“Diversity is regularly referred to as a ‘good’ word precisely because it can be used in diverse ways, or even because it does not have a referent.” –Sara Ahmed, On Being Included, p. 80
On Being Included is one of those books that took over my life. It seemed like, for a while, I inserted this text into just about every conversation I had. “Oh, that’s similar to what Sara Ahmed talks about when she says … ” Maybe it’s because I want people to associate me with this brilliant author! It’s also partially because this book is really smart about dealing with the ways that terms–specifically, diversity–are taken up within the institution (and she does a neat job of thinking through what institution means) and used to obscure particular kinds of work. Although diversity is the term Ahmed deals with most directly in this text (she also discusses racism later in the book), I found that many of her observations and arguments were also applicable to the term feminism, and I found a lot in this text that helped me to think about my dissertation project.
On the very first page, Ahmed suggests that some terms, like diversity, make possible “the departure of other (perhaps more critical) terms, including ‘equality,’ ‘equal opportunities,’ and ‘social justice'” (p. 1). Because I situate apparent feminism as an approach to social justice, I am particularly interested in the ways Ahmed sees diversity as a term that reduces our use of the term social justice. Also, I might add feminism to the list she offers. So, the question I am left with is this: In what ways might usages of the term diversity prevent us (academics, those within the institution) from making social justice and feminism apparent? And, equally important: What other important critical terms might be obscured by our uses of social justice and/or feminism? This is something I think through a bit in my final chapter, but it’s also a question I imagine I will be asking for some time.
A passage of particular importance to me in thinking about my decision to base my work around the term feminism comes when Ahmed talks about the “political efficacy”–I might say efficiency–of the term diversity. “I arrived to the research presuming that the emptiness of diversity was a sign of its lack of political value and utility. But the political efficacy of this word was related by some practitioners to its emptiness” (p. 79). Ahmed suggests that this emptiness means diversity can be defined in a variety of ways, and this “challenges a world that refuses variety, a world that considers isues onlly from a singular viewpoint. . . . The very lack of referentiality becomes a certain starting point for a critique of how some viewpoints are given a referential function” (p. 79). In advocating apparent feminism, I hope to sponsor the sorts of conversations that Ahmed is talking about, conversations that are inclusive and that critique singular, “objective” presumptions about “empty” terms.
“Rendering oppression visible makes it available for intervention and change” — Virginia Eubanks, Digital Dead End, p. 28
As I sat reading Digital Dead End earlier this week, I overheard a conversation between some of my friends who were in the same room. They were discussing the availability of keyboards, “mouses,” and other hardware at a local charity. I listened purposefully, then, as the conversation turned toward the lack of available software. My friends did not discuss the lack of available training, although I know that is an issue for the many people with economic struggles in my area. And that, in essence, was the most important concept I took away from this text: Distribution is not the problem as far as ensuring access to technology. The much larger problem is how we think about technology in combination with social justice. Eubanks alleges that “continued emphasis on the development of science and technology as the route to greater prosperity and equality for all American is a familiar but dangerously underexamined species of magical thinking” (p. xv). In other words, if we are to work toward social justice as digital rhetoricians and technology scholars, we must work toward structural change–and this includes changes in our ways of thinking about technology, what it does, and what constitutes “access.”
Just searching for some new tech ideas for the Spring, and thought this was a pretty good one …
This is a re-post from MIT Technology Review. I think it would be a great piece to assign in a digital writing course. The full article is here:
And here’s an excerpt:
At a time when new media are proliferating, it is tempting to imagine that authors, thinking about how their writing will appear on devices such as electronic readers, tablet computers, or smartphones, consciously or unconsciously adapt their prose to the exigencies of publishing platforms. But that’s not what actually happens. One looks in vain for many examples of stories whose style or form has been cleverly adapted to their digital destinations. Stories on e-readers look pretty much as stories have always looked. Even The Atavist, a startup in Brooklyn founded to publish multimedia long-format journalism for tablet computers, does little more than add elements like interactive maps, videos, or photographs to conventional stories. But such elements are editors’ accretions; The Atavist’s authors have not been moved, as Baker was, by the creative possibilities of a new technology. Writers are excited to experimentation not by the media in which their works are published but, rather, by the technologies they use to compose the works.
In honor of Election Day tomorrow, I’m posting a fascinating campaign aid which I would argue is a great example of apparent feminism. In this ad, Butler makes visibly obvious the results of a law her opponent supported. (The law is North Carolina’s Woman’s Right to Know Act, formerly HB 854.) Interestingly, she is rather careful not to explicitly name the instrument she’s holding. This is a fascinating rhetorical choice, and one that I think reflects the difficulty and discomfort of apparency projects. Check it out: