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

Mary K. Bryson mary.bryson at ubc.ca
Sun Jul 19 17:25:16 PDT 2009

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.


>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

From: Giorgos Cheliotis <gcheliotis.lists at gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2009 18:25:22 -0400
To: <suely at unisinos.br>, <suely at unisinos.br>
Cc: <air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
Subject: Re: [Air-L] Free Culture <FAIL > Research Workshop 2009

Thank you Suely for the comment, although I understand you were
addressing more your female colleagues and not me. They may agree or
not with you, but in case I came across as too defensive in my earlier
posts let me say that I felt I needed to defend the integrity of the
event and the people behind it. I am not sure whether Mary truly
believes that we actively discriminated against female scholars, but I
think her post clearly left that suspicion lingering in the air, which
is reason enough for me to want to set the record straight. To use
your own words, there was no gender consideration involved, not
inclusive, nor exclusive. Whether conference organizers should adopt
an affirmative action policy on this I do not know, but I can say in
all honesty that we just didn't think about that.

On Jul 17, 2009, at 4:46 PM, <suely at unisinos.br> <suely at unisinos.br>


I don't know any of the people who manifested about this so far,
thus I feel very confortable to call the attention of my fellow
females to who is making gender differentiations here. In my
opinion, counting the number of females involved in academic
endeavours is insulting regardless of the intention being inclusive
or exclusive. If the organizers were anachronistic (to avoid
stronger words) enough to take gender into consideration, sad for
them. Let's not reinforce this way of thinking by reproducing it.


Giorgos Cheliotis <gcheliotis.lists at gmail.com> 17/07/09 16:55 >>>
I am one of the organizers of the workshop and in fact started it all
last year in Sapporo, so I am also largely responsible for the
composition of the committee although the opinions of many more people
factored in as well. I find that the gender issue is interesting and
is perhaps symptomatic of certain fields of academic endeavor and also
present in some practices of what we may broadly call 'free culture'.
I know more male DJ's and remixers than female, and there is more
evidence of that nature that is mostly anecdotal, so I cannot make any
definitive statements here. I'd like to write a paper about it though,
so I'm slowly collecting relevant data. I think there are some salient
issues with respect to the participation of women in what we call
'free culture'. If anyone has relevant data points, especially
published work, please do share.

But now going from these general thoughts to insinuations of
discriminatory behavior on our part is taking it too far. I am
surprised I have to say by the approach of Mary Bryson who may have
good intentions at heart but who chooses to publicly criticize our
efforts and even publicly label them as FreeCultureFail (sic), instead
of communicating her discontent directly to the organizers first and
trying to understand who we are and how we do what we do. Indeed Mary,
"maybe there is a story here, or not", but I think it would have been
better if you had done some more research on this matter before
hinting at any possible discrimination on our part. Even your hasty
and incorrect calculation of 4 in 40 shows that your email to the list
was probably written without much forethought. I would have been happy
to discuss any issues with you personally, but you never sought any
such discussion.

>From my part I can just say that we tried to include the people who
seemed the most relevant and had to also contend with the fact that
some replied to our invitations to join the program committee and some
did not. Gender was never a factor in the composition of the
committee. It was purely on academic merit, having shown strong
interest in participation in the past, having a relevant and recent
track record of published work, and, to a much smaller extent, a
matter of serendipity and familiarity with the persons involved. I do
not keep a catalogue of everyone in the world doing relevant research
and it may be that I know more male researchers in the field than
female. To that end what Gabriella and Elizabeth are doing will be a
constructive contribution that I applaud. Personally I will still use
academic merit and motivation/commitment as my main factors whenever
anyone asks me about who should be on a program committee, but I can
at least check the names on my mind against such a list to try and
control for any bias that I may have and be unaware of. For what it's
worth, we had actually one woman declining our invitation due to other
commitments, while another one was invited and didn't reply.


On Jul 17, 2009, at 2:29 PM, Gabriella Coleman wrote:


Thanks for pointing this out! A number of us, including the "X
woman" (Elizabeth Stark of the Yale ISP) on the committee, have been
debating and discussing this problem as it concerns this conference
but more important, how it also pertains to the wider field of
digital media, especially when it comes to tech and law.

For instance, here are some other examples of similarly problematic
conferences when it comes to gender balance:


And there are unfortunately many many more examples.

Elizabeth and I have recently started to compile a list of women
leaders in law, technology, and internet research to highlight their
presence. We will soon circulate the list to get more names and
eventually publish on website as a resource for conference
organizers or those working on edited collections. Hopefully
Elizabeth will also jump in as she has also thought quite a bit
about this issue.

I have found this problem to be pretty pervasive and have been
personally frustrated as well as academically intrigued. Any
thoughts about the skewed conference representation?


Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2009 16:17:29 -1000
From: mary.bryson at ubc.ca <mailto:mary.bryson at ubc.ca>
To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org <mailto:air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
Subject: [Air-L] Free Culture <FAIL > Research Workshop 2009

Take a look at the lack of inclusion of women (FreeCultureFail)
  on the
Organizing and Academic Program Committees for this event.


There are 12 people on the former and 28 people on the latter.
  According to
the person from the Free Culture Research Workshop group that I

"Based on my count, there are 4 women in all on both
Committees, with
<Person X> serving on both the organizing and academic

The other 3 women serve in the academic committee..."

4 women out of 40 people. One woman on the Organizing
  That's some
kind of "free culture". Free Culture Fail, as far as I can
  Maybe there
is a story here. Or not.

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

Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor
Department of Media, Culture, & Communication
New York University
239 Greene St, 7th floor
NY NY 10003

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