Feminists Hacking the System(s): Creation, Liberation, and Action

Recently, I joined the University of Sussex’s School of Media, Arts and Humanities as a research fellow. I’m pleased to be affiliated with FACT/// Network, and last week, in this capacity, I had the opportunity to attend the Intersections, Feminism, Technology & Digital Humanities (IFTe) network’s inaugural series, “Feminists Hacking the System(s): Creation, Liberation, and Action.” Striving to address a gap in the field, the event’s three workshops took a multi-faceted approach to highlighting and integrating modes of intersectional feminist practice within the digital humanities.

The series kicked off on Tuesday, 10 November with a panel that addressed the topic of “Code and Multiculturalism.” Presentations included Jeneen Naji’s “Cultural Constraints of Technological Infrastructures,” Reham Hosny’s “AR Narration: New Horizons for Arabic E-Lit,” and Judith Ricketts’s, “Nowness; virtual narrative in imagined networked spaces.” In the exchange that followed, participants contemplated the practicalities of writing a scripting language using characters other than those found in the Roman alphabet, proposed potential alternatives in interface design (assigning as the default, for instance, a language besides English in a word processor), and talked through methods of altering existing software systems to accommodate linguistic and cultural differences.

This conversation segued neatly into one regarding “Code and Labour” on Wednesday. Sophie Toupin spoke on “Feminist Infrastructures: Some Thoughts on Feminist Servers and Bots,” Irene Fubara-Manuel discussed “Design Justice and/or Participation-Washing,” and Sharon Webb and Cécile Chevalier considered the ways in which invisible labour is made visible in developing the FACT///.network, through rethinking hierarchies of labour and education programmes. Within and beyond the breakout rooms, topics of dialogue ranged from whether the free and open-source software model is intrinsically feminist – even as it is increasingly co-opted by corporations – to effective strategies for incorporating a feminist angle in our sustainability, archiving, and teaching procedures. Poignantly, it was determined that while feminism itself is labour, it also informs an ethos for our digital labour practices.

Pivoting to the subject of “Code and Democratic Tools,” the series culminated in a stimulating session about Hydra, a browser-based platform for live coding visuals, with the program’s creator, Olivia Jack. Blending theory and practice, Jack led the group first through the commands used alter the interface’s basic graphics (in relation to source, geometry, colour, blending, and modulation), then through those which allow users to visually integrate their webcam input and application windows into their streams, and ultimately through the process that enables users to connect to one another’s channels. Inherently collaborative, the program artistically networked our devices in real time.

Throughout the series, organisers Sharon Webb, Cécile Chevalier, and Jeneen Naji encouraged workshop participants to share our questions and observations on a Riseup etherpad, empowering us to create a living text alongside the synchronous conversation. Doing so cultivated a sense of unity during a time in which many of us are scattered across various universities, cities, and countries. (For the moment, I’m situated acutely in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Although geographically separated, we continue to build community through discourse and collaboration.