SusNet. Sustaining networked knowledge: expertise, feminist media production, art and activism

The SusNet network brings together feminist cultural production, art and activist practices and enables exchanges between different researchers, activists, artists and aims to contribute to knowledge exchanges across these areas and beyond.


Its primary nodes are the CCN+ Expertise Workshop, the 2013 Lesbian Lives Conference, the May 2013 Queer, Feminist Social Media Praxis workshop at the University of Sussex, the special edition of ADA Issue 5: Queer, Feminist Media Praxis,, and the FemTechNet panel and SusNet launch at Postdigital: Critical Responses.

Data, data everywhere

I logged into my social media platform this morning, generating a few more bytes of data for the aggregate pile, and the first three posts followed:

1 – A link to an interview with Mark Andrejevic (great scholar who I seem to reference in most things I ever write about) in which he discusses the consumption of social media as both experimental and exploitative – and primarily about the aggregation of data for big companies:

“because our individual data and information on its own is not particularly valuable. When it becomes valuable is when it’s aggregated, and we’re not in any bargaining position to command some piece of the pie when it comes to the aggregate use of that data. …”

2 – A link to an article by University of Washington scholar Brittany Fiore-Silfvast discussing data collection and 23andMe in relation to the FDA’s warning letter to the company in which she writes:

“Across many of our interviews with physicians it became clear that data were not always considered the valuable resources that advocates for big data in health claim them to be. Patient data generated outside the clinic often required extra interpretive and managerial work, and created more liability and risk for physicians, without providing much more clinical actionability. One physician reflected that the most challenging parts of patients bringing in 23andme data was having to engage in a conversation teaching the basics of statistics and discussing the nature of the data itself, much less make sense of that data in medical and clinical terms.  Mostly physicians don’t know what to do with the data or what they mean clinically at this point”

One of the main points for me here is that collecting data also creates new work and places new demands on people – and when it comes to medical data – patients and clinicians alike are sometimes disadvantaged and overwhelmed by the demand that we all access genomic data despite the fact that it has very little link to meaningful or useful information even if you happen to be a geneticist.  However, the very fact that it is generated makes people think they have to take it on board and learn how to understand it.

3 – A link to a new consumer device for generating data – the ‘Mother’ motion sensor package for the home – especially so you can monitor your child’s toothbrushing activity remotely:

Having witnessed my daughter aged 6 standing in the bathroom with the electric tooth brush turned on but using it to wave in the air and choreograph unknown dance tunes while I thought she was brushing her teeth – I can tell you that motion is no indication of dental hygiene – but hey ho – don’t let that stop the marketing of a new downright sexist new data gadget that sells data consumption back to the consumers who generate the data.

It was the mother motion sensors that really brought these things round in a nice loop for me this morning.  Data, data everywhere – we are all in the business of generating and buying it – at the same time that significantly large corporations (Google anyone), are also selling it. So data (and it means different things depending on who is using the term) is a commodity, everyone is generating it. One concern (Andrejevic’s) is that people are generating it, corporations are making a new economy out of it, so that is exploitation.  Another concern is that not only are people generating data for companies to make money out of – one of the ways it is being sold back to us is through devices that generate new data – so not only are people being exploited through data mining (e.g. Facebook), they are paying money to buy devices to generate more data through nice little sports wear gadgets like FitBit (what could be wrong with that), and now Mother (what could be right with that).  Also at stake is that all the data generating companies are trying to make all this data meaningful – and they have worked out that consumers can do that bit for them too – Mother, FitBit and Facebook offer answers to that – people get to care about the data by relating it to our selves, other people, family friends, political situations and that is how people make data meaningful – we get to care about it.

Andrejevic and Fiore-Silfvast are right, data is what the digital economy is about, it is everywhere – from medical health to social networking sites – and just about everywhere else unless you are offline, out of wireless network range and not consuming anything. At the same time no one really knows what the data means – but that doesn’t matter – it is just the fact of producing it that generates lots of money and the construction of a whole new social infrastructure. But unlike the data generation which is fairly evenly distributed – the money doesn’t get back to many people – and the meaning – which might help with healthcare if it ever materialized seems to have dropped out of the equation except as a matter of personal interpretation.

In the UK context I would be a little wary of Genomics England’s claim that they will generate better heath care, clinical insights and wealth and health for the nation by sequencing 100, 000 genomes with  £100 million from the Department of Heath.  Surely what this will generate is lots of data. Mother asks me ‘What do you care about today?’ Right now I feel like I do care about data – but not in a good way.

Biodigital Paradoxes (symptoms of the biodigital)

Biodigital Paradoxes (symptoms of the biodigital)

Linking questions about sustaining knowledge in feminist art and activism and with work on emerging technologies:

I’m interested in the biodigital – the coming together of life itself and information systems – the convergence of biology and information sciences – life modulated through digital culture – the biodigital is on the one hand a descriptive term and on that basis might have an ontology and a lexicon – but it is also a tool of analysis or diagnostic and as such it has symptoms. Symptoms alert us to what has befallen us and provide the grounds for change.

Three symptoms of the biodigital are unreal objects, medium knowledge and impossible worlds:

1) Unreal objects
We see a huge and ongoing investment of time, money and institutional resources in unreal objects e.g. genomes, smart grids, precision medicine, networks – at the same time as we see a disinvestment in lives – in the arts, humanities, education, health and welfare. These things are hinged together – unreal objects undo subjects – e.g. smart grids have no humans, the human genome project was about information, investments in technoscientific projects at best distract and at worst detract from people in their everyday life contexts where they are more concerned about how existing basic health care and education can be accessed rather than the next global science project.

2) Medium knowledges
Digitization and networks; media culture/media life; unreal objects are made in media forms; genomes inhere as digital artefacts; smart grids are about strangely human-less ecologies with objects communicating through an exchange of signals – like the internet of things; or ubiquitous computing environments with new hierarchies of servitude. Medium knowledges—formed in the social media paradigm—both proliferate and cannibalize.. We compulsively seek to share with one another as our actual bodies are networked, photo-shopped and plastic surgeried out; the press release is the news and the audience is the advert; medium knowledge is Wikipedia and Google, and their biomedical allies; the receding of book publishing and of professional writers, the reduction of access to formal education at the same time as the explosion of writing, teaching and knowledge and media making in everyday life.

3) (Under)whelming worlds
The vision of the cloud is an underwhelming world – a paradigmatic object par excellence of unreal objects and medium knowledges – it promises to hold the underwhelming world of an indefinite excess of big data (for which the question of human scale meaning is endlessly deferred) – and networked everything – in its heavenly haze. At the same time it demands resources for server farms, deforestation, strip mining, mountain top removal, war, fossil fuel extraction, nuclear power, industrial farming. These all provide the substrate for worlds which are rapacious in their demands for resources.

A second, much more obscure but non-the-less paradigmatic project of these biodigital symptoms is de-extinction. The concerted effort to bring back extinct species in the pursuit of both reparation for – and the promotion of – technoscientific business as usual. From the impossible human-free eco-imaginaire of clouds, smart grids and cloned tigers and other big science dreams – to the actual impossibility of sustaining the pursuit of happiness in times of economic disaster and the threat to life of a superheated planet – underwhelming worlds are a symptom of the biodigital. Funding is poured into big science projects that promise revolutions and technological fixes, whilst exacerbating inequality and demanding resources. At the same time money cannot be found for the lived experiences of everyday life – for cushioning against the viciousness of precarity – for a livable life for all, for education and for health.

The axes of these biodigital symptoms – materiality, knowledge, worlds – are also the concerns of feminist media art and activism. The paradoxes of the symptoms of the biodigital are that reparation does revolve around the same axes –– the space of unreal objects is also generative of creativity and an invitation to make things up – to invent – or make up: but also to make up in the other sense of to make up for: reparation – the imaginative and the ethical conjoined.

This takes me to medium knowledges that exploit the audience as advert but also invite us to promote things worth knowing – media making offers an opportunity to create new institutional dynamics through media platforms and re-inventions of the social in a time in which those institutions that have done the work of marginalization and destruction of the social themselves are threatened and revised. Medium knowledges become a platform for possibility.

Underwhelming worlds – both imagined and experienced – can be reworked and the life of the mundane and everyday can be connected to the ecological, and the global

In this paradoxical landscape of biodigital symptoms it is possible to both work with emerging technologies and their big (un)real and destructive dreamscapes and to take something from them to work with the everyday, the creative and the marginal. In this context we are making a small intervention with the construction of SusNet a feminist network that couples itself with the technoscientific dreamscape of unreal objects, medium knowledge and impossible worlds. On the one hand it is a utopian impulse towards a network of people that is also a media platform, that sustains knowledges and enables connection. However, on the other hand it is also a small group of people, a small amount of money and a set of actual practices that ask people to reflect on their own practices and histories of collaboration and connection and motivations in order to materialize the rather utopian unreal object of a network, create medium knowledge, and re-institute a kind of worlding through an account of feminist media art and activism and its connections and solidarities as well as disconnections and antagonisms – (in the context of biodigital symptoms.)

[this is a draft of material for today’s roundtable]

Digital Physics rather than biodigital…

This news story about the first web page came via a friend who works on the Genome Browser at the same time that I visited CERN in Geneva and saw the first web server in the Universe of Particles exhibit:

WWW server at CERN

WWW server at CERN

My PhD was about the web in the 1990s, and I’m more interested in the history of the internet and the web, than in physics. However, it was fun to be standing above the Large Hadron Collider and imaging all the accelerating high energy particles under ground. I have another indirect connection because my uncle actually worked at CERN – again more internet than physics – so it was fascinating to be able to take a field trip there.

Orbs in the Universe of Particles exhibition at CERN.

Orbs in the Universe of Particles exhibition at CERN.


Photos by Jenny Reardon