July 10, 2014
In the conclusion of my conclusion to Ada’s Special Issue on Queer Feminist Media Praxis, “It’s Our Collective, Principled Making that Matter Most,” I write:
AIDS activist video and New Queer Cinema are celebrating, respectively, their twenty-five and twenty year anniversaries, and I am connected, as a media maker and theorist to both traditions. As someone who participated in these earlier instances of feminist/queer media praxis (if not revolution), I first affirm that they were each deeply technological; we were always abetted by media, even if this was not yet digital in nature. And, in the living and doing—just as defines our work today—these “movements” (which were, at the time, something closer to linked moments of making; a movement tends to be found retrospectively), felt (as did the Sixties in its living and doing?) enormously small, fleeting, difficult, complex, impossible to render and realize and utterly wonderful and productive.
In my experience, the making and living of alternative, counter or radical culture, through media praxis, does not feel fully revolutionary in its own time because each act of making is too small, unstable, marginal, and precarious; the dominant culture, and its media praxis, looms large, solid, and powerful. And yet, each of these risky acts makes not just media that lasts for future study (and sometimes consolidation as a movement) but small, beautiful, fleeting instants of potential—”revolutionary-instants”—that we recognize and celebrate mostly in their doing and living, and of course, mourn in their immediate passing (only then, sometimes, to also reify in their later study and consolidation).
And, when I make feminist queer media praxis with others today (like this issue here and this writing in this issue), just as was true in the recent past, my work continues to feel incredibly small, local, marginal, frustrating, incidental and sometimes or even often emancipatory in the instants that are the instances of its more radical, collective, visionary doing and making. Brown continues about times better for feminist revolution:
When poetry becomes political, when politics becomes erotic, when thinking is de-commodified and comes to feel as essential to life as food and shelter, not only do ordinary fields of activity become libidinally charged, but this desublimated condition itself betokens (however illusorily) an emancipated world to come.
I know that there have been moments, and actions, and movements in the past where that feeling of revolution feels closer to hand and body than it can today with both technology and capitalism standing between us and nearly everything that we might want or imagine. But instances of essential, libidinal emancipation can be lived, felt, and practiced in our (digital) world structured as it is ever more deeply by capital, in the sparks of political and intellectual attraction, action, and energy we can read (about) here, in instants of ethical interaction that first built what you read here, and in your potential to produce ethical interactions through your own digital engagement with this material. A revolution; not in the least! But queer feminist media praxis that marks that there are alternatives through our collective, principled making, without doubt.
See what I’m talking about here: essays by Aristea Fotopoulou, Kate O’Riordan, Tully Barnett, Megan Bigelow, Dayna McLeod, Jasmine Rault, T.L. Cowan, Karin Hansson, Rachel Alpha, Johnston Hurst, Olu Jenzen, Irmi Karl, Susana Loza, Lusike Lynete Mukhongo, Darnell Moore, Monica J. Casper, Michelle Moravec, Lindsey O’Connor, Noopur Raval, Roxanne Samer, Jenny Sundén, and Joanna Zylinska.
May 28, 2014
This spring was my first attempt to helm the Munroe Center for Social Inquiry’s Speaker’s Series. This year’s theme was Technology. The Center also runs a seminar connected to the series, so each week, a small group of student-fellows also got the chance to engage intimately with the Center’s renowned visitors.
Without question, this was one of the most profound learning experiences I have had as a professor, but not simply because of the challenging, diverse, exciting and even controversial (see above) talks given each week by our esteemed visitors. Rather, it was my unparalleled and inspiring opportunity, each and every week for a semester, to watch another venerated professor and professional engage with undergraduates in a seminar space and our broader Claremont community over meals, through a more formal presentation, and in the liberal arts classroom. Each speaker embodied his or her authority, expertise, and role as a teacher from an entirely different angle, just as each came to us thinking about and working with technology through entirely different disciplines, devices, and orientations.
When I taught a portion of the class at the nearby Men’s Prison, Norco, with four of the seminar fellows and several of our speakers taking on this extra commitment, we all learned in profound ways how it is teaching itself that may very well be the technology most necessary, staying, and empowering from the many we considered over the semester. The resulting final project, a zine authored by my students at Pitzer and those at Norco, considered the profound relevance of the theories and histories of technology that we so carefully studied in our cozy classroom and stately lecture halls to humans denied access to most modern technologies as a core technology of their punishment. We learned again and again that teaching and learning can occur without the digital, or even pencils.
In fact, wrapping up what I learned about technology and pedagogy, because of the high-level of preparation and engagement of my seminar students, I learned a great deal from them; they each engaged in inspiring and diverse research projects, from living without a laptop, to theorizing the essence of a video game, to the role of cameras in live experiences like concerts, as presented in the video here:
Next year’s theme will be Virus, and I look forward to another transformative set of experiences during the 2014-2015 school year.
Please see my conversation with Ted Kerr, Programs Manager at Visual AIDS, recently published at Cineaste. Initially asked to discuss Dallas Buyer’s Club we felt we needed to take a lengthier look at the much broader phenomenon of retrospective looking at AIDS fueled by home movie images of the crisis, often shot by AIDS video activists like myself. In the piece we suggest that “the past, signified by the home movies of AIDS, in particular, has many cultural functions, and just as many cultural formations. We begin with Matthew McConaughey’s butt (where else!), and use it as our entry into a lengthy discussion of Dallas Buyers Club, as well as nearly a score of past and present alternative AIDS videos that also broker in activist made home-movie-like images of a crisis past—Like a Prayer (DIVA TV, 1989), Keep Your Laws Off My Body (Catherine Saalfield, Zoe Leonard, 1990), Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Mark Rappaport, 1992), Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Silverlake Life (Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin, 1993), Video Remains (Alexandra Juhasz, 2005), Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008), How to Survive a Plague (2012), Heart Breaks Open (William Maria Rain, 2011), Liberaceón (Chris Vargas, 2011), Sex in an Epidemic (Jean Carlomusto, 2011), We Were Here (David Weissman, 2011), When Did you Figure Out You had AIDS (Vincent Chevalier, 2011), United in Anger (Jim Hubbard, 2012), Untitled (Jim Hodges, Carlos Marques da Cruz, Encke King, 2012), Bumming Cigarettes (Tiona McClodden, 2012), he said (Irwin Swirnoff, 2013), and the poster campaign Your Nostalgia is Killing Me (Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin, 2013). With Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013), we return our conversation to more conventional fare before concluding our thoughts upon so many home video returns.”
“Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin
April 23, 2014
I highly recommend the new ADA, Publishing and Its Discontents. I haven’t read it all, but greatly enjoyed the piece on “Feminist Journal Editing,” by Lisa McLaughlin, longtime editor of Feminist Media Studies. She carefully and honestly talks through the joys, disturbances and contradictions of both working for Taylor & Francis and the field she loves.
Speaking of content, participation and peer review, I’m co-editing ADA 5, “Queer Feminist Media Praxis,” with Kate O’Riordan and Aristea Fotopoulou, and our open peer-review is now open. That means you can join the collective and review one of the amazing articles we’ve gathered for this effort, articles of great range from “Love in the Time of Racism,” to “Unghosting Apparitional Lesbian History.”
If you’re not a member of Fembot Collective, the first step is to join. Email me, and I can nominate you. Once you’re a member you can join the effort. Of course, part of our feminist praxis is community, connection, mentorship, engagement, and dialogue, so I hope that will entice you.
This blog post serves a second function: it is also my contribution to the Pitzer College publication, The Engaged Faculty Collection, a project spearheaded by my colleague Tessa Hicks Peterson as part of the Celebrate Pitzer at 50 festivities. This collection tracks the College’s forward thinking, active, and ongoing engagement, across its history, to practices and methods known variously as community-based learning, civic engagement, and action research. I am quite proud of my small part in this history, the large part that Pitzer Media Studies has played (with our core commitments to social justice and community-based media education), and the truly inspiring, and often unsung work of my colleagues and college in this regard.
In this short piece, I will frame, and then point/link to five of my most recent research/pedagogy/writing projects within my feminist media studies/practice, one that has always tried to at once understand, inhabit, teach in and about, and work for change within the communities and movements that matter to me. In the recent projects that follow, that “community” has become the Internet, a space both different from and indebted to the many other places with which I have engaged across my career.
1) When I arrived at Pitzer College in 1995, I was embraced as a committed mediamaker/theorist whose work was situated within the AIDS activist and feminist media communities, and the queer (of color) art and activist worlds. My work was, and continues to be about making and theorizing media production as part of social justice movements in which I am a member. When the digital emerged as a powerful place where all media can and often do converge, I moved parts of my practice there, developing a website connected to my Pitzer and sometimes CGU course, Media Praxis (in Ontario), that asked students to think about the 100 year history of activist media practice and theory while making a piece of such media themselves.
(To be clear: to read this article, you need to actually follow the links to things I’ve already made and already written, thus evidencing the new kinds of “Internet, or Multi-Modal writing” (and reading) I’ve been exploring and theorizing as part of my feminist digital practice: shorter, recursive forms, with a different tone that are often for broader audiences and based on the reading logics of the Internet, one of which is our hope for the fast and breezy. To be clear, this contribution is actually really long if you follow and read all the links!)
If you go the Media Praxis site, for example, you will see a great deal of activity, writing, and even more linking by my students, over several semesters. This evening-out of authority, this sharing of voice, has always been part of my media activism, and feminist pedagogy, but is much more easily realized in my “writing” when it occurs on the Internet where norms of “publication” begin to change in line with those of “authoring.”
2) In 2007, I took my Media Praxis to YouTube, and taught a course on and about the site, Learning from YouTube, to much media fanfare. As I explained above, my feminist, community-based practice has always tried to reside in the spaces it hopes to know, change, and better understand, all the while speaking in vernaculars best suited for that place and its community.
I taught the course several more times, and in each iteration, I asked students to think critically about their learning in the lived space of the elite liberal arts classroom as it is pressed into and against the “democratic” spaces of the Internet. How do we learn in these linked spaces? How might we write? What might we demand of corporate space to function more like the learning communities that we inhabit (at great cost)? What do we lose when we “learn” for free in the wilds of the Internet? For the class, my students did all their work as YouTube videos or comments, thereby evidencing the same formal imperative I am demonstrating here: to think and write in the new forms, formats, and platforms that currently shape much of the ever-more linked world of ideas, culture, and commerce in our era.
My students’ brilliant “writing”—like the video above that comments on commenting culture using the vernacular of that very culture—prominently shapes my “video-book” about the course, also called Learning from YouTube (MIT Press, 2011). You can “experience” the video-book to learn more about what my students and I learned about/on YouTube (it’s fun and free! If you are intimidated by its unfamiliar form, take the “tour” called “YouTube Is” by clicking on the left bottom box: it’s a short introduction to the main ideas structuring the project). Or you can read about it here, in an editorial I wrote for Inside Higher Education, “A Truly New Genre.”
And here’s a short interview I did about the class with “design guru” Bill Moggridge, as part of his influential Designing Media Project. There, you’ll find me sandwiched (the nasty cream filling…) between some truly powerful and sometimes great forces within the new media industry. My Pitzer-esque critique of capital and other powerful forces shaping this environment plays a critical role in this very public conversation.
3) While I believe that the critical (and sometime local) community that I produced in the class about YouTube, and our interventions into corporate media space were successful, the great amount of time I spent inside of this hostile, stupid, and unruly environment led me to want to build my own Internet spaces better aligned with my values as educator, activist, and artist, rather than merely criticizing those that have been handed to us for free. This led to my next large teaching/research/building project, Feminist Online Spaces: a website, course, and set of lecture/performances that asked the question what the Internet might look like if it was more like the lived space of a feminist classroom: safe, principled, activist by definition, open, collaborative, and committed to the co-production of knowledge and community. Built from my writing and research, that of my students over several years, and little feminist objects made by workshop participants from around the world, this site/class asks participants to think about the making and circulating of media fragments as part of/distinct from the larger aims of political communities (online and off). How do we bring the values, norms, methods, and affect of lived and local (feminist) spaces to the Internet and how do we bring the Internet to these spaces?
This line of work led me to three more places:
- a theoretical and political plea to leave, cede, or link to the Internet (from the lived world) as core to activist media production. I end my piece for The Militant Research Handbook by saying: “Finally, my ‘research’ and teaching on the Internet—in the feminist spaces I build and interact in—have led me to believe that the writing and object-making that happens there, in the name of understanding and enacting feminist expression online, begs us to think past the digital, beyond representation, and back to bodies and lived spaces. This means two things: we need to continue to be critical of the Internet inside of the Internet, and we also need to leave it by linking (or editing or organizing) out to the world and other activists and actions and thereby into realms of behavior, interaction, and feeling that are neither commodifiable nor stuck. Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins.”
- 4) an art show, PerpiTube, about YouTube and community-building, co-curated with Pato Hebert, that lived for a summer in the Pitzer Art Galleries, and in perpetuity on YouTube, and was produced in engagement with several of our local community-based partners, while also connecting these communities to like (virtual) partners around the world.
- FemTechNet, my most recent, and even more ambitious “x-reality” project (built within the connected fabrics of on and offline community spaces and experiences, the term is Beth Coleman‘s). With co-facilitator, Anne Balsamo, and a network of feminist educators and artists from around the world, we successfully took on the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) with our feminist reevaluation, the DOCC, Distributed Online Collaborative Course. I am proud to admit that I may be one of the few college professors around to have been lambasted twice, for two separate media projects, by Fox News!
5) You can read about FemTechNet’s inception here, or here, or look at its pretty impressive media coverage here. I’ve lately found myself speaking to university administrators, IT leaders, and fellow humanities professors about how digital technology can better on-the-ground learning. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the successful challenge of FemTechNet’s DOCC to the more corporate, top-down, imperialist, unresponsive course offerings modelled by MOOCs is a collective application of many of the feminist principles of pedagogy and community-based learning I’ve been discussing throughout. It’s been invigorating and gratifying to see people who might be unconvinced about “feminism,” become quite impressed by the platforms, structures, methods and outcomes it produces for teaching.
And so, I haven’t come full circle, really. I’ve stayed true to Pitzer, and at home in its communities and values, while entering the Internet to bring Pitzer there and the world (of the Internet) to Pitzer. This is an exciting expansion of community that also stays true to the small and local, that honors and thinks about difference without flattening it, that lives and teaches ethically, that co-creates knowledge while being self-aware of power both in outside the room, all the while staying invested in self- and world-making, and staying true to the community-based practices we’ve developed at the College even as it departs (at times) from lived community to do so.
March 14, 2014
FemTechNet, collaborative makers of “the anti-MOOC,” were graciously, no I’d even say studiously received by leaders of the bellies-of-the-beast at last weekend’s Online Learning Summit, hosted by Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford (the great research institutions who put money and a spotlight on what would first be the year, but quickly the boondoggle of, the MOOC.). President Hennessy of Stanford started us off by indicating that the Massive of MOOCs should really be rethought as the moderate; and Open ended up generating a host of problems people hadn’t quite predicted (particularly the great differences of skills, knowledge, and attention of the masses who came; demonstrating “a dynamic range of ability.”)
The speakers at the Summit were interested to name both what MOOCs have proven to be good and not so capable at:
- not good at generating revenue
- not good at “human content-enhanced learning” (Ellen Junn, Provost, CSU, Dominguez Hills) or feeling connected to what one learns or the “human touch”
- not good at much besides content-provision, and isn’t learning more than this?
- great for book-clubs for life-learners (alumni, people with little access to quality education)
- great as text-books to be used by working professors in their own classes; in a new world of “more content” teachers will be able to use MOOCs and other open content to choose between and enhance their own teaching
- great opportunities to learn about learning; educate the educator
- great at further stratifying an already-stratified higher education system whereby elite institutions (like the ones hosting the event and the one at which I teach) can continue to provide and even improve face-to-face and residential education with the selective, thoughtful use of technology while less-privileged institutions will use technology to try to save costs, educate more “efficiently,” and/or through the noblese oblige of elite institutions who will share their highly produced and exceedingly expensive content for free or at lost cost with the lesser-thans. It appears only 1 million Americans within higher education (1%) currently receive the “Classroom, Quad and Lab” that were once the gold-standard of our liberal education; this 1% will greatly improve through smart uses of digital learning! (Patrick Methvin, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
We went on to hear from administrators, professors and technology professionals about better models—and some wacky experiments, too; all agreed that this was the time for innovation, experimentation and even play (for those with the support to do so)—for digitally enhanced learning (including our own DOCC). Such experiments would use technology to help professors be more than content experts, but also expert pedagogues; thereby “amplifying the effectiveness of professors and students”:
- Learning Management Systems that allowed for live, synchronous classes that are socially networked
- the building of flexible curricula and pedagogy from “units of learning” or self-contained modules (Eric L. Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
- tools to provide more individual and individuated attention
Of course, feminist pedagogy has been making just such claims, and theorizing and practicing from them, for generations (see our white paper), and it’s a thrill, really, to see leaders from across academia listening to our old, successful, and next-gen models!
February 20, 2014
My last post, MOOCing the Liberal Arts? concluded with this suggestion: “For those of us in higher education, including our students, our work is to provide MOOC alternatives by using technology, and other means, to improve what we do and to open access to what we have.”
Today, along with four of my students and a visiting scholar, Gabrielle Foreman, we taught our first of seven classes on Technology at the Norco prison. A little background: our class is one of many being offered through the PEP program (Prison Education Program), run through the visionary leadership of Dr. Renford Reese at Cal Poly Pomona. “The overarching philosophy of PEP is to use the resources in the backyard of each of the state’s prisons to make change e.g. university student and faculty volunteers. There is a college within a 15-20 mile radius of each of the state’s 33 prisons. PEP’s goal is to collaborate with these colleges to assist the CDCR in reducing recidivism in the state by 1% by 2015.” Our class “Technology in Prison,” is a seminar connected to the yearly speaker’s series that I run as director of the Munroe Center for Social Inquiry at Pitzer, this year’s theme being Technology. For seven weeks, some of my speakers and students from the seminar will move our inquiry in place to see how our conversations change, and expand, when engaged with a student population denied access to most of the (digital) technologies that those of us on the outside now take for granted.
But back to my opening remarks about MOOCs. Our class today, a conversation at the highest-level with seventeen eager, intelligent, and open inmates had NOT ONE THING of a MOOC in its infrastructure. While we had paper, the pencils had disappeared; there is no access to the Internet in this classroom; and while we did have several photographs of the work of Dave”The Potter” Drake approved for Dr. Foreman’s use, they also had not materialized by class time. While more technologies could have enhanced our opportunities, we did just fine without them (although, our students hastened to remind us that we did have chairs, and lights, and our own bodies, minds, and will as our quite supportive technological infrastructure.)
As Dr. Foreman explained, Dave the Potter used clay, glaze, tools, his hands, his words, and his many intellectual and political desires, within a system of brutal confinement where both his literacy and his relationship to the market economy were both illegal, and successfully engaged in expressive technologies from which we continue to learn today. So, too, did our students, today, knowing as we did technology through our conversations and community with no need for bigger (massive), even as desire for (more) access was uncontainable. As we struggled to define technology in a space where access to much of (modern, digital) technology was prohibited, we expressed that the tools that we might make, and that just as well might make us, are also only as principled as the humans who desire and engage them. And thus, we did not and can and need not MOOC the prison.