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Using the Master’s Tools: Critical Pedagogy & Critical Theory of Technology

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  • The moment I mentioned my title to my colleague Samantha Blackmon, she started teasing me about how I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I responded to her concern for me with one of my favorite quotes:
  • I haven’t even started and I’m already appropriating. Misappropriating. Sam doesn’t ever ask forgiveness. I have never heard her ask for permission. But I asked Sam for permission to come here to Edinburgh and speak to you about the project we are working on with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the role it plays in our institution. I hope when we’re through I’m not begging for forgiveness.
  • We are creating a space within the technology-rich, engineering focused, STEM-centered institution for an alternative to the practices and pedagogies that surround us in these technology focused fields. At Purdue, I am the Director of Professional Writing. Sam, until recently, was the director of first-year writing. She is on sabbatical and is designing a gaming curriculum.
  • When I proposed my paper, I thought about the ways we were remixing technical and humanities education. We continue to believe we are creating a space within the technology-rich, engineering focused, STEM-centered institution for an alternative that supports identities omitted, elided, forgotten, and overwritten by the dominant thrust of engineering education. Our remixing also opens spaces for epistemologies, ethics, and methods of design that might not otherwise find a home in what we are here calling the neoliberal institution.
  • Alongside Audre Lord, the title invokes Andrew Feenberg, philosopher of technology, and this was for me a constructive pairing, but my rationale for the pairing only emerged from its unconcealment once I considered the monstrous construction an audience might make, how re/mix might not cohere in juxtapositioning Lorde, Feenberg, and Haraway’s monsters.
  • On the occasion of finding herself one of two scholars of color in an entire program dedicated to feminism, Lorde’s essay is a reminder not to replicate hegemonic oppression. Rather than issue a sterner rebuke, Lorde’s response—it seems generous to me in hindsight—is to remind her colleagues of their, of our, responsibilities:
  • : to resist the dominant culture’s sovereign move to divide and conquer. So I seek to define and empower, in part through the re/mix, in part by tracing networks.
  • And I remind myself that any challenge to the phallogocentric hegemony of dominant culture demands as broad a base of resistance: gender, class, identity, as well as epistemology, ways of knowing, ethics: all the ways we make knowledge.
  • But I have to interrogate Audrey Lorde, asking why we accepted at first blush that these digital instruments were indeed “the master’s tools.” It is Andrew Feenberg who represents the ability to move beyond the so-called “right of refusal” with technology and instead teaches that we have an ethic to engage.
  • Feenberg is a hopeful philosopher. Perhaps that is a peculiar phrase. Or perhaps in order to continue, to go on, he must create for himself a hope, a place not of resistance but of engagement, a place from which and in which to participate in the creation of new technologies, not to say “I prefer not” like Melville’s Bartelby, but instead, “Let’s try it this other way?”
  • Feenberg writes about three sites of technological engagement. He writes about users re-articulating the Teletel & Videotext in France to do things other than their designed purpose. Citizen participation changed this French precursor to the internet. He writes about women at the moment of childbirth changing hospital delivery practices,
  • rearticulating the relationship between mother-to-be and the technoscientific apparatus of the hospital, demanding participation of partners and renegotiating the relationship between patient. And finally, Feenberg writes about men with AIDS rewriting medical institutions and informed consent in the 1980s:
  • Before we even had a name for the disease—it was still being called GRID, or “Gay Related Immune Deficiency”—brave, dying individuals accepted their deaths. These brave men said even if they died sooner and more painfully, that they would accept any medical intervention that advanced research. As Feenberg reflects on these desperate times in the late 1980s, these activists did indeed hack the medical-industrial process, and created new opportunities for engaging the technocultural system.
  • Feenberg links his observations the the grand narratives Lyotard insists are no longer able to muster legitimating power, yet Feenberg insists that justice still comes through participation, and the expansion of democracy into the technical realm.
  • But my focus today is not on Feenberg, to articulate the basis of a technical democratic rationalization, but rather a more post-critical articulation of this monstrous mashup of Lourde, Feenberg, and Haraway, to embrace potential contradictions, and instead to love these constructions that the moderns might have seen as monstrous but for us have become rather mundane. I am here to articulate the potential for a critical pedagogy of technology. How monstrous.
  • “Cyborg subject” sounds rather quaint now as my home field of rhetoric is returning to materiality,
  • But these questions of monsters is not idle. Actions online seem to invite all the trolls and denizens of the sinister corners of the dark web, revealing a cyberscape that falls quite short of the kind of preferred space Haraway hopefully described as regenerative.
  • An empowering source accessible, existing in the virtual, cyborg. I think that now we know that moving from the real to the virtual does not end politics as Haraway here implies. Rather, while we drag our stinking skin sacks to the interface, all our problems, oppressions, and habits of mind accompany us online.
  • Recently, Jennifer Hepler, BioWare writer at the time, became the focus of much hatred. As the vitriol and the misogyny of the attack revealed itself for what it was—immature, myopic,—but also dangerous, it became a platform for discussing underlying problems. The immature boy culture of the net, the testosterone-fueled one-upsmanship of 4chan and similar communities. But I still shake my head and wonder why.
  • Sam and I started talking about this very problem, asking how we could prepare women not just for the technical issues of working in the gaming industry, but preparing them for working with the men working in the gaming industry. And she shot me the look – that look I’ve learned means I was verging on a mansplanation.
  • Don’t know if this audience needs the gloss, and I’m fearful of being found guilty. I apologize.
  • Sam and Alex researched the issue and started publishing about what they were finding and discovered that 3 of 10 female attendees of technical conferences report being assaulted. My first thought, a mansplanation, was about how I could prepare the women I was working with to face these situations.
  • With that in mind, the question shifted to theoretical preparation to offering meaningful strategies for engaging what Jennifer Hepler and others are experiencing every day. It brings back Audre Lord’s admonition, that the masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house
  • And as the first line of this New York Times story illustrates, the dominant narrative of the technology world is dominated by men’s stories, promethean fire-stealers, steve jobs inventing the gui, Ted Nelson Hypertext, and Vennevar Bush the Memex.
  • but these are not tools created by men for men, no matter what the New York Times might publish, and one important skill – a rhetorically complex, technologically mediated practice of engagement – is to effectively write back, talk back, and represent other ways of knowing, other knowledges and knowledge-making traditions, effectively and meaningfully.
  • So these tools do have significant power as recent revelations about the NSA reveals, yet it isn’t clear whether there is a master of the house. Isn’t that the promise of the postmodern? Loss of grand narratives, of legitimating stories, is just as damaging to the authority claimed by the dominant narrative as to the marxist workers utopia.
  • Are they the masters tools? Or has Prospero, perfect representative of phallogocentric, white supremacist, masculinist thought, been caught dissembling. This reference to Aime Cesaire's Tempest was part of a quote at the bottom of a copy of Audre Lord’s essay I found online, sent as part of an email exchange. A wonderful chance encounter with the gift economy of the net. Power lies about itself, about the world, about the past, the present, and about possible futures.
  • What we learn from numerous sources is that these tools were never and never have been owned. As artifacts, they have a history, or histories, of production. I don’t know anymore whose name is on the lease, and I’m not willing to accept any one narrative as authoritative.
  • What we find is not a set of tools owned by master but a history of technologies, tools, and attitudes created by a diverse and powerful group of people, women, men, white, brown, black, yellow, and a history of reapproporaition and erasure. And so telling a variety of stories about our technologies, their creation, and their use become political, powerful, and potentially empowering because we assert alternative histories and multiple sources of creation, articulating the layers of making, participation, and use necessary to produce the artifacts of technoculture.
  • And these artifacts tell a richer, messier, more inclusive narrative that goes back in time to represent the many sources of technological change, while supporting women and minority participation in the present, so that future involvement is both a continuation and meaningfully contextualized in a rich past. In need of historical retelling and celebration of herstories among all the histories, with the hope these narratives become inexpugnable from the historical record. (( Grace Hopper plays an important part in this book. Google her and read her Wikipedia entry if you aren’t familiar with her work in technology.
  • And so we return to this idea that we may not have the right tools, or ownership of the tools, that these tools won’t get the job done.
  • But Feenberg assures us that what we have is as good enough a starting place as any so that we can construct what we need.
  • Or that we will have become monstrous, unrecognizable to ourselves, in the retelling of the tale. Instead, we would become monstrous if the narrative of history could be so twisted as to omit the important role of women’s and other voices.
  • And so, first, Samantha Blackmon is hero in my story for creating Not Your Moma’s Gamer
  • An award-winning provocative, unapologetic, irreverent, women-only space designed to support discussion of gender and race issues in digital culture.
  • I tease Sam all the time that she needs to start working some time. She fires back that my work is boring; her’s just happens to be stuff she’s be doing anyway.
  • Alex becomes the hero of her own network. (Can you feel the tension I’m building?)
  • Nicole launched her foray into gaming with an amazing question, asking me: “I can get a job doing that?” In her first semester in the professional writing major, she landed a fantastic interview with a well-known, generous game designer, and she hasn’t looked back.
  • Alisha is a talented technical writing instructor: demanding but fair. I’m tracing this network for you to show you what is possible as an alternative history.
  • When Sarah graduates, I think we will all notice because she has the capacity to change the world. I believe that – she is a programmer, a critic, and an astute observer.
  • Sarah runs the writing program at a regional campus of Purdue.
  • Alex here is the hero for this part of the story. After two years working with Sam on Not Your Momma's Gamer, she decided that the status quo was simply unacceptable.
  • The first thing she did was organize a women’s lunch at the Association for Teachers of Technical Writing conference, to which she invited speakers whose theme was to include womens’ contributions to technology history in the technical writing classroom – this is also where I come in as the director of professional writing. Alex mentors new technical writing instructors at Purdue, where 78% of engineering students are young men. A hundred women attended the first luncheon.
  • In case you couldn’t read the group’s mission statement, I enlarged it. I hear Alex responding to Audre Lourde’s admonishment here. But Alex wasn’t, isn’t finished.
  • Together with the conference chair, Jill Morris, this conference faced its own problems. Computers and Writing has been investigating the nexus of literacy and digital technology since 1982. It sees itself, and for the most part it is, an open, inviting community. It tells itself it is an approachable community of scholars —but an incident (rather, a series on incidents) made it necessary for the conference to create a new narrative.
  • This new policy appeared in the printed materials of the conference as well as online, and the symbol for “safe zone” started appeared on badges. The policy, openly discussed and included in the chair's introduction, created a new normal at the conference. It changed things.
  • This intervention was not a cosmetic change. Attendees reported a sense of having a policy on their side. The policy was also backed by action: shuttle drivers were trained in recognizing potential problems and intervention techniques. Moreover, attendees reported a sense of responsibility to enforce the policy: no more looking the other way or “boys will be boys.” Instead was a feeling of control and responsibility.
  • There were numerous elements to this intervention, not the least of which is the organization and its constituents, its history, and its practitioners, scholars and tradtions.
  • This community was built around the contributions of women in technology, beginning with Cindy Selfe, now of Ohio State
  • Gail Hawisher, emeritus of the University of Illinois
  • And rather than fill the screen with images of the community’s leaders and founders, all I wish to assert is that this policy, and the willingness of the community to enforce it, did not just happen. It emerged from a committed community and an unwillingness to allow the space of the conference to be turned into anything other than the safe, welcoming place attendees wanted it to remain, or become. This image is from the Graduate Research Network Forum, a preconference workshop that has been supporting graduate student-faculty exchange for a decade.
  • Lest you become concerned that, in good patriarchal fashion, talking about and criticizing technology is one thing, but producing it is quite another, I woul dlike to introduce one final hero to you, Caitlan Spronk, who asked that, rather than use her image, I use an image of her work.
  • She is the OWL webmaster. For those of you who do not know the OWL, it gets millions of unique visits every year. In 2010-11, it served data to over 180 countries in response to 184 million unique visits.
  • It serves numerous requests in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, every country in Central and South America, and bandwidth is a serious consideration. Technology on Purdue’s side is substantial, particularly when trying to determine what the user’s technology context might be.
  • We’re running a shop of technogeeks, programmers, critics, and future faulty members precisely because the future of literacy instruction is so technologically implicated. No one would (or should) build an out-of-the-box OWL, but the resource has grown over the years.
  • In short, the tools are open. They have been produced by human hands to be used by human beings. We have opportunities to effectively, meaningfully, accurately present the history of technology development as best we know it. I am doing what I can to support inclusive, diverse base of technology producers, utilizing the resources of the institution justly and economically to support change.
  • But Feenberg assures us that what we have is as good enough a starting place as any so that we can construct what we need.
  • Chris Blair, also of the Computers and Writing Community, hosts a summer girls' camp to introduce them to web and programming fundamentals.
  • This San Francisco-based organization seeks to put women in front of technology development.
  • Black girls code is starting to support groups in cities across the US
  • With our very own Samantha Blackmon participating in the Indianapolis-based branch of this organization recently recognized by President Obama as a champion of change.
  • Critped

    1. 1. Using the Master’s Tools: Critical Pedagogy & Critical Theory of Technology Michael Salvo Purdue University, Indiana USA
    2. 2. “It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” ―Grace Murray Hopper
    3. 3. Using the Master’s Tools: Critical Pedagogy & Critical Theory of Technology Michael Salvo Purdue University, Indiana USA
    4. 4. Re/mix
    5. 5. “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House” - Audre Lorde (1984) “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992) “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” –Donna Haraway (1992)
    6. 6. “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House” - Audre Lorde (1984) “The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
    7. 7. “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House” - Audre Lorde (1984) “Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
    8. 8. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992)
    9. 9. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992) “…those who today are subordinated to technology's rhythms and demands will be able to control it and to determine its evolution. I call the … 'subversive rationalization' because it requires technological advances that can only be made in opposition to the dominant hegemony.”
    10. 10. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992) “AIDS patients were able to open up access because the networks of contagion in which they were caught were paralleled by social networks that were already mobilized around gay rights at the time the disease was first diagnosed.”
    11. 11. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992) “Instead of participating in medicine individually as objects of a technical practice, they challenged it collectively and politically. They 'hacked' the medical system and turned it to new purposes.”
    12. 12. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992)” “Why has democracy not been extended to technically mediated domains of social life despite a century of struggles? Is it because technology excludes democracy, or because it has been used to block it? The weight of the argument supports the second conclusion.”
    13. 13. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” (1992)
    14. 14. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” (1992) “Within the belly of the monster, even inappropriate/d others seem to be interpellated—called through interruption— into a particular location that I have learned to call a cyborg subject position.”
    15. 15. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” (1992) “This cyborg does not have an Aristotelian structure; and there is no master-slave dialectic resolving the struggles of resource and product, passion and action. S/he is not utopian nor imaginary; s/he is virtual.”
    16. 16. Mansplanation: To delight in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation: “Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain "there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters” -Urban Dictionary
    17. 17. Using the Master’s Tools: Critical Pedagogy & Critical Theory of Technology
    18. 18. “Prospero, you are the master of illusion. Lying is your trademark. And you have lied so much to me (lied about the world, lied about me) that you have ended by imposing on me an image of myself.” - Caliban, in Aime Cesaire's "The Tempest"
    19. 19. “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House” - Audre Lorde (1984)
    20. 20. “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House” - Audre Lorde (1984)
    21. 21. “Subversive Rationalization: Technology,Power, and Democracy” –Andrew Feenberg (1992)
    22. 22. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” (1992)
    23. 23. History of Computers and Writing community History of Computers and literacy research Understanding of contributions from among diverse participants Willingness to stand up and take responsibility
    24. 24. Technical capacity
    25. 25. Other heroes (if we have time)
    26. 26. Using the Master’s Tools: Critical Pedagogy & Critical Theory of Technology Michael Salvo Purdue University, Indiana USA