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Introduction to "Locating Cyberfeminism"

Irina Aristarkhova
Locating Cyberfeminism: Comparative (Cyber)Feminist Studies Model
ISEA2008 Conference (www.isea2008.org), Singapore July 2008.

It seems as if we cannot proceed to discuss differences without being afraid to fall into a trap of dualisms and essentialisms, such as East / West, privileged / less privileged, First World / Third World, and so on. Even though much of contemporary feminist thought that claims activism and alternative identities borrows heavily from knowledges situated outside of the white middle class female experience, namely, from Angela Davis, Cheila Sandoval, bell hooks, authors of the collection “This Bridge Called My Back”, Chandra Mohanty, Vandana Shiva, not to mention indigenous knowledges and practices from all over the world, we seem to focus a lot on trying to achieve sameness of frameworks and methodologies when approaching gender and technology across various contexts. In my short paper for Proceedings, I stated how some of this relates to gender and technology, and to what someone the day before yesterday called here at ISEA “Santa Cruz” tradition (with Donna Haraway’s pioneering work as the main point of reference).

In this vein, our panel is not about reclaiming any kind of subaltern or forgotten, repressed experience of non-Western women in relation to technology. Rather, we are interested in terminologies, methodologies and strategies that could be developed with treating the concept of situated knowledge and locating cyberfeminism seriously. We also understand that if knowledge is indeed situated and located, it is often cannot and may be, should not be reconciled or understood under some common frame of reference, especially if this frame of reference has a propensity to claim itself as a world standard. Which, however, does not mean that situated knowledge cannot be intelligible and shared. Following from examples above that inspired the discussion of cultural, race and class difference within feminism, it is exactly those differences that will produce new strategies and inform new pathways for our work.

One possible way on naming our panel’s methodological direction is striving towards what in relation to pedagogy Chandra Mohanty calls “comparative feminist model or feminist solidarity model” (“Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anti-Capitalist Struggles, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 2003, Vol. 28, No. 2, p. 499).

She means by this “Not an add-on of ‘difference’ to “stir” the sameness of white middle class women’s experiences, but to consider comparative as showing “interconnectedness” and symbiotic relation between “the histories, experiences and struggles between the US women of color, white women, and women from the Third World / South” (Mohanty, p. 522, South / Third World discussion is close to Mohanty’s experience).

Comparative Feminist Studies Model is the Feminist Solidarity Model, according to Mohanty, because it “allows us to frame agency and resistance across the borders of nation and culture”, through analyzing and understanding “connection and disconnection” between activist women’s movements around the globe.

This is a powerful framework that speaks to many of our problems with one-sided feminist agenda. However, I feel we need to strengthen Mohanty’s call for comparative methodology by insisting on comparative terminology / epistemology too. Thus, my suggestions to deepen Mohanty’s framework:

Her main issues include “sex work, militarization, environmental justice, the prison / industrial complex and human rights”. These terms are heavily implicated in Mohanty’s framing of the issues coming from her own context and universalizing it (for example, the term “sex work” that is widely used in India might work differently in Eastern Europe, where “sex exploitation: or sex trade” or “sex trafficking” are much more prevalent approaches; or human rights is obviously the way in which many Western developmental funding agencies work when approaching Third World gender issues; while these terms are rarely used in the US itself, even when applied to prostitution or sex trafficking within the Western world). It has been often shown that the terms of this comparative feminist studies / feminist solidarity model need to be developed in the process of comparison and solidarity, and not be pre-emptied by the agenda set in advance, how Mohanty seems to proceed.

The problem, therefore, is still lack of practicing situated knowledge especially in how it is defined through major terminological frameworks and how it frames our own perceptions of ‘gender’ and ‘technology’. We need to acknowledge our reliance on culturally and historically different epistemologies while seeking alternatives to dominant discourses on gender and technology – where what constitutes “gender” and “technology” in their own right, is as much not assumed, as “woman” or “feminism”.

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