Key note lectures and conversation

Material accountability, digital refusal and COVID-19

This talk will address two questions frequently ignored in discussing digital activism, and further sidelined at the time of COVID-19. The first one is the question of digital refusal – the possibility and the right to opt out of digital tools, to not participate digitally, to not be part of the database. The second is the question of material – and especially, environmental – harms of digital devices and communication platforms. At the time when quarantine and social distancing have rapidly increased our reliance on digital technologies for communicating, working, studying and managing our health, what kind of feminist and queer refusals can we practice and foster? How do we account for the dangers and harms of digitisation, and for their uneven global distribution, while relying on those very tools to sustain our solidarities? How can we focus on environmental and social justice that is accountable to both human and non-human life, without privileging one over the other?

Adi Kuntsman is Reader in Digital Politics at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. Their current work focuses on selfies between political activism and biometric governance; the politics of ‘opting out’ of digital communication; and environmental damages of digital technologies. Dr Kuntsman is the author of Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Mingranthood and Nationalism in Cyberspace and beyond and Digital Militarism: Israeli Occupation in the Social Media Age (with Rebecca L. Stein); the editor of Selfie Citizenshipand the co-editor of multiple collections and journal special issues.

Feminism, data studies and future solidarities: towards a production of standpoints

How can we understand datafication from a feminist perspective, and what does it mean for future feminist and queer solidarities? Data infrastructures and technologies such as big data, wearable technologies and artificial intelligence present key challenges to social justice. There is therefore great need for explicit critiques that encompass matters of gender, race, sexuality and postcoloniality. But the politics of big data go beyond the efforts of organized citizen action. Certain mundane everyday practices can have political significance even if they are not usually classified as activism. Data practices such as algorithmic disobedience, self-tracking, disengagement, unintended use patterns and non-organized data manipulation are performed not just by activists, but actors who occupy a range of identities: citizens, users, consumers, and employees, and so on. In this talk, I draw a theoretical roadmap of feminist data studies and propose a framework of feminist care ethics for approaching such data practices. I suggest that approaching data power in everyday data practices as ‘matters of care’ allows us to account for their affective, embodied, and material elements, including the habitually devalued human labour of data users, activists, producers, consumers, and citizens. In doing so, I outline some key concepts in feminist and postcolonial STS and queer studies, which can be invaluable for understanding some of the current social, political and cultural challenges of datafication. Through this discussion I argue towards a feminist data studies that moves beyond ethnographic and phenomenological accounts of digital and datafied worlds, and is committed to the production of standpoints.

Dr Aristea Fotopoulou is UKRI-AHRC Innovation Fellow and Principal Lecturer at the University of Brighton, currently working on her second book “Feminist Data Studies: big data, critique and social justice” (forthcoming in SAGE Publications, Data Justice Series). Positioned at the intersections of media and cultural studies with science and technologies studies, her research focuses on digital transformations and data-driven technologies from a queer feminist perspective. Her most recent writing examines AI and gender, feminist care ethics and datafication, and critical data literacies for advocacy. She currently leads the project “ART/DATA/HEALTH: Data as creative material for health and wellbeing”, creating an art/data science interface to tackle issues of health datafication and social inequalities. Her first book “Feminist activism and digital Networks: between empowerment and vulnerability” (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2017) was welcomed as “required reading for social justice classrooms”. (@aristeaf)

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