WMST Colloquium presentation 14 February 01/ Katie King on new book ms. Introduction to Feminism and Writing Technologies
In my 30 mins to present, I'm going to give a flavor of some of the discussion from my book draft. I'm going to talk about Leigh Star and Lucy Suchman's two feminist technoscience uses of "work"--invisible work and articulation work--as examples of the narrative of technology as frozen social relations. I introduced that narrative in the section of the book you've read for today. I'll give an example of that narrative from one of my own research projects. I'll also briefly address how feminist technoscience studies overlaps with a largely European cyberfeminism. Afterwards, if you want, we can discuss my two research sites and their writing technology ecologies. I am also very excited about using both Star and Suchman's work to think about interdisciplinarities, their boundary objects and their communities of practice, and we could discuss that later too if you are interested.
If you look at the handout you'll see that I've printed out the longer quotations I use. I hope this will make the paper easier to listen to. There are three parts to my presentation, the first describes
1. (Star): surfacing invisible work
I'm very excited by the work of Susan Leigh Star. One of the essays of hers I read this last summer was "Ethnography of Infrastructure," which while it called for us to "study boring things" was itself quite fascinating! In one section of the book I describe Star's directives to us about how to "read" infrastructure: she tells us to look for master narratives and to surface invisible work, both specifically feminist strategies from other interdisciplinary locations. I won't read the part about master narratives now, but in it I discuss how web addresses are constructed and what master narratives they include, and what is othered in these addresses. Now I'll share with you part of what I wrote about the strategy of surfacing invisible work using one of my own research projects as an example, tying it into Star's insights:
[Let me draw] upon another historical institution, a 17th c. London print shop, where some of the Quaker women's pamphlets I study were printed. Until recently the ubiquitous figure of the master printer was a man, and indeed, typically speaking master printers in England were men in the 17th c. It is all too easy for us today to assume, because of that, that such 17th c. print shops were the sites of men's work (a possible master narrative). Yet these print shops were part of a very different structure of work than what we assume today. Regulated by guilds, they formally and informally organized the labor of a whole household, comprised of journeymen, apprentices, and other household members, including servants. Some of the work done by women in the past is rendered invisible by our contemporary assumptions about the meanings of male domination of craft production. Indeed, such work by women was probably visible and invisible at the time too, according to assumptions and institutionalizations of guild governance and social order locally. Nonetheless, as Londa Schiebinger (a feminist historian of women and science and technology) states, general patterns of women's participation in craft production were as: " daughters and apprentices;  wives who assisted their husbands as paid or unpaid artisans;  independent artisans; or  widows who inherited the family business." (Schiebinger 1989/ 67; my numbers) Thus, both women and children were part of invisible work in 17th c. print shops, their invisibility complexly mediated by our own assumptions and institutionalizations and by their local assumptions and institutionalizations. This 17th c. London print shop that is one site for explorations into 17th c. Quaker women's writing and feminism and writing technologies is that of the Sowle family "near the meeting House in White-Hart-Court in Grace-Church-Street." [imprint Folger] The atypical visibility of women's work in this print shop makes it possible to examine the relative invisibility and visibility of women's work elsewhere. Women figure in this family print shop in all the ways Schiebinger names for women's participation in craft production: Tace Sowle is her father's apprentice when he is master printer (indeed he had been apprenticed himself to a woman printer), and she becomes the master printer of the shop after his death, as an independent artisan, until her marriage. After her marriage the shop operates under her mother's name, J. Sowle, as widow owner of the family business, while her daughter Tace continued to head the shop, her husband assisting her. Tace's sister Elizabeth married a printer and together she and her husband became the first Quaker printers in the American colonies. (Skidmore 1998; McDowell 1996, 1998)
Surfacing invisible work in the consideration of printing as a technology and the print shop as an element in an entire 17th c. writing technology ecology, is another way to see clearly the inadequacies of the notion of "a single stable device." A print shop is the location for a range of devices and skills, as well as various relationships, technical and social, that make up printing as activity and technology. The press itself is a metonym for all that printing encompasses. Overvaluing that metonymic reduction results in misdefining and misgendering technological processes. Work by women is made invisible in that metonymic reduction by definition. Thus "technology"--reduced to what women do not do--becomes tautologically "male" as it misrepresents the relational ecology of the work site and the technical devices and skills employed there. Describing without replicating local assumptions about "nonpeople" in the work place is also necessary for adequate accounts of the technological ecology. Overvaluing "typicality" has similar effects in historical representations. Emphasizing a typical male master printer makes invisible the 112 women printers, publishers and booksellers (categories that overlap in ecologically relational ways) documented in this period by feminist scholars. I have been looking at Quaker women's writings on women's public speech in the context of the twenty year period (approximately 1640-1660) in which for political and religious reasons controls on printing shifted, affecting guild and state control, access to presses and who was able to print, both legally and illegally. Women printers were part of this complicated writing technological ecology. After 1641 state and guild controls on printing were weakened and restrictions on the numbers of printers, apprentices and presses ended. In London illegal printing, piracies, and unregistered materials all increased. Feminist publishing historian Maureen Bell says: "What is particularly striking is that a large proportion of...[women's] writing [after 1640] came from women of a lower social status than the predominately aristocratic and genteel writers of the preceding sixty years, and much of it was the product of women inspired by their commitment to the radical puritan movement." One name Quakers were known by was "Publishers of Truth," and as Paula McDowell, a feminist literary historian, points out, "Quaker commitment to the use of the press may be inferred from the fact that in 1659 and 1660 this illegal Nonconformist sect, despite comprising less than 1 percent of the population, published about 10 percent of all the titles printed in England." Women prophets "publishing truth"--speaking, performing religious enactments, writing out and circulating in manuscript and also in print their prophesy within a complex writing technological ecology--were part of the shifts in leadership and power among religious groups in the period before and after Quakerism becomes a bounded sect.
New historical re-representations of pasts, of past writing technologies, cannot assume that what is typical is an adequate standard for representation. Representation may have to focus on the atypical in order to surface the invisible work of representative groups of people and with writing technologies otherwise lost to sight. In Williamsburg, an entertainment and archeological site in the U.S. depicting national dramas of colonial and revolutionary America and with its own local history of re-representations and performances, today's souvenir guide book highlights the work of woman printer and newspaper publisher Clementina Rind, although her tenure as printer was only a few years. (Olmert & Coffman 1998/47) A children's book published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and sold in the souvenir shop of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. imagines a girl child's work in the manuscript workshop of her father in 15th c. Paris, drawing upon art historical scholarship about women and manuscript illumination and desires for new narratives for girls. (Robertson & Hewitt 1999) These historical re-representations of women in writing technological ecologies are products of new social movements, new research agendas, new publics of interest, and new contests for historical meaning. Changes in what we might call "infrastructures of historical representation" also echo Star's comments: "Because [infrastructures of representation are] big, layered, and complex, and because [they mean] different things locally, [they are] never changed from above. Changes take time and negotiation, and adjustments with other aspects of the systems are involved." (99/7) Understanding these representations as particular forms of information infrastructure we might turn to other comments by Star: "In information infrastructure, every conceivable form of variation in practice, culture, and norm is inscribed at the deepest levels of design. Some are malleable, changeable, and programmable--if you have the knowledge, time, and other resources to do so. Others...present barriers to users that may only be changed by a full-scale social movement." (99/14)
2. (Suchman): articulation work
In feminist narratives of technology as frozen social relations ideas of invisible work, particularly "articulation work," are analytic elements in new practices of social accountability and scientific objectivity. These analytic elements allow for spaces to see and imagine, along with other social possibilities, women's creative engagements with technologies.... Lucy Suchman ...is a sociologist who worked for twenty years at Xerox's corporate think tank the Palo Alto Research Center, also known as Xerox PARC. There she participated in many projects analyzing "working relations": "Working relations are understood as sociomaterial connections that sustain the visible and invisible work required to construct coherent technologies and put them into use." (00a/n3) Suchman tells stories about what it takes to construct technologies. She quotes "knowledge infrastructure" theorist Mike Hales: "Users 'construct' technology; they do this both symbolically, in their 'reading' of artefacts, and literally, in the articulation work that is essential before a concrete configuration of artefacts... can serve as an adequate day-to-day supporting structure for a live practice." (Hales 93/9; emphasis mine) Articulation work is required because work sites are characterized by, as Suchman says: "artifactual richness." "...a kind of archaeological layering of artifacts acquired, in bits and pieces, over time." (99/n14) Here users provide the articulation work needed to construct technological processes out of the assemblage of devices and conditions of work. "...the coherence of artifacts is a contingent and ongoing achievement of practices of design-in-use, in ways and to an extent that is missing from professional talk about finished products." (99/n14) Once again we demystify the idea of a technology as "a single stable device" and emphasize a range of processes of production, much of which is not done by socially recognized "producers" but also by others, some of whom may be locally "nonpeople," in a range of kinds of invisible work, including "use."...
Suchman describes some of her insights while working with others on projects at Xerox PARC: "As members of a very large enterprise engaged in the production of new technologies, I and my colleagues found ourselves enmeshed in an overwhelmingly complex network of relations, for the most part made up of others we had never met and of whose work we are only dimly aware. The simple dichotomy of technology production and use masks (or indexes as we begin to respecify it) what is in actuality an increasingly dense and differentiated layering of people and activities, each operating within a limited sphere of knowing and acting that includes variously crude or sophisticated conceptualizations of the others." (00b/n8) [ASIDE: you might see here some of the reasons I think this material is applicable to thinking about interdisciplinarities!]
[I want to point out that t]his movement from perceiving the masking to respecifying and indexing is crucial to the narrative of technology as frozen social relations and one of the ways it differs from the demystification process that Ohmann describes. While it includes or begins with demystifications, unmasking is not enough; new practices of social accountability and scientific objectivity are also called upon. Indexing "dense and differentiated layers of people and activities," indexing numerous "limited spheres of knowing and acting," and indexing "variously crude or sophisticated conceptualizations" translated between layers of peoples and their understandings of activities and others, all are called upon in a practice of scientific accountability and objectivity that pays attention to "working relations." Drawing upon Donna Haraway's work on situated knowledges, Suchman expresses these concerns by saying: "My starting place is recent moves to reframe objectivity from an established body of knowledge to knowledge in dynamic production, reproduction and transformation....The movement is from a single, asituated, master perspective that bases its claims to objectivity in the closure of debate, to multiple, located, partial perspectives that find their objective character through ongoing dialogue. The premise is that the latter is not only a better route to objectivity, but that it is in actuality the only way in which claims to objectivity are or ever could be grounded, however much the lived work of knowledge production is deleted from traditional scientific discourse. The feminist move in particular reframes the locus of objectivity from an established body of knowledge not produced or owned by anyone, to knowledges in dynamic production for which we are all responsible." (00a/1-2) Knowledges understood in this way and technologies are linked: "The agenda in the case of design becomes working for the presence of multiple voices not only in knowledge production but in the production of technologies as knowledges objectified [read "frozen"] in a particular way." (00a/n5) Suchman suggests two forms such objectification or freezing or stabilization of technologies as knowledges can take:  "handing-off of technologies across multiple, discontinuous worlds each of which stands as a black box for the others," thus relying upon invisible articulation work at each boundary crossing, without challenging crude conceptualizations of others' work; and  "awareness of and orientation to the work required to achieve technology stabilization and one's location" within working relations understood in layered, complex terms, possibly with active attempts at translations across boundaries. (00a/n11) Notice that technology stabilization or freezing is not necessarily undesirable. What are problematic are the forms of accountability the process does and does not permit. [ASIDE: again, you might see here why I think this material helps us think about interdisciplinarities.]
[Now I'm going to read the very last bit of writing I intend to share with you today:]
3. Cyberfeminism's use of boundaries objects, cyborg and Haraway
Star's and Suchman's tools for crafting narratives of technology as frozen social relations emphasize processes of production of technologies and technological infrastructures, speaking to complex agencies of people-things in intra-action. ["People-things" and "intra-action" are terms that come from the work of physicist Karen Barad, which I talk about in the book but not here.] Far from implying that technologies interact with people and culture in global, undifferentiated ways, their strategies of narration emphasize ecological relationships in layers of locals and globals, within and between communities of practice. These approaches are not feminist because they center women as their objects of study, but rather they are feminist because they center feminist methods that attend to various relations of power including those of gender, while they also extend and elaborate upon those methods and their logics. Feminist methods and practices are shared with and [are] ways of sharing their multiple communities of practice. Both Star and Suchman were trained as sociologists, but others who contribute to feminist technoscience studies come from a range of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and (inter)interdisciplinary locations: anthropology, political theory, communications, biology, cultural studies, women's studies, studies of literature and science, feminist social studies of science, medicine and technology, STS or science, technology and society programs, history, sociology and/or philosophy of science, and so on. Some of these (inter)interdisciplines have non-standard names, such as Donna Haraway's institutional location in the History of Consciousness (in Santa Cruz, California), or Zoe Soufoulis' in the new School of Cultural Histories and Futures (in Sidney, Australia). Star and Suchman, like others engaging in feminist technoscience studies, often position themselves in relation to the work of Donna Haraway and / or to that boundary object the Cyborg, with whom Haraway, among others, has become associated. Haraway's sometimes gnomic statements of theory and history are points of inspiration and insight, and her language and metaphors are taken up as tools for departure, for self-reflexive method, for the pleasures of story-telling and activist engagements with the world, and for the kind of humor that attends ardent feminist practices of denaturalization and renaturalization. [quoting Haraway] "Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectally, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humor and serious play." (Haraway with Goodeve 00/171)
[Another quote from Haraway] "...the point is to learn to remember that we might have been otherwise, and might yet be...." (Haraway Modest Witness, quoted in Haraway with Goodeve 00/171) The narrative of technology as frozen social relations is about that kind of memory and vision connected together through complex agencies, human and nonhuman. The Cyborg is about pasts and futures, machines and peoples, natures and cultures, inextricably interconnected, messy, contradictory, not innocent, and generative. As Haraway uses it, the Cyborg is a figure for a set of specific entities that "became historically possible around World War II and just after. The Cyborg is intimately involved in specific histories of militarization, of specific research projects with ties to psychiatry and communications theory, behavioral research and psychopharmacological research, theories of information and information processing....What interests me most [says Haraway] about the cyborg is that it does unexpected things and accounts for contradictory histories while allowing for some kind of working in and of the world." (Haraway with Goodeve 00/128-129)...
Haraway's gnomic, ironic, and thickly described stories of naturecultures ... are performative, whether written or enacted. "...a lot of people get my stuff through the public performances first and only then find the writing more accessible....in public speaking all kinds of issues are possible to perform physically. It is such an intermedia event where voice, gesture, slides, enthusiasm all shape the density of the words. Oddly, I think people can handle the density better in a performance than on the page." (108) This performative element is perhaps especially bewitching to those cyberfeminists who also position themselves in relation to Haraway and to the figure of the Cyborg. By way of Haraway and the Cyborg cyberfeminism and feminist technoscience studies overlap. Cyberfeminism is especially lively in European and in non-U.S. English-speaking locations around the globe, and is inextricably connected with arts of all kinds but especially avant-garde performance and computer art in a range of new media. The Cyborg in this context is more and more clearly a boundary object, sometimes less the post-WWII entity Haraway herself finds worth scrutinizing, and more a wild amalgam of goddess imagery and technophilia performing a range of new historical and artistic connections across centuries and across generations. In this context the Cyborg performs the work of connecting women and technology through and within many pasts. The narrative of frozen social relations is not the narrative in construction here. Rather all the narratives of technology are engaged, each for its virtues and each bringing along its baggage. Cyberfeminism shares enthusiastically Haraway's poetic passions and evocative analytic and performative language, while feminist technoscience studies shares Haraway's fascination with concrete historical specificity and theories of complex agencies of materialization. The Cyborg performs boundary work across various communities of practice embodied in ranges of either technoscience or cyberfeminism, "weakly structured in common use" and "strongly structured in individual-site use." (Bowker & Star 99/297)
As one example of cyberfeminism, British feminist Sadie Plant's book Zeros + Ones : Digital Women + the New Technoculture (Doubleday 97) develops a "new mythology" (SP/ZK 99) in which the practice of weaving stands for women's deeply historical relationships with rather than against technology. The teenage girl Ada Lady Lovelace in this mythology mathematically transforms activities of weaving (the automations of the Jacquard loom in particular) into the codes that work the computer, understood as the multitasking machine that mirrors women's multiple worlds of necessity, creation and "ordered disorder." (SP/ZK 99) The book is intended as an intervention into essentialisms of "male" technology, essentialisms constitutive of modern industrial US and European cultures, and elements in some feminist critiques of technology and its globalizations. Zeros + Ones presents an alternative picture meant to enhearten women and motivate them to delight in female possibility actualized within new technocultures. Strategically and unabashedly optimistic, Zeros + Ones is intended to challenge women in a "positive anarchic" (SP/ZK 99) nonlinear poetic performance piece of alternate useable pasts and futures. "Hardware, software, wetware--before their beginnings and beyond their ends, women have been the simulators, assemblers, and programmers of the digital machines." (SP 97 quoted in Galloway n.d. http) But the aspects of the Cyborg having to do especially with identity and embodiment are the linkages with other cyberfeminisms. The Australian art activist group VNS Matrix... organizing in the 90s, proclaimed in their Cyberfeminist Manifesto: "...we are the virus of the new world disorder / rupturing the symbolic from within / saboteurs of big daddy mainframe / the clitoris is the direct line to the matrix / VNS Matrix...." (http) In 1997 "the First Cyberfeminist International (CI) met at Documenta X, an international exhibition of contemporary art" and progressive politics in Kassel, Germany. (Galloway) Feminist artist and theorist Faith Wilding (one of the founders of the 70s women's arts movement in the U.S. and a member of the Old Boys Network, one of the groups organizing the conference) in her analysis of generational attitudes she encountered at the conference urged cyberfeminists both to define cyberfeminism and to develop theory to enhance these insurgent art activisms. Playing upon the last line of Donna Haraway's 1985 "Manifesto for Cyborgs" ("Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg, than a goddess." ) , [Faith Wilding] says: "If I’d rather be a cyberfeminist than a goddess, I’d damned well better know why, and be willing to say so." (http) [Wilding] questioned what she saw as "a profound ambivalence in many wired women’s relationship to what they perceive to be a monumental past feminist history, theory, and practice." The three manifestations of this ambivalence she described as "1. Repudiation of 'old style' (1970s) feminism"; "2. Cybergrrl-ism," by which she means an anti-theoretical practice of passionate netart; and "3. Net utopianism," needing also a critique informed by an analysis of political economy. She urges: "While affirming new possibilities for women in cyberspace, cyberfeminists must critique utopic and mythic constructions of the Net, and strive to work with other resistant netgroups in activist coalitions. Cyberfeminists need to declare solidarity with transnational feminist and postcolonial initiatives, and work to use their access to communications technologies and electronic networks to support such initiatives." (http) Thus cyberfeminism is a ranging term that passes among a variety of feminisms, generations, visualizations of embodiment, while at the same time centering art activist strategies rehistoricizing connections among women and technologies. Women are at the center of cyberfeminism, while its methodologies so far are anarchically moving and artistically postmodern.
That's all I'll present today. The rest of this chapter goes on to discuss various feminist critiques of cyberfeminism and other feminist approaches to technology, including what I call "the technology question in feminism."