Yesterday morning, I returned to Madrid from Locations of Learning: Transnational Feminist Practices , Scholar and Feminist Conference at Barnard College, New York City where I was a panelist. It was a truly fantastic and wonderful experience. I cannot thank the organizers enough for inviting me.
The session I took part in was one where people in the field of feminist activism shared their experiences. Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh talked about her experiences producing on demand television for Zanan TV. Tamura A. Lomax is associated with the Virginia Commonwealth University and is the co-founder of The Feminist Wire. Maria Belén Ordóñez is very involved with FemTechNet. We all had a great deal experience in our chosen areas, and very different experiences.
One theme in our session was finding the balance when engaged in these activities. For Lomax, it was doing The Feminist Wire on top of all her other obligations as a full time academic. The process for the site involves a multi-tiered peer review process and working with a diverse group of people joined by a common feminist goal to write around the same topic. For Abbasgholizadeh, it was dealing with the time issues when needing to constantly produce. Europe, the Americas and Asia all are awake at different times.
Privacy was also discussed. I think one of my points was that Wikipedia has conflicting definitions of privacy. As an academic, no one can add your birthdate to the article about you including you unless you have a reliable source. On the other hand, as a contributor, people can share your birthday and use sites not considered for Wikipedia text as much as they want on the talk pages.
From what I gather on Twitter, the takeaway from my comments during the panel was that Wikipedia is important for knowledge formation. It isn’t always as easy as “who reads this article and how do they act in response to it” but who reads this article and shares knowledge with others based on this article. This is actually something that Gavin Reynolds from the National Sports Information Centre at the Australian Institute of Sport made me really pause to think about. “Where does our knowledge come from?”
While not everything I wanted to say got said, I think the presentation overall went very, very well. (I would like to have mentioned the issues with a preference for English language sources making it hard for women’s voices in other languages to be heard on English Wikipedia.) The feedback I got right after the session and at the mixer later was all good. 🙂
The organizers were very keen that we should tweet about the sessions we attended, and I tried my best because I really enjoyed myself and the company. I found the whole thing incredibly motivating as a Wikimedia contributor to keep going. I’ll repost and add to a few of my Facebook and Twitter comments to give a broader view of what happened. 🙂
Tate LeFevre presented on New Caledonia. For me, this was awesome. My PhD is Australian. I have lived in Micronesia. Seeing Oceania the focus of research makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. On some level, her work was a critique of French governmental practices regarding the definition of culture in France, and the idea that all should be working towards the same goal. Indigenous identity is not really culturally allowed in the French colony of New Caledonia because french policy says everyone should be working towards the same goals of supporting the state, not as different groups working towards getting along. The leadership of the indigenous movement are willing to support a status quo that devalues women if it means getting what they want: the issue of current and ongoing abuses towards women is something that the leadership sees as something to revisit at a later date following greater independence.
This was one of those presentations I found really interesting, but wasn’t always sure I was understanding correctly. The gist of it appeared to be that female South Asian domestic workers were not coerced into becoming Muslims. Instead, as an extension of their labor and the subservience it called for, they embraced Islam by choice because of the subservience vein interwoven into the faith.
Other twitter and Facebook comments I made:
#sflocations speaker talking about a feminist who created a model for better understanding Islam in context of the west.
- #sflocations is an eye opener on the behind scenes perspective on USA academic hiring practices I had little knowledge of. ZOMG.
- #sflocations comment just made me glad I did the Australian research PhD experience.
- #sflocations one speaker said that attempts to do politically neutral fact based research is often a way of reasserting male hegemonic thought.
- #sflocations Realizing I need to read http://t.co/ZYEIjPUsSo .
- Listening to #sflocations discussing of understanding feminist outside own understanding, I see parallels with issues with Wikipedia models
- Transnational feminism has issues because the type of critique of feminism can be so out of scope of models used that it makes it difficult to approach. #sflocations on a Wikipedia level, i can see this in the anglocentric view on sourcing and sources of knowledge and derived notability .
- #sflocations some more recent Chinese and Japanese feminist academics to examine if taught belief that male feminists in both countries actually created liberal feminism there. They found this narrative not to be true. Turns out women shared feminist thought via sharing diaries and journals, and critiquing European models of feminism
- #sflocations interesting critique of politics. Condemned non-profits as being political in the sense of being business and entertainment. Focused exclusively on profits, taking political movements and undermining them by individualized them and the narrative around the individual.
- #sflocations is now talking about the history and evolution of transnational feminism. Interesting because the pair of speakers that are there touched upon that I have heard regarding the superiority of one American/European based typed of feminism.
- #sflocations started. For someone with little knowledge of the history of feminist scholarship, this is interesting perspective on practice
Overall, the conference made me feel leery about the potential for joining the USA academic world. The system discussed was made to feel very closed, one in which research was difficult to conduct, where one question asker openly said being an adjunct professor was tantamount to slavery, and where PhD students were not given a realistic expectation regarding the job market and job expectations. These were questions I asked my supervisors in Australia about early on. While I do not think I have a completely clear grasp on the Australian perspective and I do know it has its faults, overall the Australian and New Zealand academic opportunities seem more ideal for me. (Certainly the PhD process has been. I wouldn’t change my university, my supervisors and my academic experience at the University of Canberra for anything. It has been fabulous.)
The conference was also interesting because of the connections I could see between research being done, and either how Wikipedia works or how the research the people at the conference were doing could be incorporated into Wikipedia articles as sources that would overall provide more information regarding the global status of women. It was also fantastic because as a Wikipedia contributor, I feel I could talk about that experience. Too often it feels like the experiences of myself and other women who are contributors are either mediated through the press or by academics, sometimes without any request for input on our experiences. It also helped me feel less isolated and less alone in the contributor process because here were a bunch of other women (and men) going through somewhat similar processes in academia.
I’d like to (again) thank the organizers for their fantastic job in organizing the conference, and bringing together a diverse group of academics who spoke on a wide array of topics. It was just an awesome conference, and well worth the trip from Madrid.