My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)

As part of the larger DOCC 2013 effort, I hosted a dialogue between Professors Radhika Gajjala and Sharon Irish—two devoted members of FemTechNet—about their feminist thinking on technology and place. We livestreamed the event from my “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology” classroom at Pitzer College on November 14, 2013. A video of that live event is now available on the FemTechNet Commons.

I hope you will watch this inspiring, interesting, and invaluable conversations between two amazing feminist thinkers (as well as their lively interactions with my amazing students). Here, I hope to provide a more personal frame for your viewing, a few ideas that were raised for me in the doing of this event, in its liveness, and lived-ness; things you can’t know, unless you were there, or I write them here for you online.

  • Our digital engagements take us to places and people we might never meet in person in material space and this is grand (most of the participants in the DOCC 2013, for instance). But when we do have the opportunities of funds, time, and bodily energy to meet face-to-face, new, complimentary, and deeply sustaining opportunities of the flesh arise! It is well worth the effort.
  • My students have loved “meeting” all the professors and artists we have read this semester on video, through the video dialogues. They discuss how this transforms the authors of the complex and empowering texts we read into people. My students say that they come to understand, by seeing diverse feminists’ interactions online, that real people write what students learn from, and they further realize, as real people themselves, they too are authorized to author.
  • And then again, to meet the thinkers in person brings ever more delights and possibilities. A different kind of sense of these scholars’ complex selves passes in a look, a smile, a nod, or even a touch. Given that the personal or affective or bodily is so deeply connected to feminist politics, theory, and practice, it is no wonder that engaging with otherwise distant “experts” has particular resonances that are of use to feminist students. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the possibilities for intimacy and enlightenment in purely digital encounters! I only want to add to that the particular affordances of the embodied.
PostPanelDiscussionNov15_2013

Several DOCC 2013 students in conversation with Liz Losh, Radhika Gajjala, and President Maria Klawe, of Harvey Mudd College

  • When the official Dialogue concluded, my students ended up sitting in a circle quite close to our guests (something we had never done in class before). We seemed to want to signal that we were close, collaborative, and engaged together in something we all cared about. We signalled with our bodies because we could.

MS 134 pic

  • This is part of the DOCC challenge to the MOOC. The places we live in and learn in, the places where we come together as situated communities are different, with their own cultures of engagement and interaction and their own styles of and needs for learning.

PitzerClassDiscussionNov14_2013

  • This placed difference is as vital to our learning possibilities and needs as are the ways that technology expands this reach, opening us up to new places, as particular as our own. (interestingly these same students also LOVED their class with Professor Sharon Collingwood who generously taught my students last week on Second Life: they sat in a circle there, too.)
  • And that brings me to care, with which Radhika also ends the Place video dialogue. She expresses how hard care is to commodify, or off-shore (try as neoliberalism will to do so). The felt care that these travellers shared with myself and my students is part of our larger DOCC 2013 effort where we model together the many ways of feminist knowing and teaching, that always attempt to acknowledge the needs of humans in their many places, online and off.
Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

 

I am honored to have taken on the leadership of Pitzer College’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry for the next four years. Each year, I choose a theme, and then get to engage in public programming, as well as a related advanced seminar each Spring (led by distinguished guests). This year, the theme is Technology, and there is an amazing slate of speakers for 2014.

For the Fall, I planned two events. One will occur in November, more on that later, but the first, and my inaugural event was a visit and lecture by Lisa Nakamura, professor in the departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

My friend, and fellow FemTechNetter, gave a provocative set of addresses at the college where she performed media archeologies on both ubiquitous and extraordinary sites of the everyday or “normal racism” that has been “written into the Internet.” She argues that this racism is not exceptional but rather is structural, inevitable, and environmental showing us the constant if varied places online where “socio-technical racism” (and sexism and homophobia) are written into the norms, architecture, and ethics of the Internet: its shameful “racist technicity.” She argues that all that we shutter off as “noise” when we search for information, or add our comments to important conversations, or try to play games is itself the signal of the Internet. In her Atherton Lecture, recorded below, she looks to long and repeating histories of racist iconography—rooted in excess, confusion, arousal, fear, and control—to think about how “the culture of racism is itself memetic.” I hope you’ll take a long look.

CFP: Ada, Issue 4, Queer, Feminist Digital Media Praxis

Editors: Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex), Alex Juhasz (Pitzer College), Kate O’Riordan (University of Sussex/ University of California, Santa Cruz)

We invite contributions to a peer-reviewed special issue that brings together artistic, theoretical, critical and empirical responses to a range of questions around mediation, technology and gender equality. In particular we are interested in exploring what the concept of praxis could offer in our thinking about the intersections of gender, digital media, and technology.

Praxis in both Marxist and in Arendtian political thought brings together theory, philosophy and political action into the realm of the everyday. Inspired from this premise, and continuing the conversations that started during the workshop Queer, feminist social media praxis at the University of Sussex in May 2013 (queerfemdigiact.wordpress.com), we focus here on the conditions for a feminist digital media praxis. Media praxis, in other words the “making and theorising of media towards stated projects of world and self-changing” (mediapraxis.org), could be a vital component of feminist and/or queer political action. We are interested in the different modes of political action for social justice, enabled by digital technologies and social media, including theory, art, activism or pedagogy. What kinds of possibilities or impossibilities do these technologies and platforms offer for interpreting and intervening in the world?

The fourth issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology seeks submissions that explore the concept of feminist, queer, digital media praxis. We welcome unpublished work from scholars of any discipline and background, including collaborative, non-traditional, or multimodal approaches that can especially benefit from the journal’s open access online status.

Topics and approaches might include, but are not limited to:

-       Affect, desire and disgust

-       Diffractive readings

-       Digital storytelling

-       Herstories, archiving and remembering

-       Feminist pedagogy

-       LGBTQ Youth

-       New media bodies

-       Imaginaries, futures and technological utopias

-       Radical art practices

-       Science, technology and social justice

We invite submissions for individual papers on any of the above themes or related themes. Contributions in formats other than the traditional essay are encouraged; please contact the editor to discuss specifications and/or multimodal contributions.

Find submission info on Ada

We’re all (hello, Sussex), now, everywhere here (on the Internet), aren’t we? Undoubtedly, scholars made lots of words before now, but they couldn’t show it all to you like a purge; they couldn’t cart it around, showing it again and again;  it didn’t return, quite like this, to either bite you in the ass, or say it better than one ever could, even though of course, oddly, it was oneself who has said it once before.

By moving these words to video and text, never to be on paper, not to be linear, and also always available on the Internet, I establish, in form, one answer to how the affordances of both the digital and the room, the staying and the going, affect our feminist and queer possibilities. For, of course, I’ve flown to England; there’s something we want, or prefer, or need from the body, even as she also sits, and writes, and speaks, and shares so abundantly at home in the digital. Thus, I return and loop back to the leaving and the staying, the making, taking, foresaking and staking. Situated and floating, flying even, I will answer your three questions in long form (but only in person), but here first in short:

  1. How does imagining queer & feminist lives and futures link with social media and other digital media practices? … Badly
  2. How can we understand the interconnections between radical art practices and cyberfeminisms? We must leave and ever more deeply embed.
  3. What is the role of science and technology more widely in the ways social practices and cultural identities are shaping today?

We must engage in Techno feminism, a collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression online, and also in Presumptive feminism, one that always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak. (these are from a longer list of online feminisms from my article on the Online Feminist Cyber-closet).

I suggest that we must strive to make a concerted effort to remember something quickly becoming lost: that is, to dare to think just past the digital, to engage ever so slightly beyond representation, and to struggle to look to and reoccupy our bodies and lived spaces. So: hello Sussex! Not to fear, I will be asking you to move online soon enough …

DOCC v MOOC

May 1, 2013

Here is the info graphic, hot off the press, for the DOCC 2013, the pedagogy project that FemTechNet is producing for Fall 2013.

MOOCvsDOCC InfoGraphic April 2013

MOOCvsDOCC InfoGraphic April 2013

Image produced by Tony Germano for Anne Balsamo, 2012.

Use with permission under a CC BY-NC-SA license.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Feminist-IT-SaveTheDate-lowres

While it might seem a bit of a press to discuss Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and @ajkeen’s Digital Vertigo in one breath, or really, blog-post, I will do so because they both tackle one issue that is critical to me, albeit from different places: the changing nature of sociality in lieu of the digital.

Fisher writes as a professor, trying to do his job in a time when his students suffer from “depressive hedonia” and “reflexive impotence” both symptoms of capitalist realism: “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (please see my similar experience when teaching feminist labor films from the 1970s in class last week). Meanwhile, Andrew Keen is also clocking discomfort in his workaday world, although in his case, as one suffering author in persistent and grueling competition amongst the “hyper-visible digital elite,” all of them, himself included, locked into a different totalizing system: hyper-connectivity and sociality.

Given that I am not in the digital elite (where my counts would keep growing and my opinions would thereby effect both the billionaires who rule the web, and the billions who track me), nor do I hope to be, Keen’s read on hyper-connectivity seems a bit overblown as a theory for either the masses or for me. While his book-length rant for the right to and dignity of privacy seems spot-on, his paranoid delusion that we all live our entire lives in the digital spotlight (or would want to) generalizes Internet culture from his own position, and life choices. Again, his fear that the digital elite are scheming for everything to become social, while justified, seems to miss that many humans still do many things offline (while he may not), and that we also lie, evade, and mis- and multiply-represent when we are there (even as they try their best to lock us into “frictionless sharing.”) Furthermore, his deep suspicion of the social seems again to be theorized by someone who is (perhaps rightfully) afraid of people, crowds, and groups because, I suppose, he is a member of the “digital elite,” and therefore a specially visible sort of somebody, and so can not be aware of the marvelous, sustaining, deeply human things people do in groups, big and small (like organizing, being friends, making art, teaching and learning). His suspicion of the social tracks back to those pesky hippies who tried to write their values into the web’s beginnings; a form that “mirrors the bohemian values of its pioneers.”

But all sociality is not about buying, bullying or selling, and all masses are not about conformity. We can be deeply human and in crowds, and some of our most satisfying and liberating experiences occur in collaboration. “The practice of happiness becomes subversive when it becomes collective,” writes Bifo.

Again, here’s where I think teaching comes in—as a social, moral and political act—and where Mark Fisher’s writing, although equally cynical and afraid (and rightly so), hits closer to the mark. I agree with Fisher that the role of teaching in these capitalist realist times becomes more complex (and even counter-intuitive), as other public institutions that might have served young people are erased by neoliberlism’s attention to cost-cutting (and fear of the social): “teachers are caught between being facilitator-entertainers and disciplinarian-authoritatirans.” Man: just see my Learning from YouTube to watch that unruly entertainment/discipline project unroll! But from there—that distinctly and entirely and definitively social experience that moved us on and off the Internet, talking and learning together—I can attest that my truly depressive-hedonist students, while truly luving Google, and their many devices of solitary-sharing, are also hungry, no rabid and open, to talking together about what this depression (and its associated diseases of ADD, anxiety, and loneliness) means and what they might make, given their place within it.

Following closely on the heels of my last post on Jodi Dean and the possible affordances of writing and publishing some of our scholarly new media writing online, I’m happy to be able to look at Nick Mirzoeff’s “‘We are All Children of Algeria‘: Visuality and Countervisuality 1954-2011,” recently “published” by Duke University Press as an extension of his book The Right to Look. Built in the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture’s Scalar—”born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging”—the work sits in proximity to my own Learning from YouTube in that it was supported by many of the same institutions and collaborators (I did not write in Scalar, however, but rather in an earlier version of their authoring tool. Many of my cumbersome requirements for linking text and media became routinized with Scalar).

While Mirzoeff provocatively begins by suggesting that “whether or not you work ‘on’ or about Algeria, there is an ‘Algeria’ in your work,” I find that there is another shared metaphor, nay structure, that fuels possible intellectual connection: form. For, as seems definitive for many of our contemporary efforts in transformative scholarly communication, he writes as much about his writing and its structures, shapes, and tools as he does about his proper subject: “how can we “see” Algeria, its decolonization and revolution?”

He suggests that “this format, allowing as it does for a set of intersecting and interfacing threads to compose the whole, is better suited to reclaiming and exploring these histories than the linear text-based narrative.” And then he calls this kind of writing and reading a “march” because he understands it as “militant research.” This designation seems both apt and critical to me for many reasons. Mirzoeff notes how affect is set into play differently within digital writing practices, so that qualities of an experience (something that many of us have pushed writerly metaphor to reach towards [and one reason I also author in video]) become more readily a part of the expressive reach of the form, as does then, also, an altered relation (of trust) between writer, reader, and text. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has recently blogged that digital scholarship allows a “shift … from an implicit, buried acknowledgment that scholarship’s serialization practices are based on multi-directional exchanges to an explicit emphasis on such exchange.” Exchanging we are, and shifting, and sometimes even marching, if not exactly forward: “it’s not about getting to the end, this is not a video game. It’s about who you want to be, not as a consumer, but as a citizen: for we are all citizens of the International.”

Mirzoeff’s decidedly, abashedly, romantically political aims are what might be best-suited to the form. His militancy. And here’s the rub I often mention when touring my own overtly political digital media pub. It’s full professors who currently have enough institutional safeguarding to make these dangerous formal deployments even as its our junior colleagues who should be leading the vanguard. He writes: “In the end, the disciplinary form—in all senses—of the monograph finds itself yielding to a form that has no real name: Intergraph? multigraph? videograph? The videograph (say) depends on a relation of trust.” But these are dangerous times, as we know, given the paucity of jobs and tenure, not to mention the real punitive ramifications for some politicized scholarship in our ever more timid or corporate intellectual institutions.

Feminist, queer, and AIDS activist mediamakers have long theorized “trust” as a part of our authoring apparatus, and our more committed, ideological, intellectual and political digital connections are what I have been holding against some Internet theorists‘ fear of fickle or superficial “friends” and warranted subjectivity. Perhaps it is not so bold for those like Fitzpatrick, Mirzoeff, or myself, backed as we may be by powerful institutions and tenure (and Nick took the “easy” route by publishing a “real” book too…), to make and promote innovative formal work, however I do so with the trust that my comrades inside academia and out will join me here, in exchanges that demonstrate more radical ways not just to be professors, but as Nick suggests citizens.

“An object whose form installs delays in sampling and syndication and whose content demands postponed gratification, the book mobilizes the gap of mediacy so as to stimulate thought. E-books and articles as well as blog posts on theoretical topics are conscientious ways to store and share ideas. But these benefits come at a cost: we pay with attention.” (Jodi Dean, Blog Theory)

Jodi Dean’s compelling read theorizes how “communicative capitalism,” built upon contemporary new media practices, refashions the productive possibilities of reflexivity, the gaze, participation, and communication to produce a sort of “whatever” democracy that profits capitalists over their willing user/citizens. Her writing on the blog’s (and new media’s) emphasis on the fact, volume, and reiteration of expression over its content or author seems right on to me in regards to the majority of user-generated content on today’s web. And yet, that’s not what I’m doing here, on this blog, part of that web, which leads me to challenge less Dean’s findings (her content) and instead, her form, thereby asking her to account for the place of blogs in relation to books and also new media “theory.”

Of course, I’m not telling her anything she doesn’t already know. She begins: “a book that makes critical-theoretical claims about blogging thus encounters a double problem of its object and its form of presentation.” But as she so strongly attests, reflexivity about communicativity is no longer any sort of critical out. Which is to say, just ’cause she names her formal quandary up front doesn’t mean she’s solved it. ” My wager is that critical media theory is possible in a book form,” she decides.

Sure. By why not a blog, or many blog posts, instead of a book? Dean says that it is a matter of attention, and I’d agree. When I lecture on my video-book, my much-repeated aphorism is to challenge its readers to “devote to it the undivided attention they’d be willing to give to a movie”: 90-minutes of focused attention. I do so because Google Analytics tells me that the average time on the “video-book” is around three minutes, and I know that whatever its or my limitations, there is more than three minutes of argument and theory to be had there. But more so, I have structured much of the argument into the very form of the “book” (something much harder to do on paper in codex, at least if your subject is new media), and if you don’t experience it, ride it, play with it, much of its “theory” about experience, duration, interactivity, montage, and learning online goes unlearned.

If theory is something akin to a structured set of principles that explain and clarify other systems, there is nothing inherent to “theory” taking the form of either words or books. And as Dean attests, there is something quite expressively and intellectually useful when theory’s form is aligned with its object. However, if “theory” is something academics do to legitimize and authorize the seriousness of our labors, or the qualifications needed for our practices, or the nature of our interlocutors or judges, then it makes much more sense to do this in a book given both our needs as workers to be recognized, evaluated, and promoted, and in regards to our skill-set as workers trained to write with words for readers trained to read them. However, Dean wants to say that the issue is the book’s special quality of “postponed gratification,” seemingly in relation to the Internet’s over-abundant, over-indulgent, loose, fleeting and light little pleasures. “The forms of theory’s presentation likewise highlights how communicative capitalism fragments thoughts into ever smaller bits.”

We’re back to Lanier‘s dreaded bits and Lovink’s beloved books. Hey, I like books as much as the next professor! I often also say that Learning from YouTube is a plea for the long-form written in the short-form: how good (or real) a professor can you actually be if you’re writing your complicated thoughts in sentences? But there are other long forms, and serious ways of expression outside the book, and as we all know, the Internet is a prime container and transmitter of these lengthy objects, too.

While the majority of users may have been easily convinced to use the Internet towards fleeting, addictive, anxious, reiterative expression there is ample room for other uses and users, and theory that does not attend to this misses the whole, but more critically, theory that doesn’t speak here gives up on the Internet while we still may just have time to lay claim to other practices in this ever-narrowing place.

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