User:Artemis gryllaki/Thesis outline

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Thesis outline

Artemis Gryllaki . 14-11-19 . XPUB

Topics

Hackerspaces, Gender exclusions in Tech environments, Feminist Hack/Tech initiatives

Introduction

Background

Technologies are situated and socially shaped along with their meanings, functions, domains, and use. We currently live in a sociopolitical reality where ever-growing profit is the main goal; capitalist tech production is a very flexible system, which constantly finds ways to reproduce the existing economic and power structures. "Technological innovation is the main engine of economic development." (Arthur, 2011)

It is a mainstream idea that technology keeps on improving because human needs and demands for technology keep on changing. However, we have to ask: who is being served? "...too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle." (Surowiecki, 2007)

Technological development is supposed to assist our lives in many ways, helping us to do things faster and more efficiently, through high-quality devices and computers. We could say that this points to autonomy, but at the same time, it also raises another very serious matter: dependence. "You depend on those who develop and distribute it, on their business plans or their contributions to social value. And you change with it. Are Whatsapp and Telegram not changing the way we relate to each other? Is Wikipedia not changing the culture of the encyclopedia? And you change it too, in turn." (Padilla, 2017)

It is critical to keep on asking questions about what technological horizons are relevant for us and how we are building them. Some communities are already practicing and building alternative spaces to gain agency in technological issues. This research looks at spaces where tech practices are happening outside, or at the margins of the tech industry, such as hacklabs and hackerspaces. Then, it questions what their perspectives and directions are, and also looks at how they reproduce social hierarchies or biases. Who fits in? Finally, it explores the potential of inclusive feminist hack/tech initiatives to re-politicise technology; what do they suggest? what relations do they propose? what issues do they face? why is it important to amplify and protect their work?

Thesis Statement

Local and international feminist hack/tech initiatives and the communities around them are influential and useful in the current sociopolitical technological landscape; their suggestions and practices raise awareness about gender and other social exclusions happening in tech, while they point towards re-politicising technology, by practically engaging with it.

Body

Topic 1

Hackerspaces; where people engage with technology in ways that make them more than just consumers and users.

Point A

Hackerspaces act towards opening up the access and engagement with technological knowledge and practices.

1. Values and practices from the free and open-source software movements are embedded in hackerspaces.

  • The right for everybody to use, study, share and improve technology and thus explore personal and collective freedoms.

2. They influence a potential re-distribution of the power of creating technology to local communities.

  • They suggest ways for integration of technology by non-techies, through educational character and cooperative practices.
  • Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together movements can become a challenge to the apparatus of the technology industry - an apparatus of transnational corporations that currently produces 'experts', 'copyright licenses' and 'patents', which again produce monopolized authority over technology.

Point B

The political direction and potentials of different hackerspaces vary according to their historical and ideological genealogies.

In the wide spectrum of community tech spaces, words like "hacking" and "technological freedom" have very different meanings. What do hackerspaces suggest? Alternative tech production? Academic practice-based research? Activism? Resistance? Exciting hobbies? Or new business models?

1. Hacklabs have roots in the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s. Here, the term hacklab is used to describe the early hackerspaces in Europe, which started to operate in the mid-1990s and became widespread in the first half of the 2000s.

  • The history of the so-called hacklabs fits best into a countercultural topography consisting of squat houses, alternative cafés, farming cooperatives, collectively run businesses, communes, non-authoritarian childcare centres.
    (Grenzfurthner and Schneider, 2009)

2. Hackerspaces developed in the libertarian sphere of influence around the Chaos Computer Club are not necessarily defining themselves as overtly political. The term hackerspace is used to describe hackerspaces which started in the late 1990s and became widespread in the late 2000s. (Maxigas, 2012)

3. Not having political direction can be useful for existing power structures.

  • New capitalist labour models; Californian ideology, a fusion of Hippies and Entrepreneur / Nerds, appropriates practices from the hacker culture in favour of neoliberalism.
  • There are a number of more variations community tech spaces, such as makerlabs, medialabs, fablabs, innovation labs and co-working spaces. They are set up in different contexts such as a university, a company, a foundation. Many of them operate within and for the benefit of capitalist tech production, even though they claim to be a-political.

Topic 2

Gender (and other social) exclusions; in tech and through tech.

Point A

The tech field is male-dominated and (re)produces a "masculine geek culture" which creates exclusions.

1. People's experiences in tech-based environments differ according to their gender and/or other social identities.

  • Memories, anecdotes, and experiences from women and trans, non-binary, intersex persons, active in environments, reveal stories of exclusions.

Exclusions in different forms and levels, happen in various environments, physical and digital. (Technology industry, F/LOSS projects, Gaming, Comic Book Fandom, Academia, Conference rooms, forums, git, social media, etc.)

2. Documenting sexist incidents in geekdom is an important effort, worth to be continued.

  • People question why women would avoid revolutionarily free and open environments like Free Software development, and if anything bad has actually happened. Documentation of incidents can give answers. Example: Geek Feminism Wiki, “Timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities”.

Point B

Hackerspaces usually preach to be "open" community spaces, but that's not always enough.

1. The dominant culture of a field, white cis male culture in the case of tech, attracts a more narrow band of people, who can fit in it. In parallel, it pushes away other identities, hence reinforcing exclusions.

  • Some hackerspaces think it is enough to state that they are "open community spaces", but in fact, it is important to deliberately seek diversity and inclusivity. When exclusions are not discussed, they become invisible.
  • Not having formal structures in a community, usually ends up favouring those who already enjoy gender, class and race privilege. It thus facilitates the informal power of certain individuals or cliques. "Tyranny of structurelessness" (Freeman, 1972)

2. Codes of conduct are helpful in raising awareness of a given community’s culture of communication. They also have a feminist potential.

  • While producing documents like Codes of conduct, there is room to reflect and question our own behaviour. Discussion is crucial in formulating common values that can be practised in everyday environments.
  • Codes of conduct have been adopted by many floss projects; this is an important step, though it may cause a sense of already-safe and already-diverse environments. Tools like these need activation, through constant interaction and intervention. (Snelting, 2018)

Topic 3

Feminist hack/tech initiatives; where feminists craft Technologies of Their Own

The case of two interconnected feminist hack/tech initiatives.
/ETC (an annual international feminist tech gathering) and GenderChangers (a group of women who were giving workshops in the ASCII hacklab in Amsterdam) felt the need to combine their feminist perspectives with hacker culture. This year I participated in the /ETC festival in Athens. This was the first time I attended such an event, and I got really inspired by it. I met people who are active in the context of feminist hack/tech spaces and discussed their effort and perspectives. After this experience, I feel motivated to contribute to short- or long-term initiatives which approach technological topics from a feminist perspective.

Point A

Feminist hack/tech initiatives bring together values from both feminist and hacker cultures;

1. The tactic of making feminist-centered hackerspaces is used to set clear boundaries, which serve safety and empowerment. It is a means, not the goal.

  • This kind of tactic is also used by other minority groups such as people of colour, LQBTQ, the youth, etc. As explained by Faith Wilding and Critical Art Ensemble in “Notes on the Political Condition of Cyberfeminism”:
“It should be remembered that separatism among a minoritarian (disenfranchised) group is not negative. It’s not sexist, it’s not racist, and it’s not even necessarily a hindrance to democratic development. There is a distinct difference between using exclusivity as part of a strategy to make a specific perception or way of being in the world a universal, and using exclusivity as a means to escape a false universal. There is also a distinct difference between using exclusion as a means to maintain structures of domination, and using it as a means to undermine them.”
  • The codes of conduct they are forming, raise awareness around issues of inclusivity and diversity in traditional tech-based environments.

2. Feminist hack/tech initiatives suggest that processes, behaviours, and relations during the collective work on a "tech project", are equally important to the "tech project" itself.

  • Feminist hack/tech initiatives adopt methodologies of collective teaching and learning, with a strong feeling of solidarity and collaboration.

3. Their work includes non-tech projects, such as "art installations", "performances", "cooking", "knitting", "DIY-DIT publishing" etc., practices often undervalued by many "techies".

  • This fact encourages amateurs or people from non-tech backgrounds to be involved in tech issues, feeling safe to ask so-called stupid questions amongst themselves.

4. They tweak the meaning of "hacking" as a way to hack life in various forms to gain more autonomy and/or acquire technological sovereignty.

Point B

Feminist hack/tech initiatives aim to re-politicise technological systems and practices.

1. They work within the context of free software and open hardware; free software and open hardware movements are based on values that fit with feminist perspectives.

2. They discuss sociopolitical issues around technologies, while actually practicing them.

  • While learning, tinkering and experimenting with specific tech tools, they address social issues that go hand in hand with them, such as privacy and surveillance.
  • They imagine the concept of feminist technologies and ask "who would it serve, who would develop it, who would actually use it?"

3. They create islands of critical practice and resistance, challenging the ethics of the systemic tech industry.

  • They differentiate themselves from tech events organised by companies, which aim to increase the participation of women and ethnic minorities in the tech industry. As explained in the /ETC website:
"We don’t believe that identity diversity of big tech companies’ CEOs, or more gender diversity in supporting the capitalist system to sell more technology, is going to produce an egalitarian society. We want more feminists creating alternatives to those companies. We want more feminists knowing about technology so that they can challenge the system producing that technology."

Point C

Feminist tech initiatives are building infrastructures and networks to archive, protect and publish feminist works.

1. Feminist works are threatened by censorship and/or surveillance, hence feminist hack/tech groups use or produce technologies to protect themselves.

  • Examples of feminist works being erased from the Internet, censored, and/or prevented from being seen, heard or read.
  • Examples of communication technologies and infrastructures used by feminist hack/tech groups to face issues of censorship and surveillance. (IRC, delta-chat, nextcloud, feminist servers, etc.)
  • They use multiple levels of access (from fully public to fully private) to different kinds of information. (Raw material of workshops and gatherings is hosted in protected feminist servers; schedules, info and reports in public websites/wiki/blogs; curated material distributed in several publishing methods.)

2. Self-organised and self-sustained collectives face challenges to survive and continue their activity due to several sustainability issues.

  • Labour-power, engagement, participation, financial sources, maintenance, etc.

Conclusion

Repeat the main points of the research. Feminist hack/tech initiatives, like /etc and GenderChangers aspire to diversify typical male-dominated tech spaces and propose alternative ways of critiquing, producing and practicing technologies. They intend to amplify feminist narratives and escape from controlling and patronising behaviours that are occurring in many tech-based spaces. The collective knowledge and memories produced by the formation of short- and long-term feminist tech communities contribute towards building more egalitarian spaces of practicing technology and culture.