Futures of Feminist and Queer Solidarities: Connectivity, Materiality, and Mobility in a Digitalized World

Online International Conference​, September 30-October 2, 2020

Seeking to bridge critical conversations on feminist and queer solidarities with struggles around environmental justice and sustainability in the context of a digitalized world, this conference recognized environmental issues as questions at the forefront of feminist and queer agendas.

Across six panel sessions with paper presentations and discussants, keynote lectures, a plenary roundtable, and a closing panel, around fifty conference participants embarked with a set of questions to critically interrogate digital  materialities as well as​ the types of inequalities and social injustices that the digital world stimulates. After three days of intellectually inspiring, insightful and thought-provoking contributions, a rich diversity of topics had been brought to the conversation.

Raising critical questions about digital inevitability, digital labor and digital care, conference participants brought forth possibilities for feminist and LGBTI+ solidarity as glitch – of which you can read more about in the blog post below – highlighted the power of (in)visibility in contemporary feminist and LGBTI+ activism, and asked probing reflections to the sense of urgency and temporality that tend to characterize current discussions on ‘the digital’, to mention a few topics that were discussed across the engaging days of the conference.

The conference aspired to tackle these questions not only by theorizing solidarity in the era of digitalization but also suggesting new ways of academic exchange through its format.
Thrilled by the great interest for, and enthusiastic participation in, the Futures of Feminist and Queer Solidarities Conference, as organizers, we take this as an encouragement to further develop new formats and visions for academic exchange that not only explore solidarity with other human beings but also with the nature and environment. 

Lena Martinsson // Mia Liinason // Olga Sasunkevich // Selin Çağatay – Conference organizers

In collaboration with TechnAct: Transformations of Struggle Research Cluster and the Spaces of Resistance Project at the Unit of Gender Studies, University of Gothenburg. A warm thanks to Jay Uhler.

The conference was generously funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond for the Advancement of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Disruptions and the faulty – The conference “Futures of Feminist and Queer Solidarities” taught me to appreciate the broken and glitching

By Limes Olsson

Image: A glitch that came into being when four pictures uploaded in the same Instagram post were saved to the author’s phone image app. Instead of being saved separately, the images merged into one. 

The online conference “Futures of Feminist and Queer Solidarities: Connectivity, Materiality, and Mobility in a Digitalized World” was held between September the 30th and October the 2nd. It was a small conference but the schedule was full to the brim with interesting topics, a buffet packed with feminist art, social movements in the gaming industry, closer looks at the social impacts of COVID-19, online spaces and surveillance, emancipatory action through the digital, and much more! 

The topic of the feminist glitch or glitch feminism was brought up during one of the sessions and stuck with me. It is a helpful metaphor and tool to work with to understand non-linearity and struggles. The feminist glitch is an interruption and an unveiling of flaws, buffering, hiccups, happy accidents and frozen frames. The glitch is not an end but rather something that disrupts and diverts the course. Everything does not freeze just because one app/website/device/et cetera gets stuck on a specific frame. Browsing might continue elsewhere, or be paused for activities or inactivities in other spaces. The error in a glitch is only a problem if disruptions and diversions are considered problems. If an upheaval and a question of the common progression of things is considered destructive or faulty. 

Glitches can be seen as phenomena that give the opportunity to change paths, continue elsewhere, take a break, take a step back, and re-think. 

Another concept that was discussed during the conference that I found interesting and wanted to explore further was that of the broken machine, an understanding of bodies and beings that do not work as expected as being broken and in need of fixing to fulfil their potential, or discarded as lost causes. From a feminist perspective these broken machines can be understood as a point of resistance. By being faulty and not working properly one can critique the norm of efficient production and rapid processing. 

What follows hereafter are summaries of three sessions from the conference. Not all of them touched on the concepts of the glitch or broken machines explicitly but the notions were present as themes sprinkled in throughout. I am therefore going to use these two concepts to string together the discussion.

Session 2: Resistance & transformations through art, fashion, activism

Session 2 opened on feminist activism and disrupting oppressive patterns on social media platforms, followed by feminist variety show making a spectacle out of itself, and concluded through the corporeality of certain bodies’ dual existence as things and Self. This session had a heavy focus on art and creative making in a digital space, but with un-severable bonds to and roots in physical existence.

The session started with two researchers who are trying to hack the system through a social media account, a platform for discussions about feminist and queer issues, where a wide variety of people get to post. They are trying to divert from influencer culture and aesthetic and create something else. For example, there is no cohesive brand to the platform, but rather it is allowed to change and shift with time and the discussion. The platform is designed for the topics and discussions to be accessible and for knowledge to reach outside of academia locked behind paywalls. The project is also getting a physical manifestation through workshops and art that work to slow down and anchor the digital.

The following presentation discussed the online feminist variety show SistershipTV, centred around the host characters, The Powers, but with guest appearances from other characters and performers. The show’s different segments are colorful, critically camp, ridiculous and failed, gender subversive and do-it-yourself (DIY). It is variety but with a feminist critique that questions why things are the way they are, and uses artforms to disrupt what is expected and easy to comprehend and categorize.

For the final topic the focus was on queer aesthetics and art in terms of dispossession and the body as a person and/or as a thing in Latin America. The central points of discussion were a poem by queer and feminist Susana Chavez, and a performance by queer and feminist Elyla Sinvergüenza. The poem, which is about disposability of women’s bodies in the maquiladora industry, is accessible through a blog, that since the artist’s death has become harder and harder to navigate as it is digitally decaying. The performance is a recording of a live performance, but with the end being edited to feature an overlay of an attempt at killing a duck that gives the performance a different end.

The material in the last presentation showcases the glitch explicitly, through a blog that no longer works the way it was intended and the editing of an archived performance, but the other two presentations can be tied to the glitch as well. The unexpected variety show, and the breaking of influencer norms of aesthetic feeds and clear branding become glitches in a system that expects certain patterns and progressions.

Session 5: Queering the cyberspace in times of pandemic and beyond. Thinking activism, dating, entertainment, and the online-offline relationship

Session 5 focused on topics around queer solidarity online in different national contexts. In the first presentation two researchers discussed queer online parties during quarantine lockdown in United Kingdom, and the signs of community used by the participants, such as shirts with political statements printed on them, the use of digitally imposed backgrounds, fetish gear and performances. The queer space created for the duration of the party disrupted both time and space and created a distraction, but also queered the assumed split between online and offline spaces.

The discussion then moved on to the case of pride parades in Turkey. The presentation focused specifically on Istanbul Pride 2019, and the interplay between the use of social media, particularly Twitter, and the physical pride march. It showcased how online and offline are entangled and activism in both spaces do not work separately but in tandem. The importance of realizing that place does matter, and that LGBTQ discourse is not universal were also key points brought forth.

The final topic was online parties in Turkey creating cyberspaces for queer persons. Due to the dangers of being out as a queer person in Turkey, especially when many are confined to their homes due to COVID-19 quarantine, these online parties create an opportunity for escapism. The parties were in a way more accessible than parties in physical spaces, since anyone with an internet connection could attend, in theory, and it was not just contained to bigger cities such as Istanbul. It showed that queer people exist all over Turkey.

The feminist glitch takes place implicitly in these discussions. The notion of the glitch is fruitful to recognize the ways in which online parties take shape, creating a space that is not fully physical but neither fully digital. Props such as backgrounds provided by tech software. The distinction between online and offline constantly muddled and broken down. Furthermore, the broken and glitchy is part of queer life, especially when life has to be lived in a system where one does not officially exist.

Plenary roundtable: How is the future of feminist and queer solidarities?

The roundtable discussion of the second day was focused on what the future of feminist and queer solidarities could be like. What are our reformative possibilities? How do we find new ways of challenging and working with structures of powers in changing landscapes of social interactions? How can we ensure that we incorporate ecological and social responsibilities in our work? The discussion followed several threads that I have tried to summarize.

The discussion started with the issue of changing modes of engagement and asked what that means for making change in power structures. What power structures do we engage with, and should we keep doing it this way? How can new forms of engagement and community-making be connected to the traditional power structures that still hold a lot of sway? And what effects will it have on possibilities for change when these connections are weak or non-existent?

The discussion then swung over to the importance of environmental struggles at the forefront of feminist and queer agendas, especially with regards to indigenous struggles. Without the understanding that these struggles are intrinsically intertwined there can be no productive work. 

This was followed by the topic of feminist humor as a form of resistance. How laughing is anti-productive and therefore anti-capitalist, how humor can be used to discuss heavy topics and how laughter becomes a form of pleasure activism. Simultaneously, the question of who gets to laugh was raised, and whose laughter is heard. Is it just the white cishet feminist?

The discussion then turned to critiquing the assumptions that women of color do not have or want a space in the digital, despite being crucial to the production of technology. One example that has been important in one of the panellists’ own research has been Navajo women in tech production and the bodily toll it has taken on them. This is combined with an underwhelming economic compensation, but simultaneously these women take a lot of pride in their work.

Another comment that was brought up is the importance of hospitality in activism and academia to show appreciation to research participants for taking part, or to conference presenters for joining. By showing gratitude, one has a better chance of forming better relationships.

Finally, there was the discussion of glitch feminism and the resistance in broken bodies, bodies that do not work well. By disrupting the assumption that value is inherently earned from usefulness the glitch and the broken body become spaces of resistance. This leads me to ask some questions. Is it possible to glitch power structures? To create new and unexpected pathways from new community-making and relationship-building to the old power structures? Or can a glitch bypass these structures altogether? What would that look like? Is feminist humor a form of glitch? Something that by some is assumed to be impossible. How do we allow broken bodies and machines to take up space, to make space for themselves – ourselves? Non-productive, broken and glitchy bodies exist in abundance, so how can we allow for that to exist in a space, instead of spending our energy on concealing flaws? How do we work with what we have instead of filling our time with an endless strive to create perfect and predictable bodies and machines?

The different sessions all played into the overall theme that the conference was trying to address, and the conferenced tied nicely together with all its different topics and perspectives. It stressed the importance of staying entangled, struggling together, avoiding reductionist shortcuts and letting differences be a part of the work, rather than a problem to overcome. The glitchy, leaky and broken bodies can create new ways of living and thinking that are not about being fixed, to adhere to normative assumptions of a good and productive life. Instead we can embrace the twitchy extensions and broken casings in ourselves, and all of the other dependent critters in our midst.

References and further readings: