On Sunday, April 5, an invaluable opinion piece was published in the New York Times: “Help Us Learn in Prison” by John J. Lennon. An inmate at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, Lennon makes a nuanced request about education and technology within the American prison. He considers why inmates are allowed and even encouraged to watch television all day while their access to the Internet is limited or more often than not prohibited. He ends with a plea: why not change the accessible technology of choice from TV to MOOCs?

nmates watching television at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, 2002. Credit Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

Inmates watching television at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, 2002. Credit Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

In this post, I’d like to use Lennon’s piece as an opportunity to continue several avenues of thinking and activism of grave concern for me, namely:

  • a situated critique of MOOCs
  • a situated critique of education and technology in the prison
  • a situated critique of education and technology outside the prison, particularly on YouTube and social media more generally

As a founding member of FemTechNet, the collective that successfully offers the DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course) at places of higher learning around the world, I have worked with others to criticize MOOCs from feminist perspectives on education, technology, and neo-liberalism. One of our ongoing claims is that education needs to be situated in the lived environments of learners, whether that be institutional (are you at a community college or an art school?), regional (California or Calcutta?), cultural (what traditions and values matter where we live and learn and how do we speak about them?), or personal (what matters to me?) In their top-down, one-size-fits-all, elitist, scale-and-profit-driven underpinnings, most MOOCs are not particularly responsive to or even interested in the situated, lived differences that make learning (and teaching) both exciting and challenging.

moocvsdocc-infographic-april-2013

This situated critique of MOOCs allows me to heartily second Lennon’s request. I believe that MOOCs are terrific for prisoners and support unlimited access to them as part of a technologically-assisted education.

I began to understand a critically unnamed truth about social justice and social media only made visible through the structuring denial of access to the Internet and other technology as a fundamental feature of contemporary punishment: technologies of care, conversation, and personal liberation through education need no more tools than access to each other. I was more than ready and able to teach about YouTube this Spring without an Internet connection. I was going to assign books on the subject (with a few pages excised, mostly due to their discussion of sexuality on YouTube), exercises where prisoners would write screenplays to be shot by their fellow-students who had access to cameras and the Internet, and conversations about the meanings of all of our varied and regulated access to technology. (Along this vein, prisoners’ near universal access to cellphones as a contraband of choice, despite prisons’ concerted efforts to keep phones out of the prison, radically underlines what it means to say “prisoners don’t have access to the Internet or social media.”) I had learned before that while the prison and its administrators can systematically strip me, and my students, of tools and technologies (pens, videos, the Internet), our desires and abilities to communally learn—and thereby escape its lines, signs, limits, and holes of available information, if only fleetingly—falls completely outside the of logic of technology-based punishment.

 

That is until I was denied access to teach and learn inside.

Which gets me to my conclusion: my situated critique of education and technology outside the prison, particularly on YouTube. For I am indeed teaching the class, again, for the fifth time since 2007 at Pitzer College. I did not get to stretch and learn and teach as I had hoped with my prisoner students who have so much to teach us about technology, as they are denied access to social media and are therefore uniquely situated to see it, but I have learned about social media and social justice this semester from other students and teachers.

Since I began teaching the class in 2007, in the matter of just these few short years, access to social media has exploded (for those not denied it as a condition of their punishment). We have been told (and sold) that this access is critical for our expression, community-building, political citizenship, and well-being. We have been led to believe that access to social media is a form of liberation. As Nicole Rufus, a current LFYT student explains in her class video below, YouTube matters because it has made her a better person and contributed to her education, just as Lennon suggests.

But two more related things have also become quite clear in the 2015 iteration of the class Learning from YouTube (sans prisoners):

  • In contra-distinction to the experience of prisoners, for my students, the Internet is the very air they breath in a way that was simply not true in 2007 (as much as my students thought it was). Young people today (as is true of their teachers) inhabit the Internet, speak its language, and have an agility, familiarity, and jaded acceptance of its norms and (aspects of) its history that is at once stunning and enervating (see Samantha Abernathey’s class video on memes below):

Stunning is the speed and complexity of this familiarity; enervating is its occlusion of familiarity with and interest in the other norms, places, and histories that we might once have understood as part of being institutionally, culturally and personally “situated.” The current version of the course makes me feel at once stimulated and enervated because I have seemingly nothing and everything to teach them. Nowhere and everywhere to go. “The internet does not exist. Maybe it did exist only a short time ago, but not it only remains as a blur, a cloud, a friend, a deadline, a redirect, or a 404. If it ever existed, we couldn’t see it. Because it has no shape. It has no face, just this name that describes everything and nothing at the same time. Yet we’re still trying to climb on board, to get inside, to be part of the network, to get in on the language game, to show up in searches, to appear to exist.”

I long for the views of my prisoner students: humans who can teach us a thing or two about place, liberation, punishment and control sans the Internet.

  •  for, this place of liberation, the Internet, has quickly become its opposite (“emancipation without end, but also without exit” according to Aranda, Wood, and Vidokle)—a prison (although not a punishment, as it is always entered willingly and ever with the promise of pleasure); a highly-structured corporate-dominated sink-hole. “In the past few years many people—basically everybody—have noticed that the internet feels awkward, too. It is obvious. It is completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense, copyright control, and conformism. (Hito Steyerl)

“This moment,” according to my students, is defined by anxious, cynical, consumption-based Internet experience that is linked to ever more desperate Internet-based attempts at escape into a nostalgic (“old”) Internet that is imagined as low-tech, slow, user-made, fun, real, innocent, awkward, less-sexualized, and de-politicized (outside or before the petty, bitter Internet “politics” about the Middle East, feminism, racism, rape, and the environment from which escape deeper into the Internet is so desperately needed.) The new Internet is a prison from which escape is to fantasy of an older, innocent Internet.

"This Moment" as defined by LFYT 2015

“This Moment” as defined by LFYT 2015

In her contribution to the eflux journal issue “The Internet Does Not Exist,” from which I’ve been quoting extensively in this last section, video artist Hito Steyerl pens an article entitled “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?” There she answers herself: “the internet is probably not dead. It has rather gone all out. Or more precisely: it is all over.”

But of course, Steyerl knows, as must we all, that while the Internet feels like it is the whole world, or perhaps too much world, there are blank spots on the map where the Internet can not see, there are ways not to be seen, and there are dark spots in our situated communities where the Internet can’t or perhaps is not allowed to go.

Abu Ghraib Prison: The infamous Iraqi prison where Saddam Hussein held political prisoners, and where U.S. soldiers were later caught torturing inmates. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2524082/All-US-Armys-secret-bases-mapped-Google-maps.html

Abu Ghraib Prison: The infamous Iraqi prison where Saddam Hussein held political prisoners, and where U.S. soldiers were later caught torturing inmates. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2524082/All-US-Armys-secret-bases-mapped-Google-maps.html

If we theorize the Internet, or education, from these blank spots, from the place of too-little, (in)access, quiet, and darkness (as does Lennon), we see values, uses, and needs for MOOCs, YouTube, technology, and education that are not clear from an anxious state of hyper-abundance. This is not to romanticize the punitive lacks of the prison. Rather I ask us to draw from what becomes visible when we situate thinking about learning, technology, punishment and escape in places where education is not primarily linked to tawdry pop-songs, tutorials, consumer goods, flame wars, and self-reference to Internet culture but rather to the fundamental questions of liberation, learning, and empowerment that those stripped of technology have unique access to in the quiet and (in)access of their punishment.

… I’m trying to steer clear of rabbit holes these days in order to get a book done, but this [ev-ent-anglement] seems different somehow. Like the time spent reading, learning, listening will be rewarded differently. But it also feels all the more dangerous for that.

I’m the opposite of pasted right now – not incorporated, tied down, fixed. Instead I feel unmoored — and where I feel fixity it’s more like a bottle about to be entangled in a mess of sea vegetable… –Jacque Wernimont, commenting on “How To

I spoke in a room in Dehli and asked people to #cut/paste+bleed with me there and also online. Jacque pasted in from Arizona. But no one in the room, in real-time,  tweeted, or posted, or tagged me an Instagram as I had requested. There were few rewards. Or maybe there were only weird ones. Or it was too dangerous.

IMG_2003
The audience at Visible Evidence, Dehli for the panel “Affective Encounters: tools of interruption for activist media practices”

Maybe it was because of lousy internet connectivity or because I softened my procedure mid-act and didn’t require it as I had in Utrecht, there and then producing a playful affect for some but also one where others thought I was too demanding. But maybe it’s because the act itself was uninteresting to (or too fast for?) the Dehli audience.

“If we linger in that cut, that music, that spatio-temporal organization, we might commit an action.” Fred Moten, In the Break –tweet from “me,” @eve_ent_angle

It’s hard to linger (read, learn, listen), what with so much information to consume and also produce (“in order to get a book done,” in order to wrap up this experiment).

The rest of this post (do linger dear reader) is on the ev-ent-anglement. I’d love you to entangle there!

Tamsyn Gilbert at New Criticals kindly invited me to write a piece about the changes in networked new media and feminist scholarship about it for the section of the publication called Lady Justice. I used this as an opportunity to revisit Learning from YouTube given that I’ll be teaching it again this spring with some interesting new twists and turns. The intro to the piece is here, and you can read my five provocations as well. The rest of the piece is found via the links above I’d love to hear from you!

In 2007, I engaged in what was at the time perceived to be an audacious pedagogical experiment. I taught a course both on and about YouTube. At that time, I opened out the private liberal arts classroom into the wilds of the Internet. These many years later, looking back at the experiment and also moving forward, I imagine what there might still be to learn and where there still might be to go within social media networks. Certainly much happened in the first class—virality, hilarity, hundreds of videos and interviews, caution, discipline, challenges to higher education and collegiate writing and a “book“—but here I ask, how might the continual growth of YouTube demand new places and tactics for its analysis?

In response to both my own needs as a theorist, activist, and educator, as well as what we might consider the “changes” of YouTube eight years later, I have decided to teach the class again this spring semester while taking my evolving experiment in several new directions including Inside-Out of the private college and prison. The body of this post explains the history and growth of my thinking about and activities within and without YouTube since its inception in 2005. Given the interests of Lady Justice, I will use this opportunity to consider transformations in digital and network culture over the past decade. I will also forefront how my feminist commitments to pedagogy, public intellectualism, the politics and practices of visibility and community within social media networks, and an anti-corporate media, anti-corporate academia, anti-corporate prison-industrial stance influence my many critical incursions into what I see as a pretty consistent YouTube. This has been somewhat harder to do in the course proper, and even my writing about it, as I have often taken a more “closeted” approach to my motivations in these more generic spaces (the class is an Introductory level course in Media Studies and most of the students have neither a feminist nor activist orientation to media, nor do they need to. In this and many other ways, I structure the course so that it reflects the dominating logics of YouTube, more on this below).

[this lengthier part about changes in YouTube and my decision to teach part of the class in a prison is at Lady Justice]

Conclusion: 5 Questions for the 2015 class and others:

As was true for the 2007 class and all following, I am legitimately interested in learning from YouTube: its users, uses, and logics. My statements above and questions below are provocations for further analysis, argument, and activities. I look forward to where they will take us over the next few months:I am curious whether these many recent changes may have inaugurated significant and not superficial changes in YouTube (and social media) culture itself. Frankly, I doubt it. I challenge my students to locate, name, and analyze structural differences:

How has YouTube changed since 2005?

What are the relations between social justice and social media?

What are the relations between social injustice and social media?

How and why do we leave social media?

How and why do we stay in social media?

What is a social media of our own?

I had to do a little Internet research but it turns out that Fall 2014 was my sixth iteration of Visual Research Methods, taught once a year at CGU since 2010. The course changes as do I, as does the Internet, academia, and the visual. The books I teach have been swapped, versioned, and traded-out as I add new themes: Digital Humanities came in in 2012, Digital Storytelling became the Lambert version a bit after that. The assignments stay the same although their tenor seems linked to each discrete class (see below): a video essay, documentary/ethnographic film, a digital story and academic blog. While I’ve been blogging since 2007, with some review it seems I haven’t blogged about the class every year, although many of the courses are covered (follow links please). But I have continued to learn and share from this class, one that I have always insisted is much more a meta-investigation of academia, the humanities, professionalization, disciplines and their disciplining, academic labor, writing, and the audience and function of our work as it is about learning some “visual methods.” However, the most obvious and lasting change across the past five years are as dynamic as is the Internet, and these come in two parts:

  • humanities graduate students’ exponential growth in their familiarity with and use of digital media linked to web 2.0’s ever easier affordances (only in the beginning did we need a TA and labs for the course to give both access to equipment and tutorials; that’s all easily available now)
  • the exponential decline in the strength of the academic labor market, demanding alt-ac considerations for all and thus the use of said methods not just as a thought or meta-experiment but perhaps as a professional necessity

As I consider the course in context of larger shifts in academia, I’d also posit that each year there are more and more kindred efforts being mounted across the humanities (in large part because of the growth of DH, and also perhaps the video essay and/or video) but also because the increasing digitalization of pedagogy, and the academy more generally has made thinking about and with Internet tools a much more common practice than it was only five years ago. This does make me wonder if the course needs a reboot to bring it more squarely into social media becoming something more akin to Miriam Posner’s course on Selfies, Snapchat and Cyberbullies or Adeline Koh’s class on Digital Writing.

Speaking of DH, it turns out I won’t be teaching the class for the next several years, as I helm the Claremont College’s Mellon DH grant and finish out my tenure at Pitzer’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry. Because of my reduced teaching load, my colleagues and more pointedly administration at Pitzer have asked that the limited classes I offer go to our undergrads, and this only seems fair. It will be interesting to see if the course continues without me; if there is demand; a teacher; momentum.

One final thought. After reviewing the work of this year’s batch (ever a pleasure, every year a gift), I’d have to say that this posse took the class more personally, privately, and creatively than might have been true for previous years. While this reflection occludes those who did produce highly theoretical or political work this year, and those who did deeply personal work in other years, I do wonder if this is a trend that reflects the technological and professional changes I listed above, or rather is some indication of my own inclinations—steering as I do this eclectic bunch each year—my own hand being soft but also firm and ever changing. This year the course, which always has many feminists, queers, and people of color, was almost entirely dominated by students of said persuasions, and that became a powerful set of lenses through which my own pedagogy and the students’ learning and production were processed. Perhaps there was also something very personal here.

I do hope you will take a look at the many links provided in the paragraph above as well as the videos posted here. They take you to each of this years’ students work. And, if you’ve taken the course in any of its many iterations, I’d love this to be an opportunity to hear you reflect on my observations here, this year’s students’ work, or your own experience in the course, given as it also a good-bye of sorts at least for awhile to VRM.

Finally here’s the best blog roll I could compile with the spotty evidence at hand (can’t seem to find S 2010, F 2010). If I don’t have you here, please do let me know (or if you want to be taken off). I’m hoping it’s true that some of you are still blogging, and I’d love to learn that this is a hold-over or take-away from the course even as the Internet (and you) change and grow.

afevereddictation.com: 2011

albuzek.wordpress.com: F 2013

aprilmakgoeng.blogspot.com: F 2014

artplaceidentity.blogspot.com: 2011

arthistoryvisualculturalstudies.wordpress.com: F 2014

catfishingacademia.weebly.com/blog: F 2014

clemettehaskins.wordpress.com: F 2014

culturalstudiesperceptionandrealism.wordpress.com: F 2014

danaehart.wordpress.com: F 2013

demitao.wordpress.com: F 2014

elysianmusings.wordpress.com: F 2013

factnfolly.wordpress.com: F 2014

fruitfulthinking.wordpress.com: F 2013

en.gravatar.com/femfuss: 2011

kahlitos.wordpress.com S 2013

kellyconnell.wordpress.com: S 2013

kseniyawilliams.blog.com: 2011

laurenzna.wordpress.com: F 2013

linj12.wordpress.com: S 2013

luciasorianoblog.wordpress.com: F 2013

mcortezguardado.wordpress.com: S 2013

musinolily.wordpress.com: 2011

nomdepluot.wordpress.com: F 2013

profmelanie.wordpress.com: F 2014

sarinalraby.blogspot.com: S 2013

sacredla.wordpress.com: F 2014

speakevenifyourvoiceshakes.wordpress.com: F 2013

stephanieancklephd.wordpress.com: F 2014

stompingoneggshells.org: 2011

sungohm.wordpress.com: F 2014

sydneybertram.wordpress.com: S 2013

takecareofself.wordpress.com: F 2013

tcortezguardado.wordpress.com: S 2013

theintellectualvegan.wordpress.com: F 2013

therambler.com: S 2013

thevisualanimal.wordpress.com: S 2013

thewomenarchive.wordpress.com: 2011

tianyuxiao.wordpress.com: 2011

timcmalone.wordpress.com: 2011

visualopportunity.wordpress.com: F 2013

 

 

I will (Re)Perform a Theory of Feminist Digital Praxis: Cutting Through the Noise of the Digital Self, on December 11, at 3pm (UTC+05:30) at Visible Evidence, Dehli.

Alanna-Thain

By Alanna Thain from ev-ent-anglement 1, Utrecht.

You are invited to cut/paste+bleed with us, live, or for a week after at http://ev-ent-anglement.com.

Here is your script: #Ev-ent-anglement 2, Visible Evidence, Delhi, December 2014

Go to http://ev-ent-anglement.com and watch the ev-ent-anglement unfold.

As I talk, or sometime within a week after, please #cut/paste+bleed into the #ev-ent-anglement from the archive of yourself.

Please try to #cut/paste+bleed at minimum twice.

Please try to paste+bleed to something already cut before you

Everything you paste needs this hashtag to be seen: #eventanglement

On Twitter: #eventanglement

On Instagram: #eventanglement

Find or make images, links, words, video or gifs that express your responses, connections, ideas, and questions.

You can write at any length in the comment box provided.

You might be distracted. But the “talk” and site isn’t going anywhere, in fact, you can find the talk itself (and its Power Point and this script) at http://ev-ent-anglement.com (if you want to back track, go forward, or re-mix).

Our Q and A, and later interactions, will allow us to un-entangle what resides at the #ev-ent-anglement.

I can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

You can view the Delhi power-point and read the talk on ev-ent-anglement.com as well.

 

 

At the end of our lively and sometimes charged conversations following the MOCA Grand Avenue screening of seven recent videos about HIV/AIDS, an audience member asked “What are the ‘Alternate Endings’?” Until this moment, the large, diverse, and inter-generational audience had primarily been embroiled in a complex dialogue about the role and forms of activism found or missing in both contemporary art and HIV/AIDS, as well as within the seven videos we had just viewed that were commissioned by Visual AIDS to mark the 25th anniversary of Day With(out) Art by Rhys Ernst, Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Hi Tiger, Tom Kalin, My Barbarian, and Julie Tolentino/Abigail Severance.

I suggested that the alternate ending was that people lived.

2

And perhaps that was one reason why, while the seven diverse videos did focus (in unequal measure to be sure) on generation, nostalgia, mourning, queer people of color and disidentification, videotape, time, and popular culture, they seemed to be almost entirely devoid of video images of activism (at least of the now iconic images of graphic art and protest from the first years of the AIDS crisis that have been the primary focus of much recent work that revisits this time). The seven videos seemed to conjure a visual register where it’s harder or not necessary to imagine, image, and engage with “activist” images given that the anger and mourning which fueled the first decades of the AIDS crisis no longer draws the scene.

Audience, MOCA Grand Avenue, December 4, 2014

Audience, MOCA Grand Avenue, December 4, 2014

Other reasons for the missing activism that were suggested from the floor, as well as by my esteemed panelists Lucas Hildebrand and Jih-Fei Cheng, included: understandings of “activist” images that took quieter or more personal forms (like the queer performances of Hi Tiger/Derek Jackson, My Barbarian or Julie Tolentino, or the private conversations and the many other forms of gay sexual intimacy seen in Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Rhys Ernst or Tom Kalin’s work, or the archival impulse and research found in the My Barbarian, Harris and Ernst pieces); contemporary understandings of activism and art have been commodified either by corporations hungry for rainbow dollars or by individuals who themselves now understood the commodification of themselves to be the urgent activist/art act; a dispersal of connection, attention, urgency, and community produced by the internet and the glut of images dissipates the magnetic pull that produced movements of activist/art and the necessity that artists and art institutions take the lead on this sort if image making; or perhaps a surprising and recent mark to an end of what Ted Kerr calls “AIDS Crisis Revisitation” (in an earlier conversation with me), in that we have processed, worked through, and learned from those images of “activism” and need a new, or at least another, visual vocabulary better suited for today.

It was an inspiring conversation for the many ideas generated and circulating above (which I can only point to here in these brief remarks), and also because it felt to me at least that new generation(s) took the lead, even as many generations were present. Which is to say, that these last few years have seen a great number of conversations generated by my generation’s filmmaking about our histories, losses, and activism; and World AIDS day has often focused upon our rightful grief. But at this year’s event here in LA, thirty-something voices dominated and were heard, even as others of us spoke, and this too is an alternate ending of great power and yet to be reckoned scope, as it is an opening up and out into the many co-exisiting times of AIDS, just as were the seven commissioned videos that prompted our conversations.

 

Big Data, Small Humanities

November 25, 2014

I attended the Claremont Graduate University’s Big Data, Better World? conference and wanted to make a small comment about the role of the humanities (and Digital Humanities) at that event, and more broadly in academia and ever, perhaps where academia presses against, speaks to, corrects, augments, and influences (and is influenced by) industry.

The point is not really mine–I’m simply reporting here–it was eloquently expressed by all three professors on the Big Data and the Humanities panel, and then reflected and reemphasized through the vision of Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), “a pioneer in spatial analysis methods but also one of the most influential people in GIS,” who gave the keynote address “Mapping a Better World.”

Dangermond’s vision is of a planetary nervous system of real-time and past data that is both produced by and available to many, and can be used to make rational decisions about the social, political, environmental, medical and other severe issues facing our world; an opportunity for us to “see and understand” global problems as represented spatially; a “Living Atlas of Information.” Where before we were often gravely effected by the world’s natural (and perhaps other) processes, we will soon be able to effect and perhaps even manage them through rational measurement, mapping, and analysis.

In the question and answer session, Dr. Jacque Wernimont (Arizona State University), one of the humanities professors who had spoken earlier, asked Dangermond what might be the places for worry or critique of this unified system of measuring, compiling, and mapping. Dangermond answered gracefully, without defensiveness, and in complete support of the critical necessity of the humanities’ small in the face of this massive global data stream. He discussed the work of a scientist who studied a square foot of ground for one year and reported his findings through affect, poetry, thick description, and the changing rythyms, moods, and expressions of his own body and that small, intimate space. Just so, Wernimont, Stephen Robertson (George Mason University) in “Collecting Grains of Sand: Big Data and the History of Ordinary Individuals” and Sara Watson (Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University) in “Living with Data: Big Data at Human Scale” emphasized in their contributions not just the small of the humanities (underfunded and diminishing as we may be) but our perennial place as the moral, artistic, affective, and expressive heart of the university, and sometimes our societies. It’s not so much that we think small (although sometimes we do), and more that we are best situated to contribute heart to the soul-less nervous system that technology, corporations, government, and science streams before us.

If the technological future that Dangermond envisions is true, he affirmed as well that the role and responsibilities of the humanities have never been larger: to help shape the questions, applications, and practices for these new tools, to understand where they look and why, as well as to dare to ask what they can’t ever see and will never know.

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