FACT///.mapping feminist coding practices symposium

***DIY Feminism and Creating Platforms***

When we started the network we were keen to develop a manifesto or guiding principles, but we didn’t want to just declare them, instead, we wanted to create platforms from which we could discuss and map out these principles, principles that we thought would reflect emerging FACT///. community.

Our first forum in March 2019 resulted, not in a set of values to guide the network, but rather a set of questions that has prompted us to think more critically about our feminist stance. Not necessarily to critique our values but the ways in which we perform, embody and materialise them. Over the last few months, we have held reading groups (you might call them consciousness-raising spaces) and these have helped us to frame and guide our thinking and practice, some more than others. The platforms which the network supports and creates, a reading group, a writing/coding group, have been transformative. Most recently our ‘Mapping Feminist Approaches to Coding’ symposium challenged us (FACT///.) to think about our current techno-feminist position. The event brought together an eclectic mix of scholars, practitioners, researchers, coders, and performers. Our reflections on the event and of the discussion, conversations, and dialogue on the day have lead to the following statements and affirmations:

Feminism is labour. It is writing this response. It is crafting spaces and materialising voices. It is challenging mainstream practices by creating and intervening from the rugged side roads. It is DIY. It is tailoring spaces and methods for our collective needs and desires. It is authoring and owning the process. It is about making the process visible. It is empathy. It is decoding our cultural programming and bias. It is deconstructing our labour and resisting the deprioritization of feminist thinking & practices.  It is hopeful. It acknowledges history but it is not bound by it. It is cross-generational and ever moving. And most importantly, it prioritises inclusivity and diversity. (Dec. 2019)

The intention of ‘Mapping Feminist Approaches to Coding’ was to explore some of the affordances and resistances of computational technology. Its aim was to develop a wider understanding of current practices and research that make positive interventions. Over the course of the day, speakers and participants explored their stories and practice, reflecting, as Lucy Robinson, Prof. of Collaborative History affirmed in the opening presentation, that ‘telling our own stories’ whether queer, feminists, etc. is a political act. And there is power in that act.

In recounting the history of feminists DIY zine-making Lucy is ‘uncovering the voices of silence’. Documenting the silence, documents ‘the fact that shit happened’, and still happens. Zine making builds community – it is a craft, it is a political energy and expression. Lucy also questioned whether the act of writing a history of DIY zines in traditional historical forms reproduces the traditional society the original DIY feminist zines were resisting. 

An important thread between Lucy’s presentation and Suze Shardlow’s, Co-Director of Women Who Code, was thinking about and critiquing the communities of practice we exist and participate in. Suze spoke about a number of interconnected topics that inform, direct and shape our participation and experience of tech meetups and coding groups.  In particular, the unconscious use of language. As Suze states, the language we use, or indeed the language we choose to omit, affects how we think and changes a community’s identity and expression. 

Shelly Knots, research fellow and artist, discussed the live coding community, paying particular attention to coding as ‘live failure’. The community’s practice of projecting code on a background screen makes the labor of live coding visible to audiences. Indeed, Judith Ricketts, artists and lecturer in digital media, also touched upon this and spoke about experimenting with open source code. Judith contextualises their practice as playing in the in-between spaces and exploring the edges. As an artist, Judith tells us not to wait for spaces (i.e. gallery space) to open up to us but to make our own – whether in our physical environment or our digital ones. 

Similarly, Elly Clarke and Clareese Hill, both PhD students at Goldsmith, used live performance to deliver a political message. They both chose a performative act to retell, reclaim, and reframe, collective histories and experiences from different communities. Both challenged pedagogical and academic environments and questioned whose voice gets materialised and whose voice gets silenced. This was particularly prominent in Clareese’s performance which challenged racism through an articulation of hood feminism. 

The performances and presentations were intersectional, cross-generational and diverse. They highlighted a broad range of voices and perspectives within our feminist practices in computation and prompts us to rethink how we might code our stories through/in/with software. If telling stories is a political act, then coding is a political act and there is a power in coding our own stories.