Post #1: Background frameworks
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Johanna Drucker
PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 1:43 pm    Post subject: Post #1: Background frameworks

Feminist Data Practices: Post #1 Background frameworks

I have been enjoying the rich conversation over the last two weeks, and the constellation of positions and activities described and referenced: critical artworks, activism, contemporary theory, anthropology, and substantive engagement with the ways data pratices are used to reinforce power relations along traditional gender lines. Rather than comment on these directly, I going to sketch a few general points, to see how they resonate with or otherwise illuminate some of this work. I work within a feminist subject position (strategies, values), rather than an explicitly feminist practice ( topics, themes).

When I think of feminist data practice, I think first of the specific, focused, activist work called for, for instance, in a Gates Foundation post in the NY Times this week
that pointed to the fact that absence of data about women contributes to disparities in resource allocation for education, health care, basic human services. This work is crucial.
But just as we have long been aware of the distinction between gendered practices/identities and biologically sexed bodies (not to mention categorical distinctions about girl/woman
distinctions in different cultures), we are also aware that such directed activism, by its very instrumentalism, can work to reinforce the very imbalances of patriarchy it may intend to
redress. So, collection of data about real women's lived lives has to be supported, but critical caveats have to be used to extend the work and its assumptions. Laura Mandell's
recent critique of work being done through computational analysis of biologically gendered writing practices in the literary corpus shows how complicated gender becomes within linguistic and narratological expressions, as well as their social/cultural underpinnings in the identities of authors writing as men, women, in assumed voices, identities, conventions. At the core of her argument is the recognition that data is not self-evident in language than it is in the phenomena of the social, natural, physical, or cultural worlds. The constructed-ness of data, much commented upon already in this thread, is a feminist issue because the claims to authority that derive from positivist, absolute, observer-independent constructions of knowledge are authoritarian, patriarchal in their structure and operation, even if not always aligned with or articulated by men. Feminism, as we know, is not (just) a women's issue. The undoing of structures and dynamics of oppression cuts across the hierarchies and positions locked into its enactment. Feminism is structural and systematic, not thematic or topical.

These preliminary remarks are meant to make clear how I see the projects I am involved in as critical data practices from a feminist point of view:
Temporal Modelling, begun in 2000, at the University of Virginia (created with a team that included Bethany Nowviskie, Andrea Laue, Jim Allman, and Maura Tarnoff, at different times) was conceived as a graphical platform in which interpretative work could be enacted directly through visual means, creating structured output (XML) from an authored, subjective, point of view. Many other concepts and issues weave through this project, which, thanks largely to Allman and Nowviskie, reached a functional proof-of-concept stage. (
The fundamental critique of hegemonic approaches to temporality, particularly, coming up with alternatives to the timelines of empirical sciences and replacing them with temporal models rooted in hermeneutic ones, carried over into the design of the Ivanhoe Game between 2002 and about 2007. Incorporating point of view within the display environment was one crucial move, already present in Temporal Modelling, that was meant to make any single, coherent, (
external approach to the content of the game impossible. The situated-ness of production and reception were entangled with each other.
Subjective Meteorology, 2004, was a study for a project in which the metaphors and templates of conventional fluid dynamics of the atmosphere could be used to express psychic states and conditions as a complex dynamic system. (
These earlier projects feed into the work I have been engaged in with the 3DH project in Hamburg this spring, with CHris Meister, Geoffrey Rockwell, Evelyn Guis, Jana Berens, Rabea Kleymann, and Marco Petris. (
Obviously, just because a project is hermeneutic it is not necessarily feminist in its assumptions or values, and I would not claim a feminist stance for 3DH or Ivanhoe, instead, I would suggest their formulation is informed by feminist values because of how these are instantiated in my thinking. That could be a dubious claim, open to dispute, to be sure.
Temporal Modelling, Ivanhoe, and Subjective Meteorology are all documented in Speculative Computing (Chicago, 2008), and 3DH has a blog site publically accessible on which I will
soon post a report, but from which many documents are already linked. All are projects focused on data modelling from a point of view of subjectivities, partial knowledge, and situatedness within cultural, historical, and enunciative systems.

In the next week I will make two more "statement" posts: Post #2 Data enunciation and Other subjectivities; Post #3 After critique: politics of capta

Johanna Drucker: I was writing from a body-based awareness in the early 1970s, (Fragile), several years before Cixous coined the term écriture feminine (Laugh of the Medusa, 1975); I wrote a
sci-fi novel about the construction of cyborg female subjectivity from literary tropes and language, (Simulant Portrait, 1990), a year before Donna Haraway published
her Manifesto (1991); I published a book about a sentient planet and a female scientist (Otherspace: Martian Ty/opography, 1994), more than a decade before Karen Barad
published Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007); and I was describing humanistic approaches to epistemology as situated a decade and a half ago, for Temporal Modelling (2001-04), when the word had not been trademarked by Bruno Latour. I mention these chronologies not to claim authority based on priority, but to demonstrate that critical thinking emerges across practices and locations, and that the academic mainstream has its own amnesia in the present produced by critical attention to certain dominant nodes that sometimes blind us to the diversity of poetic articulations and conceptions. Links to all of this work can be found at: ( or (
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Murat Nemet-Nejat
PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:07 pm    Post subject: Post #1: Background frameworks

Hi Joanna, thank you for this brilliant introduction. A few days ago, wbhen I posted that data (statistics) itself is malleable (not objective), I was pointing exactly to what you state here-- that statistics, by its very structure and claim to objectivity, is authoritarian and tends to reinforce patriarchal (i.e. authoritarian) institutions, regardless of who generates it. As you write, "Feminism is structural and systematic, not thematic or topical."
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:36 pm    Post subject: Post #1: Background frameworks

As moderator I am compelled to point out that all of our guests have been discussing, at length, the fact that data / statistics / data visualization is not objective prima faciae: this is precisely the starting point of the entire discourse so far. Every one of the guests has built on this point, as is noted with great clarity by our new guest, Dr. Drucker. Regarding the matter of ‘someone from literature,’ a recent extensive post was made by one of the most prominentplaywrights in Britain today, Rebecca Prichard (

I trust that reading others’ posts with some care and attention will help further the discussion.
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