Teetering productively while pushing the boundaries of the feedback loop for maximum convergence
The methodology of the oppressed
Donna Haraway's cyborg
FemTechNet video dialogue “Feminism, Technology, and Sexualities”
Sandoval, Chela “New Sciences: Cyborg Feminism and the Methodology of the Oppressed” (1999)
Okay, so my title may have gotten carried away with itself; this is not a how-to guide on creating dialogues of sense that tower precariously, but is rather interested in the questions of how to effective and functional overlapping efforts can converge between divergence communities. However, in light of the often awkward building process that even a pre-planned exchange can entail, the significance of ongoing reflection on how engagement takes place - in light of politics of division and control that a feminist movement hopes to subvert - we can learn more about developing what Chela Sandoval refers to as a “methodology of the oppressed. As such a methodology could provide guides for resistance under first world transnational cultural conditions” (Sandoval 248), such a process applies not only for oppressed groups under colonialism and post/modernity, but any-everyone who resists a dominant world order (256). Though it is a problematic terminology, making moves toward a ‘methodology of the oppressed’ in the pursuit of social change, is productive of “differential consciousness” (248) within each individual in dialogue. In creating this apparatus that is in turn conducive to resistance, we are perhaps able to build what Donna Haraway has called for: a theoretical bridge between subaltern communities that have been separated by difference in order to challenge existing disciplines of academic knowledge, and strengthen resistance of repressive socio-cultural conditions (250-1). Considering this, I suppose the Jenga metaphor could be functional this way.
The FemTechNet video dialogue featuring Julie Levin Russo and Faith Wilding, moderated by Anne Balsamo, is a good example of the importance of precarity in discussions that are situated within a political discourse steeped in difference yet predicated on a search for a common voice. In this case, the dialogue manages to finish off without toppling over, though it gets pretty wobbly at times*. The participants set out with a trio of organizing principles to demarcate the origins of the discussion to come, terms formidable but not monolithic when deconstructed/ overlapped/combined: Feminism, Technology, Sexuality. The dynamics of the Russo-Wilding politics of difference at play concern generation/age, as highlighted by Balsamo’s emphasis on the contrasting perspectives of Russo and Wilding on the topic of cyberfeminism**, and oriented in part by cyberfeminism’s emergence at different points in Russo’s and Wilding’s relationships to feminist politics, technology, art and activism in the 90s. From the outset, the curatorial considerations in pairing Russo and Wilding seem apparent, as Balsamo makes use of this difference in order to draw out distinctions/shifts/eras of feminist practice.
Considering the presence of hybridity in the arguments of Sandoval (‘the middle voice’, etc.), Haraway (cyborg feminism), and in the reaching toward dialogue in the FemTechNet video series (hybrid in the sense of two individuals attempting to build unified agreeable perspectives), the complexities of the process of a mobile hybridization/hybridity, or what Haraway calls “joint kinship” (253), is referred to by Sandoval as “where love is understood as affinity – alliance and affection across lines of difference which intersect” (253). But, how could they intersect in non-binding ways, and what are the impacts to consider for these affiliations on subjectivities across difference?
Ideas of how to approach these questions of coordinated resistance are certainly still unfolding. One hypothesis is that through considerate, tenacious, and generous reflection on opportunities for dialogue across difference, a vernacular will evolve that best serves the needs of the unfolding conditions under deliberation. As Russo explains, neither feminism nor technology are teleological; they require archaeologies into their histories and of the kinds of structures and power relationships that continue to occur so that we can continue to understand where we are going in the future (FemTechNet, 14:45-45). For this to work however, those seeking such a productive feedback loop must build awareness for the imperative destabilization that a queering of normative epistemological methods entails, and be willing to go the distance.
*Although offering distinct points of view on a shared interest in ‘cyberfeminism’, the dialogue loses momentum where there is an attempt to build a list of milestones of technology and feminism: Wilding in particular gets caught up in the chronology of achievements as well as her own difference from Russo (being the older of the two guests), and comes dangerously close to seeking what Haraway has called a “single ground of domination to secure our revolutionary voice” (Sandoval 252). I felt that their bridge nearly collapsed around this point, which was particularly evident in the response from Russo, who comments that “feminism is not linear, and (…) neither is technology, and there are all these different moments in the history of feminist dialogue that are still vital and still happening between people” yet laments the necessity of having to do “feminism 101, again, with someone, and explain (to them that) this is intersectionality and this is why it is important…”. Even though Russo is quick to add that “it is important that there are places that these feminist conversations can remain vital and dynamic and keep happening and that is as important as some teleological progression (FemTechNet, 14:30-15:30). Bridge = saved.
**The cyberfeminist, a term coined by the Australian female video collective VNS Matrix in 1991, grew from uses for media technologies and predominantly Internet-based networks to critique and challenge the existence and boundaries of gender constructs and sexual difference. Often these uses found application by way of intervention and generation of alternative online communities where anonymity or gender neutrality was possible.
Sandoval, Chela “New Sciences: Cyborg Feminism and the Methodology of the Oppressed” in Jenny Wolmark (ed.) Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs and Cyberspace. pp. 247-263. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
FemTechNet “Feminism, Technology, and Sexualities”, <http://vimeo.com/70311441