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Friday, June 9 • 1:30pm - 1:50pm
Feminist Making and (De)Coding – Revealing the Stacks

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The traditional power structures in the world have been digitised. They are embedded in our digital systems and are coded into the fibers of our digital being. Layer upon layer of socio-technical infrastructures contain the traces of colonialist and imperialist actions, thought and violence. From internet cables which trace old colonial routes, to exploitive labour practices and extractive resource acquisitioning, imperialism is now embedded in the digital communications infrastructures upon which our digital worlds rely. The code that runs across these wires are entangled with layers and stacks of bias that is socially, culturally and politically engrained and embedded. As Ruja Benjamin (2019), writes, discriminatory design pre-dates software design - past and present 'legal...[and]...social codes' make manifest systems that exclude and discriminate across class, gender, gender identity, sexuality, race and ethnic intersections. The embeddedness of algorithmic or coded bias reflects the embeddedness of societies historic bias, prejudice and discrimination. As such, this paper explores ‘Full Stack Feminism’ as a framework to help mitigate the ways in which implicit/explicit bias and discrimination are hard-coded into our digital systems. Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities, a two-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the Irish Research Council, takes seriously how our technical and social infrastructures create connection/disconnection, can contaminate/heal, and can empower/disempower. We use the “full stack” metaphor to denote the ways in which (un)conscious bias manifests across software development stacks – this provides us a framework for various, specific, interventions. In this respect, we conceive of three stacks: data and archives; infrastructure, tools and code; access, integration and experience. Within this framework we are developing and gathering practices for a Full Stack Feminist Toolkit. The framework thereby enables us to, as per ‘The Feminist Principles of the Internet’, understand the machine (hardware/software) and to reclaim it ‘down to the code’ (see https://feministinternet.org/en). In this framework code refers also to the social and cultural codes which inform, for example data models, user profiles, database structures, metadata descriptions, among others. This work, and its aspirations, are framed in terms of critical making – what can we learn about systems we use when building alternatives? What might we inadvertently reveal about our own practices and short-comings? Are ‘autonomous feminist infrastructures’ possible? What does feminist approaches to making and coding, in these spaces, across these stacks, bring in terms of a reevaluation of the systemic problems coded in our digital infrastructures? How might the application and rethinking of infrastructure stacks and layers through a feminist praxis and lens help us decode the encoded bias and discrimination deep rooted in our technologies? These questions are explored with relation to some experiments and initiatives developed through Full Stack Feminism and adjacent projects: ‘Building a Feminist Chat Bot’ (developed by the Feminist Approaches to Computational Technology Network); building ‘autonomous feminist infrastructures’ (Toupin & Hache, 2015), experimenting with raspberry Pi clusters; and feminist making and coding, workshops designed develop a feminist software life-cycle

avatar for Sharon Webb

Sharon Webb

Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, University of Sussex

Friday June 9, 2023 1:30pm - 1:50pm EDT
ARC E-02