Report from the Autonomous Infrastructures As Feminist Practices Gathering
Produced by FemHack Collective
April 13, 2015
The Autonomous Infrastructures as Feminist Hacker Practices: The Way Forward was organized by FemHack Collective (1) on April 11, 2015 at La Passe in Montreal. La Passe (2) was the perfect space to organize this gathering as it situates itself as an autonomous self-managed space reminiscent of the European social centres. 25 individuals participated in the gathering. There were university professors, PhD students, independent researchers, activists and hackers, among others and they came from backgrounds as diverse as: technology, biology, film, social work, communication, political science, literature, etc. The following report is based on the presentations and discussions that took place as well as the collective notes that were taken on a riseup pad (3) during the gathering.
Motivation – Origin of the idea?
We started with the assumption that in the past few years more and more feminist hackers, makers and geeks have been pondering on the need to have and built autonomous infrastructures to resist the (digital) targeting of women, feminist, queer and transgender individuals (in particular, but not exclusively as also targeted are migrants, refugees, people of color, etc.), the centralization of the internet and its transformation into a consumption sanctuary and a space of surveillance, control and tracking of dissent voices by governments, anti-feminists, and corporations, among others.
At the same time of the heightened consciousness, concrete projects embracing a feminist autonomous infrastructure ethos have emerged. Some examples are : The Geek Feminism Wiki and Blog, Feminist hackerspaces, feminist convergences such as the TransHackFeminist convergence held in Calafou in August 2014, the First Feminist Server Summit held in Brussels in December 2013, etc.
Autonomous infrastructures have been part of activist ethos and landscape for many decades now. Squats and Social Centres that have developed in Europe often embody this practice and the values associated it with as well as other examples such as the Zapatista. At the tech and media activists level, Indymedia was and is (IMC is still present in Africa) still embracing autonomous infrastructures by setting up Independent Media Centres (IMC) during protests and/or setting up independent web platforms. The history of autonomous infrastructures is so rich that feminist hackers, makers, and geeks have a large repertoire of practices to be influenced by.
How do we conceptualize autonomous infrastructures ?
We take the concept of autonomy from radical geography scholarships and practices that understand autonomy as a desire for freedom, self-organization and mutual aid(4) whereas we understand the term infrastructure in an expansive way meaning, but not limited to : code, software, hardware, design, space, social solidarities, etc. We have decided not to use the concept of “free/libre infrastructure”, and rather prioritize the use of autonomous infrastructure for a variety of reasons. First, because in our imaginaries autonomous infrastructure seems to appeal more to our theoretical grounding and practice and also because we are trying to go beyond a free/libre software framework that might not appeal to a larger constituency. Free/libre software are obviously part of the tools we developed and encourage people to use, but using free/libre infrastructure did not resonate well with the project we are imagining and which aims also at going beyond computers. Moreover, we believe that autonomous infrastructures have the power to resist, inspire, build community, but also to disrupt systems in place and in certain context to bring either destabilization or destructuration.
Embracing intersectional feminism
FemHack embraces an intersectional feminist perspective. This is a theoretical framework that looks at the world through plural perspectives highlighting the relationship between gender, sexual orientations, geographical location, ethnicity, class, etc. Moreover, it is a stance that connects the dots between patriarchy, capitalism, racism and other systems of oppressions. By using such framework, we recognize and acknowledge that individuals have privileges in society, and that these modalities play out in the space we engage ourselves in whether they be online or offline and within the groups we gather. We therefore do not shy away from acknowledging privileges and aim at addressing them while at the same time attempting to create safe(r) spaces.
The Guided Dialogue
We organized the day according to four main themes. These themes represented what we believe is at the core of autonomous infrastructures i.e. Space, Hardware, Software and Social Solidarities. You can read the detailed notes from the pad at https://pad.riseup.net/p/autonomous-infrastructures
We understood space as the physical space we create to gather, feel safe and allow ourselves to push the boundaries of the possible by embodying practices that we believe in. In a feminist hacker, maker and geek practice these include, but are not limited to: feminist hackerspaces, feminist biohacklabs, feminist activists spaces, Feminist teach convergences, etc. Within this theme presenters focused on: BioHackLabs, Bio and Body hacking, Bio Art, and finally an attempt at conceptualizing what a feminist hacking “model” might look like.
Hackers, maker and geeks have been recently involved with the development of “freer” hardware (such as 3D printers, fairphones, fair computers, mesh-networks, etc.). Some of these projects have embodied activist resistance stances while others have rather turned into commercial, lucrative endeavours, been recuperated by capitalism or have become part of a “hobbying” ethos. This theme focused on the materiality of technology and the extent to which it has a negative impact on our health and our environment. The negative impact of technology is often forgotten, particularly when it comes to the extraction of resources and how do we dispose of technology we are no longer using. Then, there was the presentation of what Feminist servers are and how we can conceptualize them (5). Up to now, two feminist servers have been set up. These are the SysterServer and the Anarcha-server(6).
We started from the assumption that behind highly controlled and secretive infrastructures (algorithmic governmentally, closed-source design of devices, mass surveillance) lies the new digital spirit of capitalism. This theme aimed at looking into the software and programming layers which help us evade the augmented capitalist reality we are all grappling with. Presentations and discussions highlighted the feminist tenets of teaching computer programming as a way not to alienate women, queer and trans individuals from learning. Also, the suggestion to participate in a worldwide feminist hackathon at the end of May was highlighted. This idea came out of the Gender and Tech Institute(7) that happened in Germany in December 2014.
Social Solidarities and Feminist Tactics
We understand social solidarities as practices that connect us, whether as individuals or as groups. Social solidarities enable us to craft feminist tactics and/or use feminist tactics to enable social solidarities. Social solidarities may mean safe(r) spaces, popular education, respecting and acknowledging the incommensurability that might exist between different systems of “values” or different registers particularly, but not exclusively with indigenous systems of “values”. In this theme, the case study of greek tech and media activists was presented as way to resist the economic and social crisis that has struck Greece.
The objective of the day was to start a reflection and a conversation on and about autonomous infrastructures as feminist hacker practices. It aimed at gathering people who had an interest in such practices at both the practical and theoretical levels. It was also an attempt to create social solidarities between each other and ponder about ways to collaborate. Many questions are still pending such as: To which extent autonomous infrastructures enable forms of resistance and/or separation from capitalist, patriarchal and racist system of values? How do autonomous infrastructures support/empower the self-valorization of those who take part in such endeavours? What kind of contradictions emerge from the creation of autonomous infrastructures? Are autonomous infrastructures the way forward? With this gathering, we succeeded in generating a lot of enthusiasm about and on the practice and the need for autonomous infrastructures. More activities, meetings, discussions and workshops, and maybe even a feminist tech camp or institute, have been cited as wishes to continue forward with the subject at hand. If you want to get involved or want to be informed about FemHack activities please write to: email@example.com We are looking forward to hearing from you!
(1) FemHack is an autonomous group from Montreal whose mission is to create an empowering and inspiring environment for politicized feminist and queer hackers (we welcome feminist men). Triggered by Do-It-Together practices, learning by doing and curiosity about how things are made, believing in the freedom of technology, privacy, openness and sharing of common goods, FemHack identifies with the most avant-gardist elements of hacker ethics. We take an intersectional feminist perspective to what we do and think, which means that we hack patriarchy, capitalism and other systems of oppression. http://foufem.wiki.orangeseeds.org/
(2) La Passe is a printing and typography workshop, a library, a space for gathering and exchanges, a pole of reflexion and action, a rallying cry and an uproar for getting organized. It lies in the heart of poetry library Gaëtan Dostie located at 1214 rue de la Montagne. As Dostie was the personal secretary of Gaston Miron and editor in chief of the Partis Pris editions, the Library holds over 35,000 prints, posters and hundreds of hours of video, witnessing of Quebec 60s and 70s Counter-Culture. It is in this cultural environment that La Passe invites poetry, avant-garde music, counter-culture lovers and activists to meet. La Passe aspires to be a catalyst for the plurality of independent local communities. http://lapasse.org/
(3) The riseup pad can be accessed here: https://pad.riseup.net/p/autonomous-infrastructures (4) The radical geographer scholar Paul Chatterton is one example of an author has been written a lot about autonomy in the context of squats and social centres in the UK and about autonomous communities such as the Zapatista. http://www.paulchatterton.com/ . The Squatting Europe Kollective (SQEK) has also written a lot about the idea of autonomy and squats in Europe. https://sqek.squat.net/
(5) To read about the elements that compose a feminist server please visit the Ministry of Hacking: http://esc.mur.at/de/werk/feminist-server
(6) To know more about these two servers read the TransHackFeminist (THF!) Convergence report at: http://feministhacktivism.noblogs.org/files/2015/01/THF_report_Eng_low_res.pdf . To know about the history behind the Anarcha Server visit: http://anarchaserver.org/mediawiki/index.php/Anarcha_section . The Anarcha-server is presently hosting the documentation of the THF!
(7) To know more about the institute visit Tactical Tech Collective: https://tacticaltech.org/gender-tech-institute