Category: STS

Feminisms and Technology, a bibliography in progress

I’ve been working on a now forthcoming article on feminisms and digital archives (for Spring DHQ) for a couple of years now. While the article initially was going to ask if XML and XSLT (markup and transformation languages used in many digital archives) could be thought of as feminist, I ended up writing a piece that talks about how difficult that question is to even ask. There are incredibly complex social scenes in which these tools are deployed, and most work today in technology studies acknowledges the “technosocial” scene as important to theorizing a tool. But even before dealing with the scenes of tool usage, I found that I had an incredibly difficult time finding many good resources on feminisms and digital technology of the sort used in digital archives. In even the best of situations, I was using work that addressed very different kinds of technology and that presents certain challenges.

The FemTechNet list has recently been chewing over the issue of feminist technologies and tools and others have noted the relative paucity of the literature. So, in the collaborative and distributed spirit of FemTechNet, I’d like to ask for your help adding to my bibliography. This particular piece has a specific focus, but I’m interested in developing a much larger bibliography so please comment with any citations that you think are relevant to the study of feminist technology/information design/digital tools. I’ll repost an updated bibl for those who are interested.


[Balzas 2000] Balzas, S. “The Orlando Project.” 2000.

[Bianco 2012] Bianco, J.S. “This Digital Humanities Which is Not One,” Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012: 97

[Booth 2008] Booth, A. “Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (review).” Biography, 31.4 (2008): 725-734.

[Brown, et al Unknown] Brown, S., Clements, P., and Grundy, I. “Documentation.” Unknown.

[Brown, et al 2005] Brown, S., Clements, P., Elio, R. and Grundy, I. “Between markup and delivery: Tomorrow’s electronic text today” in R. Seimens (Ed.), Mind Technologies, 15-32. University of Calgary Press, 2005.

[Brown, et al 2010] Brown, S., Clements, P., and Grundy, I. “The Orlando Project.” 2010.

[Brown, et al 2007] Brown, S., Clements, P., Grundy, I., and Balazs, S. “An Introduction to The Orlando Project” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 26.1 (2007): pp. 127-134.

[Craig, et al 2011] Craig, C. J., Turcotte, J. F., and Coombe, R. “What is Feminist About Open Access?: A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy” Feminists@law, 1.1 (2011): pp. 1-35.

[Davidson 2008] Davidson, C. “Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Prediction” PMLA 123.3 (2008): pp. 707-717.

[Earhart 2012] “Recovering the Recovered Text: Diversity, Canon Building, and Digital Studies.” This talk was given at DH2012 in Hamburg, and in a modified format at the University of Kansas. The video of the latter can be found here

[Flanders 2007] Flanders, J. “Electronic Textual Editing: The Women Writers Project: A Digital Anthology.” In J. Unsworth, K. Brian O’Keeffe, and L. Burnard, Electronic Text Editing

[Flanders and Wernimont 2010] — and Wernimont, J. “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives: The Women Writers Project” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 29.2 (2010): 425-435.

[Fraiman 2008] Fraiman, S. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens—With Help from a New Digital Resource for Literary Scholars,” Modern Philology, 106.1 (2008): pp. 142-48.

[Freshwater 2003] Freshwater, H. “The Allure of the Archive” Poetics Today, 24.4 (2003): pp. 729-758.

[Haraway 1991] Haraway, D. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth-Century,” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Available at

[Juhasz 2010] Juhasz, A. “The Views of the Feminist Archive”

[McPherson 2012] McPherson, T. “Why are the Digital Humanities So White? Or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation,” Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012: 142.

[Rooney 2006] Rooney, E. “Introduction” The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006: 1-10.

[Rowe-Finkbeiner 2004] Rowe-Finkbeiner, K. The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy (Seal Press 2004).

[Rosser 2005] Rosser, S. “Through the Lenses of Feminist Theory: Focus on Women and Information Technology.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 26.1 (2005): pp. 1-23.

[Skloot 2011] Skloot, R. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway Publishing (2011).

[Smith 2007] Smith, M. N. “The Human Touch, Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation” Textual Cultures, 2.1 (2007): pp. 1-15.

[Steedman 2002] Steedman, C. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press (2002).

[Travitsky and Prescott 2009] Travitsky, B. S. and A. L. Prescott. “Studying and Editing Early Modern Englishwomen: Then and Now” in (Ed) A. Hollinshead Hurley and C. Goodblatt, Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2009): pp. 1-17.

[Wajcman 1991] Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press (1991).


[Wajcman 2010] Wajcman, J.  “Feminist Theories of Technology,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34 (2010): pp. 3143–152.

[WWP History]

on histories, federation, and funding

I had the pleasure of offering a NITLE Shared Academics Seminar yesterday on the topic of Gender and Women’s Studies and Digital Humanities. We had a great group of people in attendance and there was a robust conversation around issues of infrastructure and funding. One of the challenges of being the seminar leader is that it’s a bit difficult to keep up with the chat while moving through a presentation, so I thought I’d take some time here to think about some of what was said.

Hidden Histories
The seminar was framed using Alan Liu’s oft-cited “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” and Natalia Cecire’s “Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities”. These two pieces allowed me to introduce the conversation that many in the DH field have been having about theory – its roles and kinds – and cultural engagement. Their work allowed me to raise the question: “what is at stake” when we bring gender and women’s studies (GWS) approaches to DH work?” Bringing that question to the fore is important, but I also want to signal that I think gender and women’s studies has always been at the heart of DH work. I don’t think we are bringing a new set of perspectives to DH, they have always been integral to some of the most foundational DH work. What we need to do is articulate that recognition and to continue to highlight the value of GWS within DH.

This is an interesting challenge for those of us who were trained to make “interventions” in modes that are combative or contrary. Rather than overturning or excavating problematic paradigms, can we articulate histories of positive change, of ethical structures that order our work? I’m compelled by Tara McPherson’s analysis of computational partitioning and its effects on our understanding of race, class, and gender (which appears in Debates in Digital Humanities). But I find myself increasingly interested in the yet-to-be-written histories of technologies and habits of work and thought that have salutary effects with respect to sexuality, race, class, or gender.

Infrastructure for tactical work
Included in our conversation about writing new histories – acts of remembrance, I think – were a number of conversations about communities/infrastructures that already exist to support GWS-DH work and how we might build new ones or further supplement existing efforts. I had begun and others have added to a resource document, as one way of aggregating information about existing infrastructure. Among the new-to-me resources discussed are two HASTAC resources, one on Feminist Game Studies and the other on Feminist Open Access Online Journals.

As more than one person noted, monumental projects – those large, multi-year, institutional projects – seem at odds with certain feminist principles. While they provide access, often to otherwise unavailable or excluded work and in the best cases to project documentation and processes, they also are subject to some of the gatekeeping practices that many feminist and queer studies scholars want to avoid (paywalls, certain kinds of authority structures that exclude particular groups, etc).

If we advance a critique of monumentalism, then perhaps we should be looking for alternative models. This led us to talking about tactical collaborations (by way of Mark Sample, by way of de Certeau) – those “fleeting and fugitive” kinds of alliances that we might make. We also discussed tactical-style projects that might utilize smaller scales and timeframes, something a group of us at an STS conference called “chiffon” interventions in order to mark their ephemeral nature. The tactical collaboration and the “chiffon” intervention have a long history in feminist activism, going back to early radical feminist zines (see Jacqueline Rhodes’ work on this). While there are clearly such projects in the history of DH – many of them fading into oblivion as Amy Earhart has pointed out – the infrastructure to support such work is lacking. Thus we found ourselves asking: how can we fund and make time for such work? In an era where “impact” is a metric for funding and funding essential to the time to do the work (course releases etc), how can we make the case for such tactical and ephemeral work?

Moya Bailey and others brought up Kickstarter as a possible funding source, perhaps we would form a feminist federation that would seek funding, and she later pointed us to Digital Sisterhood’s post on Kickstarter Funding. The Kickstarter suggestion gained some interest, and left me wondering how one might use Kickstarter while within an institution and how Review/Tenure/Promotion committees might see NEH grants and Kickstarter funding in very different ways. That discussion also brought the following exchange between Adeline Koh and Brian Croxall:Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 10.22.15 AM

Brian’s invocation of the web rings left me thinking that perhaps that sort of federation isn’t as outdated as the image might seem. This is, as Adeline’s tweet suggests, very much what efforts like NINES or the Feminist Open Spaces do. Which leaves me wondering, should we be looking to build new infrastructures and funding ventures for GWS-DH projects (using existing models) or should we be looking for those tactical opportunities, not to build something big, but to make those fleeting, fluttering kinds of interventions?

Making it like a riot-grrrrl

I have returned to this piece in the context of the #digdiv2015 conference that is happening right now in Edmonton CA and I find a glaring problem – it’s fine on gender and it completely sucks from anything like an intersectional perspective. I’ll work to write a new piece drawing on this great event that I’m at (after I take time to enjoy mama’s day) and that piece will do better. For now, I want to acknowledge here that this piece does not discuss race, sexuality, ability vectors as it should

I’d like to take a moment to see what a synthesis of two threads within recent DH debates yields for our conversations about creating an inclusive community.

The first is the idea of “making” – specifically the notion that there is something of a “do it yourself” ethic within DH – and the second is the conversation about women in the field – in particular thinking through the possibility of a feminist technosocial context within DH.

Dan Cohen tweeted this morning about Fugazi front man Ian MacKaye’s DIY approach to archiving, reminding me of a recent set of conversations about Trevor Owens’ summer post about DIY and digital humanities. Owens was ruminating on his observation that a number of his DH colleagues were also songwriters, former band members, cooks, gardeners, and zine publishers. As he put it: “one of the defining features (of DH)… is pervasive kind of scrappyness. It’s about having a do it yourself mindset.”

A colleague asked what I thought about his argument. In my response at the time I suggested that I had seen similar trends amongst my DH colleagues, but I also said:  “I’m not sure that any of this is unique to DH – I know a lot of DIY academics generally…”. The question of a DIY ethic has stuck with me over the last several weeks and in various conversations people have conveyed a similar sense that DIY is pretty pervasive amongst academics of a certain generation, and perhaps within a cultural moment for relatively affluent Americans generally (there are some class issues around DIY’s availability as a “movement” rather than an everyday reality that I won’t get into here).  I don’t think DIY is unique to DH. But there is something about DIY that is “sticky” for DH. It is clear that appeals to making, doing, building, and to a special DIY culture have been part of the authorizing rhetoric of many DH projects and recent conversations about what constitutes DH work.

“DIY” refers to a set of related, but not identical traditions. The first aligns with our current “DIY Network” – a home improvement cable channel with a clear lineage to the 1950’s variant of DIY that emphasized the importance of competency in material arts – the heyday perhaps of the shop class. The lineage moves from a masculinized return to personal competency into a 1970s green, “return to the land/homesteading roots” approach and then into a more commercialized form today represented by the range of home improvement, gardening, cooking, and arts programs on cable. It’s worth noting a certain kind of gender binary within this later form – with the feminized Martha Stewart genre working in tandem with the “Men of HGTV” genre that features attractive men who advise on addition location, tear down walls, and re-plumb bathrooms.

“DIY” also refers to an anti-corporate, self-promoting, self-publishing movement closely associated with punk and indie music.  This is the kind of DIY evoked by  Owens’ post, in which skills are learned and tools are mastered in the service of a fledgling band. This is a “scrappy” DIY that isn’t afraid to rent the legion hall, that has enough privilege to sincerely believe that “there is a version of whatever it is that you want to do that you can do right now with only an investment of your time and energy.” It is a “Henry Rollins School.”

Now, I don’t know Owens and it might be a little unfair to place him at the center of the debate, but re-reading his post helped me crystallize why I was struggling with what seems to be a benign claim – that DH is DIY – it seems harmless right? Doing it yourself is enabling, empowering, and authentic – right? Wrong. In so far as DIY names a movement for which Rollins, former lead man for the punk band Blackflag, can function as an emblem it is a hypermasculinized set of practices and cultural spaces.

But there are other possibilities – DIY names a very diverse set of practices, from Arts and Crafts through to punk, and Rollins is not emblematic of the entire field of punk. While the women of punk remain a minority, are at risk of being lost to cultural memory (see Helen Reddington’s The Lost Women of Rock), and could be subject to a culture of sexual violence that makes Stephen Ramsay’s locker room anecdote (in his reply to Posner’s recent post) look tame, they remain powerful figures of feminist intervention, self-fashioning, and cultural production.

There’s a lot that Patti Smith, the Slits, and the Seattle riot-grrrrls might offer in the way of models and warnings. But if the DH in which I participate is going to be DIY, I want to it be more like a “riot-grrrls School” than a “Rollins School.” This means a sophisticated DIY infrastructure that favors women – spaces, practices, active interventions that make it possible for women to enter into and promote themselves..

I want this not because I ever felt excluded from the DH field. The opposite is true – the Women Writers Project was a great place to learn text encoding and to be introduced to a vibrant and exciting field. I remember being struck at my first TEI conference by how many interesting women were there and how supported I felt by everyone in the community. I want a riot-grrrl, proactive, perhaps even radical, feminist DH space because I’ve had the privilege of not feeling excluded and I’d like to use that privilege to address problems that loom large within DH not because DHers are bad or insensitive but because of the gendered differentials that have shaped and continue to shape the academy, access to and use of technology and knowledge, and monetary flows.

Ramsay’s anecdotes about a locker-room culture at computer technology events and his frustration as a teacher were familiar reading. While teaching at Harvey Mudd, a science and engineering college that takes pride in current near gender parity in admissions, I saw over and over again the difficult positions that young women find themselves in when training in science and technology fields. I heard the faculty (of both genders) who confessed to having no faith in the women in the room “because the history of their participation in this class demonstrates that they are less likely to succeed.” I saw the calendar of female students in little clothing and provocative positions that hangs in certain labs. I reached out to young women who cried in frustration because they just wanted to be treated like they belonged there, rather than like some sort of anomaly or remediation case.

— Addition —

It is worth saying that I think Mudd is a great place to teach and to be a student. What I’ve related above constitutes three instances where gender issues became clear to me during my time there. I don’t think that this should characterize HMC and given the way that gender issues can play out in STEM fields, I was not surprised to see such issues arise. As I note in a comment reply below, I think HMC works to address issues when they arise and that is a good thing for all involved.

Now at the neighboring women’s college, I have advised theses on gender and gaming culture that have emerged from student experiences of sexual harassment online and in game rooms. We’re all aware that these experiences move up and down the professional/education chain. I wrote for Day of DH about my frustration at STS at having only women attend the “Editing Digital Feminisms.” I felt the palpable excitement in the panels on games and noticed the gender disparity there – not quite the locker room, but there was a “man-cave” kind of vibe. I don’t want either the locker room or the man cave for my students, my colleagues, or myself.

We talked in the “Editing Digital Feminisms” panel that day about different models – about graffiti, fashion shows and chiffon, and queering our practices. Today I’m adding the zines, music, art, and performance of women-centered punk to the list of models. There’s a lot of work to do to ensure that we have a vibrant community – do you know who produced Bikini Kill’s first self-titled album?  Ian MacKaye of the aforementioned DIY archive – the DC punk scene might have some insights to offer…

For more on that see and Girls To The Front

Feminism and Digital Humanities

I’m currently working on an article that considers certain digital archives and their technological structures from a feminist perspective. Of particular interest to me is the possibility of feminist technologies – can XML or the TEI (!) or some other markup specification *be* feminist? I’m not sure.

As I’ve been working on this essay, I’ve noted a relative absence of questions about the politics of particular tools within the DH literature. This continues to surprise me given that scholars have been asking such questions within STS fields for a long time now. Alan Liu drew attention to a broader absence of cultural criticism in his 2011 MLA talk and Jaime Skye Bianco’s piece in DH Debates, “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One,” begins to fill the lacuna in feminist critique. But there hasn’t been much that I’ve been able to find beyond our canonical philosophical texts like those of Donna Haraway that addresses DH tools and their feminist politics or lack thereof (please pass along citations that I’m missing!). This isn’t to say that feminist concerns have not been front and center for those working to build digital archives like Orlando or Women Writers Online (which is free in honor of Women’s History Month starting tomorrow). But these have largely engaged with feminist motivations – important to be sure, but not the same as identifying technologies as feminist.

In her chapter in Feminist Technologies, Deborah Johnson enumerates four working definitions of feminist technology:

  • technology that is good for women (which is to say that it improves the lives of women, no small thing to suss out)
  • technology that participates in or constitutes a gender equitable system
  • technology that favors women (thus attempting to redress a longstanding imbalance where technology is concerned)
  • technology that constitute more equitable social relations than were previously possible

As Johnson’s definitions make clear, technologies are not simply artifacts which open themselves up to study – instead, we have to think of technology in terms of sociotechnical relationships, in terms of “systems” and “social relations.” So an analysis of feminist technology is always also going to be an analysis of technological practice and culture. As Miriam Posner points out in her post today on code culture in DH, the practice of, access to, and culture of coding broadly writ  is not gender neutral. This is only one subset of the large and varied DH toolbox, but Posner is right to draw our attention to the ways in which these tools in particular are becoming part of how we claim authority within DH. As tools become part of accreditation or access, gendered differentials begin to have larger scale impacts, shaping a field, important centers, and grant funding streams in ways that are downright exclusionary. Suddenly the “big tent” becomes (or remains) a far less interesting place than it might be.

So can XML be feminist? I’m still working on that. Can C++ or Python be feminist? – someone else should tackle that (and many other someones should go at the rest of the toolbox). What is clear to me at this point is that questions about tools are critical because they are questions about both the technical and social culture of our field – about how we make, how we know, and how we assert and deploy authority. I’d like to think that there is a place within DH (an everywhere kind of place would be great) for tools that empower women…but would I say that we are currently in a situation where the tools we’re using or wishing to use help to create “equitable social relations” or “more equitable relations”? I’m not yet sure.