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A feminist server…

  • Is a situated technology. She has a sense of context and considers herself to be part of an ecology of practices
  • Is run for and by a community that cares enough for her in order to make her exist
  • Builds on the materiality of software, hardware and the bodies gathered around it
  • Opens herself to expose processes, tools, sources, habits, patterns
  • Does not strive for seamlessness. Talk of transparency too often signals that something is being made invisible
  • Avoids efficiency, ease-of-use, scalability and immediacy because they can be traps
  • Knows that networking is actually an awkward, promiscuous and parasitic practice
  • Is autonomous in the sense that she decides for her own dependencies
  • Radically questions the conditions for serving and service; experiments with changing client-server relations where she can
  • Treats network technology as part of a social reality
  • Wants networks to be mutable and read-write accessible
  • Does not confuse safety with security
  • Takes the risk of exposing her insecurity
  • Tries hard not to apologize when she is sometimes not available

“A Feminist Server Manifesto”

We like to think of our research as antidisciplinary: we are empowered by our differences and our respective mixed backgrounds in the social sciences and humanities. We muddle up the borders between sociology | science and technology studies | critical security studies | philosophy | political science | development studies | human computer interaction | liberal arts.

Not only are we curious about the world, we also seek to make a difference. We experiment with engaged research an approach to research that, without departing from systematic, evidence-based, social science research, aims to make a difference for groups and individuals beyond the academic community. This approach emerges from our individual engagement over the years with a variety of social movements and non-governmental organizations across the world. It affects, for example, the questions we ask and the ways we engage with groups and individuals. In other words, we take the ethics of research very seriously. We explicitly privilege a grassroots perspective, and our research often takes sides. It is activism by other means.

We seek to engage critically with our role in academia and the public education system. We acknowledge (our) privilege but also listen to our dissatisfaction with hierarchical and authoritarian systems. This is why we try to experiment with horizontal, participatory dynamics in our daily practices. We learn from each other and our differences, and engage in prefigurative politics, subverting here and now the hierarchical relationships and dynamics of academia.

DATACTIVE, “Our Values”

Plato, in his famous fight against the ancient Sophists, discovered that their “universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments” […] had nothing to do with truth but aimed at opinions which by their very nature are changing, and which are valid only “at the time of the agreement and as long as the agreement lasts” […]. He also discovered the very insecure position of truth in the world, for from “opinions comes persuasion and not from truth” […]. The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality. In other words, one destroyed the dignity of human thought whereas the others destroy the dignity of human action. The old manipulators of logic were the concern of the philosopher, whereas the modern manipulators of facts stand in the way of the historian. For history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility—based upon the fact that it is enacted by men and therefore can be understood by men—is in danger, whenever facts are no longer held to be part and parcel of the past and present world, and are misused to prove this or that opinion.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

[I]t was the primacy of interpretation, in [John] Guillory’s view, that licensed literary critics of his own generation to wander away from, and in some cases abandon, literature entirely, in search of new worlds to conquer: “By the later 1960s, the literary professoriate had begun to tire of producing ‘readings’ of literary works.” But rather than finding something to do with literature besides interpret it, they simply moved on to producing interpretations of everything: films, works of visual art, philosophical systems, archival documents, feelings, society itself. “A door was opened leading beyond literature to all of culture,” Guillory writes. “But having passed through this magic portal, it was difficult to return to literature, to be content with that object.”

Evan Kindley, “Departments on the Defensive”

Recording technology changed the very nature of music’s being in the world. The fact that musical performances could be rescued from ephemerality, lifted out of the river of time and retained for unlimited future reference, gave rise to the modern concept of interpretation. It’s interesting that Wagner does not use the German word Deutung for what the conductor does when he rehearses and performs musical works, but Vortrag—recitation. His concern is that the music be played properly, and in translating Vortrag as ‘interpretation’ [Chris] Walton shows a peculiarly modern bias. Wagner is adamant about the way Beethoven’s Ninth should be played, but he didn’t think there were an indefinite number of possible versions of the symphony. Once you understood its idiom, you would know how it was to go. Conscious of the radical idiosyncrasy of his own musical idiom, Wagner was plainly anxious that it should be understood correctly by future generations […].

Nicholas Spice, “Theirs and No One Else’s”

They asked me whether I would talk to the media and I said I didn’t know. They asked me who I was writing for and I said I didn’t know, who could say where this would end up, maybe Glimmer Train, a literary journal. I do not know why, when stressed, my instinct is to become more annoying. “Glimmer Train,” wrote the special agent on his special pad. They conferred away from me. The sun beat down and I continued to think about fine lines. “Who in the media will you speak to?” an agent asked for the third time. “I am the media,” I said grandly. To my surprise, they liked this answer; it involved a definable category. I was then turned over to a third jurisdictional authority, military police. I do not know how much time all of this took. I only know that in that thirty minutes or hour or two hours something shifted, because as I sat on that patch of grass I looked not at the building but at the parking lot. I looked at the cars: Jettas and Camrys. Thousands of regular people worked here. Thousands of middle-class people drove from their homes every day and parked here and went home and never told their mothers where they’d been. The eye is not always a metaphor. Surveillance, of course, is made of us.

Kerry Howley, Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs: A Journey Through the Deep State, in “Surveillance Is Made of Dogs”

It may already be September. I drank tasteless coffee
in the café garden of the Museum-Insel
and thought about Berlin, its dark waters.
Black buildings that have seen so much.
But peace reigns in Europe, diplomats doze,
a pale sun, the summer dies serenely,
spiders weave its shining shroud, the plane trees’
dry leaves write memoirs of their youth.

So this is the vita contemplativa.
The black walls enclosing white sculptures.
The bust of a Greek beauty. So this is it.
An altar before which no one prays.
So this is the vita contemplativa.
Narkissos—a Roman copy of a Greek boy
on prosthetic limbs of bronze (a veteran of which war?).
Then a kuros with his pouch of testes (a vanished phallus).

We seem to occupy a desert island.
Time moves deliberately, without haste.
Helpless rapture, so this is the vita contemplativa.
An instant with no hour, as the poet said,
the poet killed in Lublin by a bomb.
But what if, in this or a different city,
the vita activa surged again, what would Artemis,
fourth century B.C.E., do then? Hermes? Narcissus?

Parchment faces stare at me with envy—
I still make mistakes, they can’t.
Comparing day and night, so this is it.
Sleep and waking, mind and world, this is it.
Tranquillity, taut attention, the levitating heart.
Lucent thoughts smoulder in black walls.
So this is it. What is it, we don’t know.
We dwell in the abyss. In dark waters. In brightness.

Adam Zagajewski, “Vita Contemplativa”, translated by Clare Cavanagh

One former student told the other former student to go away, out there, in the snow, at night.

Go away, he said to the other. If she sees us both, she will label us both former students, forgetting that I am I and you are you.

He was the older former student. He had fought in a war. He had not reenlisted because he wanted to do something else with his life. He was deaf in one ear.

The other former student was young, but he had been to Europe.

It was true that as she looked out the window at them walking back and forth under the streetlight, they were, in her mind, two former students, more so than if each of them had been alone, fully himself, though also, unavoidably, a former student.

Lydia Davis, “Two Former Students”, in Can’t and Won’t: Stories

Where has this cold come from?
“It comes from the death of your friend.”

Will I always, from now on, be this cold?
“No, it will diminish. But always
        it will be with you.”

What is the reason for it?
“Wasn’t your friendship always as beautiful
    as a flame?”

Mary Oliver, “For Tom Shaw S.S.J.E. (1945–2014)”, in Devotions

True attention allows potentialities latent in human relations and encounters—often immediately stifled by the weight of the everyday and by the hegemony of what is agreed to exist and to require attention—to flower and to flourish.

Attention nourishes the implicit forms of being together that are emergent within human interaction and that are constantly interrupted.

The Friends of Attention, Twelve Theses on Attention

To my craft I am attentive, and I love it.
But today I’m discouraged by the slow pace of the work.
My mood depends upon the day. It looks
increasingly dark. Constantly windy and raining.
What I long for is to see, and not to speak.
In this painting, now, I’m gazing at
a lovely boy who’s lain down near a spring;
it could be that he’s worn himself out from running.
What a lovely boy; what a divine afternoon
has caught him and put him to sleep.—
Like this, for some time, I sit and gaze.
And once again, in art, I recover from creating it.

C. P. Cavafy, “Painted”, in Collected Poems, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn