Week 10: Making, Sustaining, and the Anthropocene

My comments on Knight’s “Making Space: Feminist DH and a Room of One’s Own” and Gajjala’s “When Your Seams Get Undone, Do You Learn to Sew or to Kill Monsters?”

I liked Knight’s example of how the notion of minimal invisibility can clash with feminist practices that spawn different forms of transparency. It is interesting to see how she plays with the notion of minimalism, as she posits how a non-minimal tool such as the LilyPad – involving processes that are not minimal either, be it for lack of economic resources and administrative infrastructures, or for the amount of time and space it requires – can turn itself into a minimal one, for it can be easily integrated into the humanities and needs modest administrative and financial resources.
I think that her notion of in/visibility can be extended to Gajjala’s article, as it addresses the question of female unwaged labor in digital DIY spaces. I like how she stresses the fact that professional spaces are by default geared to the heteronormative male free from childcare, thus (implicitly or explicitly) excluding women from those work places and confining them to the role of angel in the house. And I also find very important the point that she makes about the fact that, when women enter such male dominated spaces, they are the ones who have to adapt to them, and not the other way round – thus emphasizing how such environments erase those (female) individualities which are allegedly at odds with male standards.
However, I wish she expanded more on how privilege, access and class play a role in the newly-born concept of “new domesticity.” Drawing a parallel with Pierre’s article “‘The Myth of Oneness’: Erasure of Indigenous and Ethnic Identities in Digital Feminist Discourse,” I think that Gajjala could have addressed in a more intersectional way the repercussions that Western trends (such as this “new domesticity”) have on non-Wesetern/underprivileged/lower class individuals and how they position themselves accordingly.
Finally, since Gajjala affirms that men who practise female-identified activities are usually feminized, is it legitimate to ask how a male individual would be welcomed in one of those digital communities dominated by female fiber-enthusiasts/gamers – what effect do you think that this would have on the dynamics of such networks and how would they respond?

5 thoughts on “Week 10: Making, Sustaining, and the Anthropocene

  1. My comments on ‘When Your Seams Get Undone, Do You Learn to Sew or to Kill Monsters?’ by Radhika Gajjala, and ‘As Luck Would Have It’ by Deb Verhoeven

    Radhika Gajjala’s article has raised some interesting questions for me by taking into account a very concrete phenomenon; however, it has also left me unconvinced and confused by some of its arguments and implications. On the one hand, for instance, I found Gajjala’s analysis of the whole ‘New Domesticity’ idea extremely interesting: it is true that such a trend is very much present and visible, and it is worth considering its implications, its possible causes and its meaning, especially in relation to digital media and social networks. However, I also think that part of its perception as being a ‘new’ phenomenon has to do precisely with its strong association to technology and Internet spaces. It is true that it is not uncommon to see groups of women meeting in public for activities of knitting and crafting, to the point that it can be indeed analysed as a phenomenon; however, I think that the visibility, and what Gajjala calls the ‘romanticization’ of these activities, has a lot to do with its representation through social media. I am not sure to what extent this knitting/crafting fashion can be considered new, at least in my own experience. Nevertheless, I would agree that this type of DIY is still, to a great extent, associated with ideas of femininity, in contrast with the hacking and coding spaces, which are still male-dominated; this is why a re-evaluation of binaries is surely very much needed, and Gajjala’s claim to the need of taking them into account is extremely relevant.

    Deb Verhoeven’s ‘As Luck Would Have It’ brings together many crucial aspects of digital research that we have looked at in the course so far. Her exploration of the possibilities of digital archives to re-frame our ways of searching, and our very understanding of cultural records, is also something I have been thinking about a bit as I have been working with databases for my project and I have been realizing some of the limitations that can be embedded into these infrastructures. Also, her analysis of serendipity and solace in association with archival research is very acute, and illuminating of the practices, as well as of the infrastructures, that characterize humanities research and its relationship to archives. (Just as a side note, the very structure and writing of the article itself has made me really look forward to hearing Deb Verhoeven’s talk. Plus, having spent most of my life crossing daily a ‘Devil’s Bridge’ in my hometown, I have related to, and loved, this reference to folktales and mythology, and how it is employed reveal the rooted-ness of our assumptions and perceptions around the idea of making and infrastructures).

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  2. It is minimal because there is no funding.
    It is minimal because there is no administrative infrastructure.
    It is not minimal because it requires a significant time investment.
    It is not minimal because it generates tremendous goodwill.
    It is not minimal because we have space.

    A hidden poem extracted from Knight’s “Making Space: Feminist DH and a Room of One’s Own”

    A few days ago I spent a good two hours at a local Jump+ store, broken phone/heart in hand. While they were assessing the damage behind the curtain I was left gazing at the latest and greatest Apple watches. From sporty and waterproof to posh ceramic, each watch projected a wearable tech world that made my old school Seiko wheeze out, “don’t make me compete!” I imagined myself at the next DH-y conference clad in nothing but the latest tech (Google Glass, LilyPad, Apple Watch — the list of tech endless and ever-changing), my whole body screaming: “welcome to the future, I’ve known all along and am already here!” Hailed back to reality with a call that my phone assessment was ready, I returned to my soft, tech-free body, anxiously device-free and hideously bare in light of this new-wired world: where soft and hard meet.

    So, I’ve been thinking a lot about wearable tech and cyborg-dom this week and what it means to mobilize communities via tech — as well as the ethical commitments that come with imagining future, technological worlds (Balsamo). About imagines futures, both possible and unfathomable, and about visibility as well as the problem of transparency in both interface and tech design.

    I’ve also been thinking about the current “minimalist” trend, “clean” web design, and the insatiable need to “delight” users: the game in which we work to pleasantly catch each other off guard. Of throwing things out, scaling down, the ethics of repair, and the things we learn from loss (Nowviskie).

    If the digital connects the virtual and the material (rather than replacing), what happens if we take our roles as stewards — not gatekeepers — of knowledge (by and for the people) seriously and begin to think of digital scholarship as tethering, rooting, and not as abstracting, or cloud-building (as in “The Irreducible Cloud” server).

    What if we turned complexity inside out and pushed for visibility (as in hardware, as in craft, as in labour)? What if we pushed for transparency, literally: in our tech (still caught up in clear purple gameboy dreams)? Or would the overload of “things to see” overwhelm us, blind us differently — not unlike the problem of visualizing big data.

    &How within DH can we leverage the concept of “minimal” as in off the radar and institutionally nimble with a feminist model of taking up space, of asking to been seen (in terms of labour), and asking for transparency (in terms of equal opportunity)?


  3. My reading of “When Your Seams Get Undone, Do You Learn to Sew or to Kill Monsters?” by Radhika Gajjala evoked a few of the same questions as touched upon by Aurora – the inclusion of “subaltern women” felt like an afterthought that was not fully developed in the article, especially considering the significance of the topic as presented in her introduction. I also had a hard time with some of the criticisms presented in the article, though I’m realizing this may be due to differing understandings of what DIY means, and what the “new domesticity” movement really entails.

    I found the criticisms coming from Matchar about the effects of life-style blogs and the “grow your own veggies” movement bordering on offensive – again this is probably due to vastly different understandings of what these things mean. The people I know who are gardening, knitting, preserving, etc. – acts that require a lot of time and attention – realize that they, in order to be sustainable, require the support of a community; one person cannot take on all of these roles and live off of them alone. These people are doing their best to escape the limitations imposed on them by capitalism, by truly “seizing the means of production” to the best of their ability. If they want to make their living spaces beautiful (because the only places any of us can afford are falling apart or covered in black mold and peeling paint) then we create things ourselves, or trade with others (look at the rise of websites like bunz.com). In order to cut food costs, growing and cultivating a garden, and preserving the harvest (supplemented with the occasional dumpster-dived haul) can make a world of difference. There’s an element of intentionality in these acts that creates a deeper appreciation for things as simple as crafting and small-scale farming – and to reduce that to some kind of reusable-tote-bag aesthetic catch-phrase like “grow your own veggies!!!” is ridiculous. I’ve also never seen these acts as a form of gender essentialism, rather, they are radical acts and exercises in exploring alternative ways of creating, surviving, and cultivating community that are performed by all genders.

    I suppose the “new domesticity” explored by Gajjala has more to do with the quaintness of it as presented by (professional) lifestyle bloggers in North America and Western Europe, but I felt the need to express a vastly different form of DIY as survival that exists in populations geographically situated much nearer to us than the “subaltern”.

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  4. RADHIKA GAJJALA’s “When Your Seams Get Undone, Do You
    Learn to Sew or to Kill Monsters?”

    This article replaces the DIY culture in the feminist history and questions the notion of « new domesticity ». Even if I am familiar with those practices, I never thought about how it was actually gender connoted.
    However, I did not really understand why the author was so critical and almost suspicious about the DIY and the concept of ‘new domesticity’. I rather see those phenomenons as forms of subversion of inherited domestic practices, that re-think traditional hierarchies of labour. Many DIY bloggers are now able to make their livings out of their passions, and I guess it is a good point. However, if we make a connection with Jennifer Pierre’s article, those movements can also be perceived as manifestations of the ‘digital divide’, since most of the time it concerns white, middle/upper class middle-age women. But I guess that after all it is a potential way to create links between different social classes through new ways of sharing craft activities. I am convinced that linking making with digital tools, crafty with nerdy, or cotton threads with online threads can be a path to empowerment and an alternative way to be together.

    It is also true that we still consider anonymous users on certain online platforms as male (hence the gendering of websites), and that the feminization of new domesticity is a telling indicator of how professional categories are unbalanced because of structural social and historical factors.
    I think the achievement of balance within professional places is a matter of time, and that the generation of young girls raised among geek knitters will certainly know how to get through it.
    One of my best friends studies telecommunications, and concurrently works as a web-developer for… her favorite professional online knitter. That reminds of how the usual boundaries we build between activities are artificial and unfounded.
    And that cable stitch is almost as tough as solving differential equations.

    DEB VERHOEVEN “As Luck Would Have It
    Serendipity and Solace in Digital Research Infrastructure”

    I was very impressed by Deb Verhoeven’s article, and more especially by her meta-analysis of the research process to introduce the HuNI project. I understand that it deals with another kind of making, the ‘world-making’, through data infrastructures designing.
    The article is very rich and I think it would be great to discuss it further in class, so I will just highlight the points that really inspired me:

    – The concept of serendipity applied to the research method, or more accurately the research process paradigm. I think it serendipity is kind of a recurring dream deep-rooted in Western epistemology since Archimedes’ eureka, followed by Newton’s apple and so on. A feminist approach of research then rejects the idea that ‘researchers are characterized individually as hardworking and resourceful but ultimately just plain lucky enough to blunder across the buried bodies’. Ideally, feminist research and discoveries should give up the ideal vision of the happy accident through re-shaping access to data thanks to digital tools.

    – The reflexivity around infrastructure design, seeing data and systems of knowledge through a new lens. The article insists on their constructiveness, and suggests that feminist infrastructures should be aware of how ‘ontologies are political, boundary-drawing practices’. Information is thus determined by social factors, and the output by the input, as it is noticeable with everyday online research that Deb Verhoeven describes as ‘stuck in an infinitely repeating hall of mirrors’.

    – The place of the researcher. The article argues in favour of shift from the researcher as user of archive to the researcher as co-producer of knowledge through purposeful infrastructure.

    – Opening data and sharing our comfort zones. I am not sure but I think it is a way to reconcile research with solace brought up by ‘serendipitous discoveries’, since the more carefully you share and the more you are susceptible to be (positively) surprised.
    This is also related to one important point in the conclusion: the balance between sharing what we have and ‘the right to conceal and withhold’ (it reminded me of a discussion I had with Jasmine on how and why creating online protected spaces)

    – The use of material metaphors to understand digital infrastructures and navigation through knowledge.

    I eventually found an echo between the article and my reflections on Her Story, since I think that Sam Barlow tried to guide the player’s fortuit discovery through a highly constructed access to data.

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    1. I’m glad someone else also felt suspicious of Gajjala’s “suspicions” around DIY. In terms of the continued gendering within the “digital divide,” I wonder if independent coding and digital making will come under the umbrella of forms of DIY that move beyond fiber-based crafting. They have a lot in common after all — slow, careful, repetitive work — which can suggest a meditative form of creation.


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