Feminist Infrastructure as Metamorphic Infrastructure


I’m one of five women on a panel about Feminist Infrastructure at the Digital Humanities annual conference taking place now in Krakow, Poland. Due to other obligations, I’m here in the states, but my virtual presence will be manifest with little movie presentation. Related: not keen that this panel and so many others have been put on a “diversity” track, but happy everyone is there and doing the work.

Creating Feminist Infrastructure in the Digital Humanities

Susan Brown1,2, Tanya Clement3, Laura Mandell4, Deb Verhoeven5, Jacque Wernimont6

1School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, Canada; 2English and Film Studies; Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada; 3University of Texas at Austin, USA; 4Texas A&M University, USA; 5Deakin University, Australia; 6Arizona State University

Here’s my presentation

And here’s our abstract

This panel considers how gender and digital infrastructures shape each other. It will be a hybrid of the panel- and multiple-paper session with three sectioned themes:

  • Training and pedagogical traditions;
  • Examples of feminist technical infrastructure;
  • Infrastructure, collaboration, and credit.

The panel aims to improve understanding of:

  • 1) the extent to which even something as apparently neutral or apolitical as infrastructure is imbued with gender and other socio-political considerations;
  • 2) the impact of systemic gender and racial discrimination in a range of infrastructural contexts, notwithstanding the extent to which so many DH practitioners work hard to overcome the biases embedded in our cultures and our discourses; and
  • 3) current and prospective strategies for countering those biases.

We will seek to engage the audience throughout this session to include in the panel’s discussions a broad range of perspectives on and positions in relation to infrastructure.



DataPLAY Debuts


FemTechNet’s signal/noise conference, held in Ann Arbor (MI) this weekend, hosted the debut of Vibrant Lives’ DataPLAY.

Below is our playbill, which evokes early American playbills that were used to advertise formal theatrical events as well as technological experiences and new medical practices, like those at the World’s Fair or in smaller traveling techno-operas and shows.Slide1

In many ways the bill and the notion of a debut suggests a polished performance received by the audience. Instead we were working toward an experience that would bring together our datasets, everyday objects associated with play, and audience interaction and engagement, effectively engendering the performance in real time.

We created a playful space, the informal and cheerful aesthetics of our materials and signage were designed to invite participants into a communal engagement with sonified and haptified data (we might think here of a lineage of feminist play theory including Celia Pearce, Mechthild Nagel, Mary Flannagan, and Elizabeth Losh). Rather than the sometimes intimidating spaces of theatrical performance, we were working in the more quotidian open space of Hatcher library. In the tradition of feminist keywords, we were, in effect, playing with the word “play.” On the one hand, using it to evoke the idea of a thing, a performance to be consumed, and, on the other, as an action, the activities of play-time, the kind of noodling that is often thought of as a prelude to more formalized modes of production, or the play-acting of dress-up and theatrical performance.

This Play/playing was also an exercise in”Exquisite Engendering” a framing that draws on Erin Manning’s sense that”to engender is to undertake a reworking of form. To engender is to potentialize matter. Engendering involves potentiality at its most fertile: it calls forth the link between the incorporeal and the material, between the virtual and the actual” (The Politics of Touch 2007, p. 90). We were playing in order to activate matter. Everyone there were playing with data (so often rendered incorporeal despite our mantra that there is “no data without bodies”) in order to engender linkages between virtualized and non-virtual modes of being and knowing.

Here are our 6 play stations, or in Manning’s terms potentiality machines:

What did this mean in practice? It meant holding a large hand-crocheted net that resonated with data shedding in real time from a cell phone, or stepping into a dress that vibrated with the wearer’s data shed – suddenly feeling the ghostly but oh-so-plentiful emanations of one’s digital identity. DataPlayDressImage


It entailed people cradling beach balls as sonified histories of eugenic sterilization transformed them into singing, tingling orbs.

People dipped their hands into sandboxes that were alive with the data of global warming – both hearing and feeling a warming planet. And they braided bright cotton ropes that trembled with the Iraq Body Count numbers -plaiting and noting the steady beat of lives lost in a seemingly never-ending conflict.


While technology shows and fairs, both historically and today, tend to be about a spectacle of mastery and the creation of communal consumer desires, DataPLAY functions differently. Collectively, we performed many of the acts of care – braiding, dressing, cradling, and holding – that have so long been a part of feminized labor. We drew on this embodied vernacular as a way of engaging differently with data about the many violences to which too many human bodies and habitats have been subject. We performed feminized roles as a way of re-embodying the data, both to give ourselves ways of knowing it differently and as a way of expressing care for both the data and the bodies the data are meant to represent.

It was serious play to be sure; to hold data about sterilization and death close to your own body is no small gesture. It requires a willingness not only to hold space, but to allow your body to be a vector for the violated bodies held in numerical abstraction. It is an act of generosity and vulnerability and often it was expressed in poses of deep concentration and gentle handling. Similarly, to step into an awareness of the promiscuity of our digital devices as described in Wendy H.K. Chun’s work is to perform a willing encounter with the ways that commodity cultures harvest the actions of our everyday lives as labor and capital. Both required our participants to let go of the comforts of critical distance and to sit with the murky ways that textiles and objects remediate technical and archival information. I am immensely grateful to our players and it was, I think, a rather exquisite performance – beautiful in its articulation of the potentials of radical care in our engagements with data and the bodies that it always represents.

For more, check out the Storify of the event (and an earlier one this spring) and look for future posts with additional media materials!



Forthcoming: Poetico-Mathematical Women

I’ve written a chapter for a forthcoming collection on history of early modern science and I was just asked to write up the abstract for said piece. In writing, I found myself pretty jazzed about the piece and thought I’d share at least the abstract with you all. I’m particularly tickled by the way the chapter harmonizes with work I’m doing right now on my book, which is all about long histories of quantifying media and interfaces.

“Poetico-Mathematical Women” offers a recontextualization of the first ever mathematical periodical – The Ladies’ Diary – as central to the tradition of early modern aesthetic rationalism. Pairing poetic enigmas with mathematical inquiry, the Diary creates readers attuned to a new intellectual paradigm and leverages early modern interest and pleasure in the procedural, formal qualities shared by mathematics and poetry.  While often held out as exemplary in bringing mathematics into a humanist context, Wernimont demonstrates that the Diary actually follows a well-worn, if under-recognized path that includes canonical history of science texts such as: Mercure Galant (1672-1724), Bernard Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686), and English works such as Aphra Behn’s translation of Entretiens, titled A Discovery of New World (1688), and Peter Anthony Motteux’s Gentleman’s Journal (1692–94). In so doing, she argues that such texts represent early lineages of modern algorithmic culture – a culture invested in the pleasure and power of procedural logics – and demonstrates the centrality of women’s writing within this tradition.”

Wearables/Algocracy working bibl

As is my way, I’ve been working with a few folks on another shared bibliography – this time on wearables and algorithmic culture.

I’m pleased that our reading list includes of number of important pieces/books by women and I thought I’d share it with others.





Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet

Bennett, Jane  Vibrant Matter

Bogost, Ian Cathedral of Computation

Bouk, Dan How our days became numbered: risk and the rise of the statistical individual

Carpo, Mario, The Alphabet and the Algorithm

Chun, Wendy H. K., Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2006)

Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (MIT 2011)

Crawford, Kate – lots of articles…coming soon.

Digital Echoes lecture

Danaher, John “Rule By Algorithm”

Mager, Astrid, “Algorithmic Ideology: How Capitalism Shapes our Search Engines”, Information, Communication and Society, Vol. 15(5), 2012: 769-787.

Lippold, Cheney, John, “A New Algorithmic Identity: Soft Biopolitics and the Modulation of Control”, Theory, Culture & Society, November 2011, Vol. 28(6): 164-181.

Striphas, Ted Rule by Algorithm and  “The Archive of Algorithmic Culture”

Walker-Rettenberg, Jill. Seeing Ourselves Through Technology

Wegenstein, Bernadette Getting Under the Skin: Body and Media Theory

Weigel, Moira “Fitted”Zylinska, Joanna and Sarah Kember, Life after New Media (MIT 2012)

On Haptics in Particular

Smart baby nursery — about mimo,” http://mimobaby.com, accessed: 2015-10-26.

Collier, Emotional expression. Psychology Press, 2014

J. Linden, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind. Penguin, 2015.

]  M. W. Kraus, C. Huang, and D. Keltner, “Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance: an ethological study of the nba.” Emotion, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 745, 2010.

E. Williams and J. A. Bargh, “Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth,” Science, vol. 322, no. 5901, pp. 606–607, 2008.

M. Ackerman, C. C. Nocera, and J. A. Bargh, “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions,” Science, vol. 328, no. 5986, pp. 1712–1715, 2010.

Montagu, Touching: The human significance of the skin. Columbia U. Press, 1971.

Smith and K. MacLean, “Communicating emotion through a haptic link: Design space and methodology,” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol. 65, no. 4, pp. 376–387, 2007.

N. Bailenson, N. Yee, S. Brave, D. Merget, and D. Koslow, “Virtual interpersonal touch: expressing and recognizing emotions through haptic devices,” Human–Computer Interaction, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 325–353, 2007.

Rantala, K. Salminen, R. Raisamo, and V. Surakka, “Touch gestures in communicating emotional intention via vibrotactile stimulation,” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol. 71, no. 6, pp. 679–690, 2013.

Salminen, V. Surakka, J. Lylykangas, J. Raisamo, R. Saarinen, R. Raisamo, J. Rantala, and G. Evreinov, “Emotional and behavioral responses to haptic stimulation,” in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ser. CHI ’08. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2008, pp. 1555–1562. [Online]. Available: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1357054.1357298

Raisamo, R. Raisamo, and V. Surakka, “Comparison of saltation, amplitude modulation, and a hybrid method of vibrotactile stimulation,” Haptics, IEEE Transactions on, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 517–521, 2013.

S. Stevens, Psychophysics. Transaction Publishers, 1975.

C. Wilson and M. Morioka, “The effect of vibration magnitude on equivalent sensation contours at the thenar eminence of the hand,” 44th UK Conference on Human Responses to Vibration, pp. 149–159, 2009.

Kozel, Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology. MIT Press, 2007.

F. A. Geldard, “Adventures in tactile literacy.” American Psychologist, vol. 12, no. 3, p. 115, 1957.


Other related

QS as Alternative Big Data

Wired’s “Know Thyself”

Pew on self-tracking

Algorithmic Culture Reading List at Microsoft Research

Governing Algorithms reading list

Jamie Mcdonald  – Algorithmic Studies critical survey