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<nettime> subRosa's Domain Errors book review
Ryan Griffis on Fri, 24 Oct 2003 02:40:15 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> subRosa's Domain Errors book review

Ryan Griffis
Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices, a subRosa
project edited by Maria Fernandez, Faith Wilding,
Michelle M. Wright, Autonomedia 2003

"Mesa says that many of the women she worked with in
the clean rooms are dead, gone before their time. 'I
alone know of ten women who worked with me who are no
longer here. It's more than just a coincidence.'"
Ioffee, Karina, "The Clean Room Paradox," El Andar
Magazine, Fall/Winter 2001

 "Well the bosses think they're pretty clever with
their doubletalk, and that we're just a bunch of dumb
aliens. But it takes two to use a see-saw. What we're
gradually figuring out here is how to use their own
logic against them."
Indian microelectronics worker quoted in Prema
Murthy's "Mythic Hybrid" 2002

"First-," "Second-" and "Third-Wave." It is
interesting that the same metaphor has been used to
describe social-technological paradigms as well as
historical movements in feminism. Feminism may not
often be associated with technological developments in
the popular imagination, but there is a record of
linkages between the trajectories of gender
consciousness and technology. Take the development of
the "new feminism" following World War II. As it's
often written, this movement's "roots lay in the broad
social changes wrought by industrialization,
urbanization, and the rise of a new economy based on
mass consumption." (Griffith, Robert, Major Problems
in American History, D.C. Heath, 1992) There is a web
of events and ideas that is understood to have
intersected with those developments, creating that
"Second Wave" of feminism: the civil rights movements;
the student activism of the "New Left"; French theory;
anti-war activism; consciousness raising efforts;
books like Our Bodies, Ourselves. Such connections
between gender and technology are most certainly not a
strictly historical phenomenon. So, what are the
connections, entrenched and emerging, between current
forms of feminism and new technologies like the two
biggies: information and biological technologies?
Enter "cyberfeminism."
Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices, a new book
project by the subRosa collective, looks forward into
the present conditions of feminism, technology and
collaboration. Establishing itself as a performative
engagement with (international) cyberfeminism - the
name given to various recent forms of gender awareness
that are also active in new technologies  - the book
takes on the task of theorizing as well as documenting
what feminism could look like in the Information Age.
While some have mythologized the "cyber" as a break
with history, Domain Errors! positions cyberfeminism
within a continuum of gendered struggles, pointing out
that women's struggles have continued in, and out of,
the digital e-conomy. As one of the book's
contributors, Susanna Paasonen, outlines in "The Women
Question," the haste to capture every virtual market
has led to a reinforcement of "common knowledge" about
what constitutes Women as a homogenous group. And this
reliance on stereotypes and truisms (women like curves
over straight lines and prefer pink) is hardly a
benign, or even misguided, template for content and
aesthetics online: "The attempts to increase the
percentage of female internet users by producing
women-specific services can contribute to the
reproduction of gender stereotypes, and a
naturalization of the status quo." (p. 106) Such
marketing assumes, indeed reproduces, women as an
Other to technology, a passive, feminine consumer
contrasted to the normalized, masculine creator/user.
Recognizing the exclusionary practices of earlier
forms of feminism, including early cyberfeminism,
Domain Errors! is rigorously focused on widening the
base for gender awareness. As two of the editors point
out, "the lives of white women and women of color are
mutually reliant." (p. 25) The same high tech industry
that keeps many women out of prominent positions in
corporations employs women of color in both the
"first-" and "third-world" in hazardous working
environments. For subRosa and their collaborators,
cyberfeminism must make the symbolic and literal jump
across the borders that separate women, whether they
are racial, economic or geographic.
But it is important to point out that Domain Errors!,
while much pleasure is to be found within its pages,
is far from a utopian, "We Are the World" chorus sung
by the privileged on behalf of those without access.
subRosa is proposing, indeed practicing, a
multi-centered feminist approach that represents
challenges to dominant culture from positions only now
starting to gain a wider, if reluctant audience.
Feminism, along with many other liberation movements,
has often, and accurately, been criticized for its own
exclusionary practices. The previous waves of feminism
have rightly been questioned for neglecting the
situations of women outside of the dominant, white
affluent mainstream, just as the "New Left" student
groups were justly called on their neglect of women's
struggles. Oppression has managed to get through the
firewall of cyberspace, and race does indeed shape our
experience of the digital. " Racism and Cyberfeminism
in the Integrated Circuit," the first section of the
book views these issues through the representation of
race in the film "The Matrix," (Lisa Nakamura) through
the "digital divide" (Michelle Wright) to a
conversation between two Indian women with different
attachments to technology (Rhadika Gajjala/Annapurna
Mamidipudi) and the conditions of difference in Moscow
(Irina Aristarkhova).
	Theories of the emancipating potential of emerging
information (IT) and biological technologies have
subsided over the last few years, yet we still face
policy and rhetoric that represents technological
development as a cure-all for social ills. The
"digital divide" can be filled with fiber optics, more
upgrades and a "computer in every classroom." For
techno-futurists, including many feminists, the
gendered and racialized body would be supplanted by
the virtual and the techno-human hybrid. But, as
Domain Errors!, suggests, the cyborg body is often a
desire of "those categorized as the norm in previous
colonial and eugenic taxonomies." While the language
of race has been strategically disowned in scientific
and technocratic communities, Maria Fernandez reminds
us that beliefs based on notions of racial differences
still largely influence social dynamics. Racial
ideology may be, as Fernandez suggests, part of a
plastic memory imprinted within our cognitive systems
through "legitimating performances" - an ideological
set of habits that are not so easy to recognize, let
alone transform.
	The combination of IT and biotech has created a
technological paradigm - termed the "Biotech Century"
by Jeremy Rifkin - that encompasses everything from
agriculture to reproductive medicine. These
technological developments have had, and will no doubt
continue to have, profound effects on how women's
(racial) bodies are viewed and treated. The imaging
technologies that can see to harvest eggs from female
donors are, as Lucia Sommer points out, somehow
incapable of seeing "the unpaid or underpaid labor of
postcolonial workers" that are comprised largely of
women. (p.128) "The Female Flesh Commodities Lab," the
second and middle section of Domain Errors!, takes an
active look at developments in bio- and reproductive
technologies -  including the history, and current
practice, of eugenics (Emily de Araujo/Lucia Sommer),
a look at how the assisted reproduction technologies
(ART) industry has appropriated the rhetoric of "a
woman's right to choose," (subRosa) and explorations
of the meanings of these technologies for sexual and
familial identity (Faith Wilding, Pattie Belle
Hastings, Tania Kupczak, Amelia Jones).
	While theoretical critiques are crucial to the
project of cyberfeminism, Domain Errors! is more than
a new treatise on feminism and critical theory. The
old dictum than the "personal is political" is
rigorously performed here, but the identities that
constitute the personal have been expanded and
activated, as has the definition of the political.
While the book's third and last section header,
"Research! Action! Embodiment! Conviviality!" best
expresses this performative intention, all three of
the book's sections combine theory, anecdote,
documentation and poetic projects. Poetic and visual
projects, like those by Lucia Sommer, Christina Hung
and Hyla Willis, accompany critical and documentary
texts. Terry Kapsalis and Claire Pentecost team up to
deliver an extraordinary photo-accompanied essay on
the eerily eugenics-inspired American Girl doll
phenomenon. There is also the welcome discussion and
documentation of artists projects, including subRosa's
"Sex and Gender Ed in the Biotech Century" and Nell
Tenhaaf's CUSeeMe projects, that provide visual as
well as contextual references from the artists. This
is not just theory informing practice - it is theory
from practice. Conviviality and embodiment are given
as methodologies for resisting the alienation and
unproductive competitiveness often found in the
technological and cultural sectors.
	If the current path of technological creation and use
is to be diverted - to the benefit of more, instead of
less, of the global population - then we need to
develop new methodologies and networks for research
and development with those that have been excluded and
silenced by the vacuum of the global clean rooms.
While many point to open source programming as a move
towards utopia, we can't assume that such changes to
software structures and intellectual property are
enough. Social systems of contestation, implemented in
all domains of life are necessary to challenge the
desire for political dominance, and the stability it
seems to represent. Domain Errors! provides one
example of what a cyberfeminist methodology and
network might look like, and asks for more. For
subRosa and their collaborators, cyberfeminism can
hardly be based strictly in the ether of cyberspace,
but must activate the spaces of play, work, and
physicality, especially those that remain invisible
to, yet affected by, the e-conomy.

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