It is with great pleasure that I announce I am one of the recipients of the 2012 Beta Phi Mu Eugene Garfield Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. Thank you to the Committee for this honor! GSLIS has drafted a release regarding this award, which can be found here.
I’m back in Sweden, this time in Uppsala, on the campus of the university of the same name, to attend the 4th meeting of ICTs and Society. Convened by Christian Fuchs and colleagues, this fascinating lineup features timely discussions of, among other things, global capitalism, information and knowledge labor/labor in ICT, organization, theories of “the information society,” surveillance, privatization, policy and activism – so many topics near and dear to my heart and at the center of my own intellectual endeavors. Vincent Mosco and Graham Murdock set the stage in this morning’s plenary with their “reloading” (as Christian Fuchs describes it) of Marx by highlighting the ongoing relevance of Marx today against the backdrop of global labor, social movements, uprisings and crises – with the latter’s relationship to emergent and extant ICT certainly up for discussion.
Early into the first paper session and I’ve bumped into numerous colleagues and friends from past conferences, as well as other scholars whose work has proven illuminating to me (Christian Fuchs, Trebor Scholz, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Will Peekhaus among many). I am looking forward to a challenging and provocative few days, and am tweeting my observations and particularly salient insights @ubiquity75 using the hashtag #CDP21. Do follow along if you’re interested.
This Friday, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies (SOIS), along with co-conveners School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), UW-Madison, and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will come together to present, “Out of the Attic and into the Stacks: Feminism in LIS,” an unconference (March 9-11, Milwaukee, WI).
Why feminism in LIS now? Simply put, the situation for women hasn’t felt this dire in years. As a divisive and acerbic Republican primary season has gripped the country, women have taken center-stage in a resurgence of the culture wars reminiscent, in tone, of the early 90s and in position of perhaps even another few decades previous. And while so-called ”women’s issues” have dominated the headlines, the climate has extended to other easy targets. Last fall, a Virginia-based “think tank” specializing in the eradication of race-based admissions preferences in colleges descended upon the University of Wisconsin-Madison, eager to pick a fight and cause derision at the campus. Throwing conservative “states’ rights” values out the window in order to meddle with the inner workers of the state’s flagship university, the visiting director of the center dished out arguments that seemed directly ripped from the pages of The Bell Curve, a book I thought long ago discredited, in a debate I attended along with hundreds of others. Like being trapped in some kind of time machine or Twilight Zone, I remarked to a friend that all that was needed was an appearance by Dinesh D’Souza sporting Hammer pants, and the return to 1990 would be complete.
Yet, in 2012, it’s as if the past years of social gains and progress in the arena of the standing of women never happened, either. Enter “Out of the Attic and into the Stacks,” in which participants will gather together to talk about the current climate for all women, using the perspective and lens of LIS to inform and ignite the conversation.
From my own perspective, I certainly see the issues facing women today from multiple fronts with many intersections. Pragmatic issues such as lack of access to key resources, women and children living in poverty, lack of educational and reasonable employment prospects, and so on, are at the fore on many of our minds, as are the situations and issues of particular relevance to women of color and LGBT-identified women, all of which the unconference plans to bring into the discussion. From a political perspective, too, I hope to get to grips alongside my unconference colleagues with the current scapegoating and targeting of women, using historical and theoretical frameworks that are applicable. Multiple feminisms will be key to these discussions, and many exciting resources have been identified on the unconference’s wiki, to which all participants may contribute.
I also view this situation from an informational lens. Not only are women’s access to services in health care, reproductive and pre-natal care, equal pay, and a host of other hard-earned rights being threatened or rescinded, full-stop, but, crucially, women’s access to information about their rights and services available to them are also disappearing. State legislatures have been busily curtailing or otherwise interfering with what women can know and when they can know it about abortion services, contraception and other information vital to their reproductive and overall health; similar debates have raged at the federal level and are featuring in the Republican presidential primaries. All of this offers a backdrop conducive to a general cultural climate in which Rush Limbaugh thought it would be fine to refer to a Georgetown Law student seeking birth control access in a hearing before Congress as a “slut” or a “prostitute” over 50 times - as if such a status should render women ineligible for health care or the most basic common courtesy. At least he seems to have misfired on this particular episode, but as Sandra Fluke (the target of his misogynistic outbursts) and others point out, the real issue is not Limbaugh’s attention-seeking behavior, but the legislative and other political maneuvers that lie behind it, and other anti-women actions and sentiment that are their outcome.
For those of us LIS students, practitioners, and scholars who will be taking part in the unconference this weekend, both hope and energy is running high. With time spent together discussing the collective state of feminism, women and social justice topics, in general, my hope is to emerge with some concrete (re)dedications and linkages of the role of and opportunities for LIS to the social issues and lacks that are plaguing our society – with some more than others bearing the heavy burden of the disturbing trends I’ve outlined. Seeing that the unconference will be taking place Milwaukee, a once vibrant and now devastated Midwestern urban center and now one of the country’s leaders in infant mortality, the stakes could not be higher. This is about so much more than women. This is about us all.
If you haven’t come across it before, the Democracy Now! program is an excellent resource for the kind of in-depth, globally focused reporting that is notably absent from today’s mainstream infotainment options dominating cable and network TV and the Internet.
Host Amy Goodman frequently brings guests on to discuss contemporary issues such as net neutrality, media conglomeration, access to information, governmental transparency and accountability and other related issues. She’s been one of the go-to journalists staying on top of the WikiLeaks story, and the other day, she hosted a very interesting debate from two people. One is Steven Aftergood, a “transparency activist,” who is dedicated to some of the same principles WikiLeaks espouses, but who feels WikiLeaks will ultimately do more harm than good to open information principles. The other is Constitutional scholar and writer Glenn Greenwald, who is in favor of WikiLeaks and a frequent contributor to DemNow! and The Nation, among other outlets.
The nuances and standpoints in this debate are very interesting, and go well beyond the kind of black-and-white soundbites you might hear on network news, for example. Check it out if you have a few minutes.
Goodman frequently scoops major media outlets, as well, due to the in-depth reporting that is done for DemocracyNow, and the range of guests they invite on. I heard Assange’s UK legal representative, for example, confirm that Assange is in the UK, whereas CNN’s article on WikiLeaks today stated that they “could not confirm” his whereabouts. They needed only watch or listen to the interview from several days ago, in which the attorney states unequivocally that he is in Great Britain (“Attorney Confirms WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange in Britain, Responds to U.S. Attacks,” Dec. 2, 2010).
Here is the link to the debate, which you can also read as a transcript on the same site.
On Monday, November 8th, the Information in Society Speaker Series welcomed Dr. Eden Medina of Indiana University to campus. Medina’s talk, “The Slipperiness of Socio-Technical Engineering” focused on her work on Project Cybersyn, the 1970s-era cybernetics project envisioned to support and inform the economic agenda, and many nationalized industries, under the Chilean government of President Salvador Allende – a presidency abruptly ended by a bloody CIA-supported coup in 1973. Dr. Medina, whose own dissertation, published works and forthcoming book, Cybernetic Socialism, deal with the complexities and paradoxesof the Cybersyn project (known in Chile as “Synco”), gave an hour-long talk to the engaged audience of representatives from across the disciplines and from the community on the theoretical basis for cybernetics, its main proponents (e.g., Norbert Wiener), the background of those involved with Cybersyn, such as the English polemical iconoclast Stafford Beer who served as chief architect for the project, and the actual historical record of what the system achieved – and all that it did not. For her research, Medina traveled to Chile on multiple occasions to interview principles in the project, and also interviewed Beer before his death in 2002.
Medina’s own background in engineering and computing also gave her technical insight into the system’s cybernetics underpinnings and technical parameters, and the ways in which it – and did not – ever work. The system was a combination of four distinct components: the Telex network called “Cybernet,” the software suite known as “Cyberstride,” an economic simulator that could be used for projections and scenarios known as “Futuro” and, most famously the OpsRoom that took an interior design cue from the set of Kubrik’s “2001″. The project was viewed with suspicion from both the right and the left, with alternate claims of Soviet-style totalitarianism and dehumanization being levied at various times from the different sides. In the end, Cybersyn was a victim of a combination of technological barriers, a politically-motivated coordinated campaign of bad press from the right, and the problematic nature of Beer’s own efforts to publicize the project.
(Curiously, as evidence of an ongoing lack of understanding around Cybersyn, Medina revealed to a stunned audience that a potboiler of a novel and attendant film on the “Synco” phenomenon had been released in the past few years in Chile, to some buzz. The multimedia clip we viewed in the course of the talk featured an imagined dystopian future in which Allende had survived and collaborated in a power-sharing arrangement with Augusto Pinochet to work as dictators controlling informational flow and everyday life using the Big Brother-like Synco system. A Chilean colleague of mine described the imagery and premise for the novel/film as being “in poor taste.” I certainly agreed.)
After the talk, we opened up the floor to one of the richest and most fruitful discussions yet in our Info in Society series. We had several provocative questions posed by audience members who included scholars of Chilean history, cybernetics and AI scholars, and even a man who had been a member of the original Cybersyn project in Chile, and had helped to wire the OpsRoom, among other things.
Eden Medina is assistant professor in the School of Informatics and Computing and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of History at Indiana University – Bloomington. Her research bridges the history of technology and the history of Latin America and asks how studies of technology can enrich our understanding of broader historical processes. She received her Ph.D. in the history and social study of science and technology from MIT in 2005 and completed an interdisciplinary dissertation on the history of Chilean computing and its relationship to state formation.
She is the recipient of a 2007-2008 National Science Foundation Scholar’s Award and the 2007 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Life Member’s Prize for the best article of the year in electrical history. In 2005, she transformed her research into a multipart installation at the ZKM Center for Digital Art and Media as part of the “Making Things Public” exhibition curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. Dr. Medina is currently associate editor for the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. It was our pleasure to host her at GSLIS as a part of our series.
Medina, Eden. “Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende’s Chile.” Journal of Latin American Studies 38, no. 03 (2006): 571-606.
With travel out of the way and just a moment to breathe before turning back to piled up work demanding my attention, I have just a few moments to reflect upon AoIR 11.0 in Göteborg. As is often the case with these sorts of activities, so much of the richness of the conference came from the synergistic encounters with others in the hallways and in post-panel discussions; it was a pleasure to meet many I’ve known online (in some cases, for years) in person in this context.
To mention just a few of the many great panels and papers I saw, I was especially excited about the Friday afternoon “Google This: How Knowledge and Power Work in a Culture of Search,” chaired by Ken Hillis of UNC. This intriguing and oft-times highly philosophical panel provoked an explosion of engaged and engaging questions that enticed the session-goers to stay into the break – always the sign of a good session. The Q&A brought up issues of Google’s recent and very public exit campaign from China – accurately framed as a massive PR stunt and ultimately highly meaningless as a political act by the audience and panel alike. My work on contextualizing resistance to Google in an historical framework has me quite interested in this particular chapter in recent Google history and so I was glad to have a forum to engage in addressing some of my thoughts on the topic with fellow-travelers, having just come off a junket of news clip-watching highlighting Google’s extraction from China.
I’m in lovely (and cold and rainy) Göteborg, Sweden for the annual AoIR conference, 11.0 (and tweeted about as #ir11). I plan to participate in a pre-conference workshop, then I’ll be presenting on Thursday on an historical revisit to Minitel – its roots, the policy dimensions surrounding it, the political context for its creation and implementation, French industrial policy from the Post-War period on, and a discussion of how to read it in the context of contemporary attempts, in France, to push back on technological hegemony from the United States and elsewhere (Yahoo! and Google Book Search, anyone?). All that in 10-15 minutes! Naturally, to cover it all is impossible, so I’ll be hitting the highest of the high points on this talk and will look forward to delving deeper in the Q&A and in other fora with anyone interested; I want to definitely err on the side of being timely and not encroach on my fellow panelists’ presentations.
This conference has a well-deserved reputation of hosting some of the kindest and most-engaged academics around. I’m looking forward to the excellent workshops, panels, roundtables, and papers to come, and the great serendipities of the hallway chats and the impromptu meet-ups over coffee/cocktails.