Week 21 — what might resistance mean

Wow, it’s been a long week.

Robin Sloan is back. His newsletter is 💛. Like a little gift in my email. This one has a section that talks about book reviews. I don’t really think this email is that genre but I’d love to hear if you think I fit in the taxonomy.

I did get a couple of responses from last week’s ‘general hostility towards anarchism’. I sort of did a bad job of trying to explain why to someone and then literally the next day saw this tweet. The ideas I like are just done better elsewhere.

On Tuesday, we ran Power and Privilege course for the second time. The content is mostly made up of things that I’ve been doing at uni, but in the context of user-centred design and the public sector. The kind of uni/career crossover I could not have predicted. Working with Clara has been great too, she took a bunch of disparate conversations and turned them into an actual course.

On Thursday evening, I went to a lecture at Goldsmiths by David Lapoujade. I probably understood about 15% but it was so wonderful. The professor made this comment about how ‘you don’t always know why you love one philosophy over another’. I felt that. He also made fun of Deleuzians. I felt that too.

I am properly ratcheting up the reading because I have to submit a proper research proposal and literature review for my dissertation by March 6th *panicked noise*. Subsequently, this is so looong so strap in. In an attempt to make it more digestible, I’ve sectioned it: animals | data | everything else.

Do Fish Resist?
by Dinesh J. Wadiwel

This paper was so good! The first section, which outlines the absolute violence of the fishing industry, was quite painful to read. Truly ‘visceral horrors’. But after that, he makes such amazing arguments. First, he takes on ‘can they suffer?’

Instead of asking ‘do fish feel pain?,’ a different order of question might be: ‘How can we use fish the way we do, on the scale we do, when we are still not certain that they do not suffer?’

But he goes much further than that, changing the question completely. He uses Foucault’s understanding of power and epistemologies.

… to tackle fish resistance as an ‘epistemological problem’; that is, a problem of how we frame human knowledge of fish, and how this shapes what we can know and think is possible.

He expands to a very interesting argument about agency and co-becoming. There are actually so many good points I strongly suggest you read it for yourself. It’s not paywalled! It’s quite digestible and not as long as you think because his work is so well researched, the last half is references.

The ending turns hopeful in an unusual, but beautiful way.

Fish create worlds we cannot even understand; they defy our imagination. Our primary relationship with fish, at least so far, has been violent and parasitic. We have quite literally fed off their creativity for our own benefit. Recognising fish resistance might give us different ways to think about how we might relate to fish beyond simply finding new ways to counter their resistance to us. What would our world look like if we worked with and supported the creativity of fish, rather than simply working against it?

Emoji summary: 🐟 🎣 🧠

Vignettes from The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds
by Thom van Dooren

Each chapter in this book is preceded by some short vignettes that

offer some concentrated, albeit brief opportunities to reflect on some of the remarkable features of crow life. … In each of these cases, we learn a little more – or at the very least are provided with some fascinating sites for careful speculation – about how corvids make sense of the world.

It was very different and not at all academic. Just a set of quite delightful stories of what crows do.

Emoji summary: 🐦 🤝 📝

What Animals Teach Us about Politics
by Brian Massumi

I read about half of the book’s title essay, which was a bit of a struggle. Partly because I don’t have background in a lot of theory he’s grounding the work in, like affect theory, and therefore struggled to understand. But there was something in it I just rejected. As Lapoujade suggests, you don’t always know why you love – or don’t love – some philosophy.

Before the lecture on Friday, I asked my tutor what she thought of it. Turns out she is writing a chapter in her new book that critiques his view. She also recommended a critique by Ruth Leys in the last chapter of The Asset of Affect. Leys’ chapter is not about animals at all, but she does say this about Massumi

Much of the time, Massumi … engages in rather opaque philosophical-speculative reflections ...

Opaque is right. I didn’t read the chapter too closely because I have too many other lines of inquiry to follow. Nevertheless, it was enough to allow myself to not finish the book.

Emoji summary: ⛔️ 🏛 🐾

Post-It Note City
by Shannon Mattern

Sometimes I forget about Places Journal for ages and then it pops up and again I’m wowed. Thoughtful, long-form journalism.

The sub-heading pretty accurately describes what the article is about

A visit to the smart-city-in-progress at Sidewalk Toronto prompts questions about what it means to “participate” in civic design.

Even if you don’t work in urban planning, the wider questions about data and design are well worth engaging with

“Participation” is now deployed as part of a public performance wherein the aesthetics of collaboration signify democratic process, without always providing the real thing.

Using clever props and nifty tools, and the promise (or performance) of participation, they can involve the public in superficial aspects of the design while deflecting attention from issues of privacy, justice, and governance. … Rob Kitchin argues that “citizen-centric” design, or co-design, “has largely acted as an empty signifier, designed to silence detractors or bring them into the fold while not altering the technocratic workings, profit-driven orientation … and civic paternalism.” This is not to say that participatory planning efforts are always disingenuous or ineffectual; rather, that we should pay close attention to how ethics are operationalized.

It’s a long article, but well worth it.

Emoji summary: 🏙 📋 🖍

Yes, digital IDs are efficient. But they’re a threat to our very identities
by Zara Rahman

Rahman provides a very good analysis of digital IDs, and digital systems, but importantly how they sit within wider political systems. She references her own experience in gaining German citizenship, jumps to the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Citizenship Amendment Act in India. While she is speaking about ‘identity’ in the nation-state sense, she still takes on wider questions of data collection and digitisation

Digital systems – how they’re built, the data they gather (and the data they don’t), the categories we’re put into – by design require a flattening of our identities, reflecting a prioritisation of what most matters to the people collecting the data. Our identities are fluid – that’s what makes us human – but digital systems require concrete boundaries to be established and people to be put in concrete categories.

Succumbing to having our identities defined for us – in ways that lend themselves to easy digitisation – means we risk losing sight of who we are altogether. It is a road that history has shown us can lead to exclusion, repression, and violence. As we embrace the potential of visibility and belonging through digital identification, we mustn’t lose sight of all that could be lost.

Emoji summary: 🛂 🗄 🔲

Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World
by Meredith Broussard

This book a very basic introduction to computing and some basic critiques of the whole ‘tech will save us’ thing, which Broussard calls ‘technochauvinism’. It was less useful than I was hoping, but is extremely easy to read (she comes from a journo background) and included just enough usefulness at regular enough intervals that I just … finished it.

The book is quite obviously aimed at a fairly non-tech audience, and Broussard leans heavily on empirical accounts of her own experience. I’m not sure if this is an American thing or what. She’s obviously very knowledgable in a lot of fields, but then still uses some little life anecdote to make a point. I don’t love it.

Emoji summary: 🖥 🤖 🚗

This girls-only app uses AI to screen a user’s gender — what could go wrong? by Zoe Schiffer
This app’s “bio-metric gender verification software” scans users’ faces to make sure they’re girls by Molly Sprayregen

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

I’m reminded of what Rashida Richardson said to me at the Responsible Tech conference last year, that there is no ethical case for facial recognition.

Emoji summary: 🤳 🚺 🤬

‘Introduction: On Arrival’ in Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life
by Sarah Ahmed

One of the books in the wide net of dissertation research. I read the introduction and decided that, while interesting, it wasn’t directly relevant and so will not continue. Since then, Rebecca told me the introduction is the best part and I’m not missing anything.

I think the critique of diversity is important. D&I in the workplace comes from the position of the ‘other’ who must be included.

Strong critiques have been made of the uses of diversity by institutions and of how the arrival of the term “diversity” involves the departure of other (perhaps more critical) terms, including “equality,” “equal opportunities,” and “social justice.”

Emoji summary: 👩‍💼 🤫 ❎

The secret behind the Sanders campaign: people before tech
by Common Knowledge

I really appreciate Common Knowledge’s take on technology and activism. Quite unlike most of tech, they do not propose that ‘tech will save us’. It is a growing conversation, at least in my bubble, but still not enough.

To the article at hand. Relations! If you’ve been here for a bit, you’ll know I have a thing for relations.

The techniques that evolved out of these campaigns have increasingly emphasised “relational organising”: placing relations, conversations and existing human networks at the centre of efforts, rather than data-based targeting.

This article talks about mobilising vs organising, comparing Obama vs Sanders. And then ends on an all too important note, strategies beyond electoral cycles

Seeing elections as just a tactic in a wider strategy of building power in workplaces and communities is part of the answer. If Sanders’ campaign slogan “Not me, us” is to become a reality, new and different political technologies will need to emerge, not tied to electoral cycles.

Emoji summary: 📱 👯‍♀️ 🌀

British universities are examining how they benefited from slavery
by The Economist

Did you know that if you pocket an economist article, you can read behind the paywall? Now you do.

This article made me RAGE! First, a little slap to get us in the mood

When they think of their role in the history of slavery, Britons like to focus on William Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists rather than on the role of slavery in building the British empire during the previous two centuries.

Then, this little fact. I knew that slave owners received compensation because it’s an example in our Power and Privilege course. I did not know it took until 2015 to pay it off! Disgusting. Yes, we need to talk about reparations.

To persuade MPs to support the Slavery Abolition Act, which was passed in 1833, the government borrowed £20m … to compensate slave-owners for the loss of what was considered their property. The loan accounted for 40% of the Treasury’s annual income in 1834, the year the payments began—or about 5% of Britain’s GDP. It took until 2015 to pay it off.

Speaking of reparations, it talks a little about what Glasgow university is doing. Yet…

And for an institution whose business is study, studying its past wrongdoings hardly counts as penance.

I’m with Angela Davis, who said ‘free education’!

Emoji summary: ⛓ 🎓 💰


Sex and Self-Knowledge: Beyond Consent by Katherine Angel

A little light Val-day reading from Verso, which just happens to be very good.

…that we shouldn’t have to know ourselves in order to be safe from violence.

Ha ha! Ha ha! by Lauren Oliver

This review is so bitchy it actually made me uncomfortable. And I am a fan of Andrea Long Chu, who perfected the scathing takedown. I haven’t read the book in question, Trick Mirror, but I heard good things about it. And anyway, the things Jia is allegedly guilty of seem pretty inconsequential and unworthy of the level of vitriol. I guess bitchiness sells, article clicks and books I suspect. Still want to read the book.

What I learned at the Ayn Rand conference by Wendy Liu.

I know Wendy online (even though we’ve never met irl). I think we share broad-brush strokes of political consciousness. However, when it comes to the detail, I’m not always as convinced. One bit in this one that has me less convinced is the ‘path of progress’ because ‘progress’ as a word is loaded with meaning that I have spent the last year plus denouncing. Regardless, Wendy is very smart and I’m looking forward to reading her new book in April.

The Prison Journalism Project. Not an article but this is cool and I want to share it.

The cycle of mass incarceration and poverty is inextricably linked. There are currently about 2.3 million people in prisons and jails across the United States. Each incarceration economically disrupts the lives of the men and women behind bars and the families and communities they leave behind. This often triggers a cycle of poverty and incarceration in future generations.


Emoji summary is 100% nicked off my favourite art critics The White Pube. They said they don’t mind.