[Air-L] Free Culture <FAIL > Research Workshop 2009

suely at unisinos.br suely at unisinos.br
Mon Jul 20 17:43:35 PDT 2009

Mary has made some relevant points but I strongly disagree that 'not counting' (the number of women involved in a certain academic endeavour) can be equated to 'not knowing', 'not thinking about' and/or 'not caring about' gender inequalities. Also, the discussion has changed from the representation of women in one specific workshop to sexism and discrimination in general.
I will try to make my point clearer in more general terms: earlier messages asked for quantitative positive discrimination on the basis that 'women are under-represented in techno-culture' (a discussion about whether there is such a thing as a non-technical culture could be interesting, but I will leave that aside for now to avoid changing the subject even further). My opinion is that under-representation of women (or other minority) is not a quantitative problem and cannot be solved on a quantitative basis. In other words, the matter is not that there aren't enough women involved in x or y and therefore it is necessary to make sure an extra 'n' women will be included, but *why* the proportion of women (or other minority) in such and such is small, whether there is reason to believe that this should not be the case and what can and should be done to overcome this situation. Quantitative positive discrimination does not address the central points that create/reproduce discrimination and therefore can at best be adopted as a palliative while the really important issues are taken care of. If positive discrimination is seen as a solution, nothing will be done to make sure it will not be needed in the long term - and this is, indeed, a sad scenario.
Summarising: the fact that I disagree about the "need to keep counting" does not mean that I disagree that "we need to keep thinking about practices that produce equality and practices that reproduce inequality" (I am quoting Mary's last message). On the contrary, my previous manifestation intended to stress the need to be careful that attention is not diverged from the latter (discriminatory practices) in favour of the former (counting how many of a certain minority are included in every specific endeavour).


>>> "Mary K. Bryson" <mary.bryson at ubc.ca> 19/07/09 21:29 >>>
Thanks to the folks who responded to my recent post concerning the gap
between the theme and goals of the Free Culture Research Workshop (e.g.,
democratization), and the significant under-representation of female
scholars (one in ten) in the Organizational and Academic committees of the
Free Culture Research Workshop, 2009. Various people asked some good hard
questions to which I have responded, briefly, here.

>>>>> http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/5486

What's the Story?
Suely argues that: " counting the number of females involved in academic
endeavours is insulting" and further suggests that "this way of thinking"
(focusing on gender) is "sad". As it turns out, we have, here, a case study
in ³not thinking² -- Free Culture organizer, Giorgos Cheliotis responds that
in fact, vis a vis gender, very much in line with Suely's recommendation,
"we just didn't think about that".

Since in the case of the Free Culture Research Workshop organization, what
we got when thinking about gender was foreclosed, is an inclusion rate for
women of 10%, perhaps the most clear implication for those of us who are
committed to a version of a ³free culture² that is inclusive and that
directly contends with persistent inequalities, is that we need to keep
counting, and we need to keep thinking about practices that produce equality
and practices that reproduce inequality.

A recent blog entry by Henry Jenkins, in conversation with Dayna Cunningham,
about race and networked publics, does a good job of highlighting some of
the complexities attendant to these issues --

Eve Sedgwick -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve_Kosofsky_Sedgwick * maybe
better than anyone else, wrote so eloquently about what she called, ³the
epistemological privilege of unknowing². And for me, that¹s what I take from
this kind of scenario. To not count - To not know - To just not think about
it  -- these are active practices of unknowing that constitute power and
privilege and that perpetuate inequality.

So What Can be Done?
In the nineties, when more academics <than at present> were working on
equity and technology projects with an explicitly interventionist praxis, my
research team interviewed Sandy Stone, and her words are ringing in my ears
thinking about these issues more than a decade later and under very
different conditions -- http://sandystone.com/
Sandy Stone ended up a very sophisticated analysis of the difficulties of
gender/technology issues by saying that "I, we, are making it up as we go
along" and then said that nonetheless, "And when the guns start being fired,
I promise to keep sending postcards from the front". I took two things from
that moment - First - We have to act even when we aren't sure what to do, or
as Courtney Cazden put it much more eloquently, we need to invoke a
developmental model that puts "performance before competence" --
And secondly, working on equity issues in technoculture will continue to be
unpopular, not a career-maker, and all too frequently re-framed as evidence
of a personal shortcoming, weakness or basically, ³Just Being Difficult² -
there will be backlash... And if you want a recent example of backlash in
the face of a public discussion of the problems of sexism and misogyny in
the Free Culture community vis a vis Richard Stallman's keynote at the Gran
Canaria Desktop Summit * read the responses to a staid attempt by a
conference participant simply to raise the issues at all ---

So yes, to be engaged in social change vis a vis media is extraordinarily
complex. Counting is not a solution, nor is it a practice that is neutral or
unproblematic. As academics, we have a very solid foundation of at least
fifty years of rigorous scholarship to draw on that pertains to the various
divides within techno-culture * how to think about difference/s and what are
the kinds of institutional and organizational tactics and strategies to
intervene in relation to inequalities. And so it is likewise heartening to
learn that several of the scholars involved in the Free Culture Workshop,
most notably, Gabriella Coleman and Elizabeth Stark, have tackled the
problem of the under-representation of women directly, and systemically.

³I am not sure whether Mary truly believes that we actively discriminated
against female scholars² Giorgos Cheliotis
It¹s likely also important to state the obvious, which is that I do not, of
course, imagine that something as complex and persistent as gender
inequalities and technoculture reproduced within a single setting, as in the
Free Culture Research Workshop, is the by-product of something like ³active
discrimination² or bad faith, or any individual failing. Equity problems
are, of course, longstanding and persistent and will simply reproduce
themselves across any setting without, and in many cases, in spite of,
diligent and well meaning attempts to produce a ³free culture² that contests
bias and inequalities. All of our universities provide endless evidence of
the persistence of inequality despite manifest good intentions.

Could you have just contacted the organizers about this privately? Why go
Well as a matter of fact, I did contact the organizers about this, and got
no reply. And so I then contacted the only other person on the Workshop
website, to get the numbers data which then framed my email to the list. And
I sent this email to the AoIR list because it is my firm belief (and it is a
belief), that in the ongoing struggle to ³Free Culture² that networked
publics and public deliberation matter * literally, ethically, and in every
other sense of the notion of ³mattering². Inequality is not, for me, a
private issue. And the AoIR community bills itself as ³a member-based
support network promoting critical and scholarly Internet research.² That¹s,
³critical and scholarly² and not, ³critical or scholarly² --
http://aoir.org/?page_id=2 * So it seems quite appropriate to occasionally
do something on the list in addition to ³Read my recent paper on X² or
³Please send me a bibliography on Y².

Kind regards,

Dr. Mary K. Bryson, Professor and Director, Network of Centers and
Institutes in Education (NCIE) & Center for Cross-Faculty Inquiry (CCFI),
Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
CCFI: Innovation Works Here
Twitter @CritInternet

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