logic of neoliberalism. Parasitism, which she describes as “an anti-strategy for contesting the protocols of neoliberal hospitality from the inside” emerged strongly from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and is illustrated through examples of “conceptual hacks” of the media behemoths Google and Amazon by the group Ubermorgen and Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio.
“Final Frontier: Heritage Villages, Collective Memory, and Urban Futures” by Janine Marchessault describes art projects that explore sustainable urban design. Through creative and provocative site-specific interventions that engage the public, these projects reorient the familiar into unexpected terrains. Marchessault unpacks several Public Access Collective (PAC) interventions in Toronto, such as The Leona Drive Project, a show featuring installations that addressed the disintegration and redevelopment of suburban homes. In this instance, abandoned homes resembling plastic Monopoly houses, waiting to be razed and turned into monster homes, became a site to, as she writes, “excavate the smaller vernacular histories of the postwar city.” Land|Slide Possible Futures, held in an open-air historical village, dealt with a land use dispute in the Toronto suburb of Markham between developers and environmentalists over Canada’s first food belts. For Marchessault, these projects, pedagogical in spirit, all point to a vision for a sustainable urban future.
Prabar Pilar’s Enigma Symbiotica is a multi-year video art project on the enigmatic riddle of our symbiosis with increasing technologized modes that are rapidly accelerating our demise. Pilar begins to crack the code of the ideology of globalized neoliberal techno-capitalism, a modernist project that extends colonial violence. She aims to agitate, hack, and glitch the contemporary “Cult of the Techno-Logic,” to infect others with a renewed Refusal to collaborate in their own destruction by generating a differential, creative imaginary for our shared future.
This issue owes its creation in no small part to the time and generosity of others. Matthew Brower, who served as co-chair of the Feminist & Queer Approaches to Technoscience Colloquium, lent his patience, guidance, and good advice whenever needed. Benjamin Walsh helped facilitate the colloquia series and designed all of the posters. Rebecka Sheffield drafted all of the transcripts for the talks. Trish Adamson provided initial copyediting for the essays. Tami Navarro and Anne Jonas at The Scholar & Feminist Online have been patient and supportive editors throughout the process. David Rice and Hilary Plum provided significant copyediting. A Connection Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council provided funds for the colloquia series. Several units at the University of Toronto also generously contributed: the Women and Gender Studies Institute, the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of Visual Culture, the Centre for the Study of the United States, and the Institute for the History and Philosophy and Science and Technology. Finally, this special issue and the colloquia series from which it emerged are extravagantly indebted to the permeable rialto of common lending, borrowing, and exchange found in the Toronto-based Technoscience Research Unit and Salon led by Michelle Murphy and Natasha Myers. Without the Research Unit’s community and infrastructure, the colloquia would not have generated the large audiences that motivated the creation of this issue.
- First published in Discourse 36, no. 3 (2014), with a later version appearing in New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Anna Watkins Fisher with Thomas Keenan (New York: Routledge, 2015), 297-310. [Return to text]