cyber, glitch, feminisms

I went to the Whitechapel Gallery in London a week or so ago for the launch of the Cyberfeminism Index, and I read Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto on a long train journey to Berlin a few days later. This post is a short enthuse about both.

The Cyberfeminism Index is curated by Mindy Seu. It’s a book published by Inventory Press as well as an online resource, and Mindy is presenting it at a number of venues over the next few weeks. It’s an amazing, inspirational collection of pieces about, and enacting, digital feminist work, and its sheer size is a compelling statement about the scale of feminist engagements with digital tech since the 1980s. The two speakers at the launch event were a reminder too of what different forms that engagement has taken: Ruth Catlow and Joanna Walsh.

The Cyberfeminism Index is big: over 800 entries (though the book is pleasingly lightweight and floppy, as Mindy explained, because it’s printed on newspaper print). Just seeing so much material is wonderful, and so too is its curation. I gather that most of the entries were crowdsourced over recent years, and with the online version you can build your own mini-index as a pdf; you can click through to many images and other sites; also follow through links between different entries; and I think the online version will continue to expand. So it’s more fluid and provisional than any sort of encyclopedia, and definitely has a sense of an ongoing, emergent project.

Legacy Russell wrote the Afterword to the Index. I knew about one of her online statements of glitch feminism, and digital/feminist/urban geographers Agnieszka Leszczynski and Sarah Elwood have cited her work, so I picked up her book Glitch Feminism at the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop. It was published in 2020 by Verso, and there’s a great collection of videos of Legacy talking about the book and its concerns here.

Russell’s manifesto is as inspiring as the Index but in a different way. To begin with, it’s a single, rather short, coherent statement. And also, lots of the digital scholarship I’ve been reading recently – in urban studies, media studies and so on – focuses on platforms and takes a strongly marxist and/or materialist analysis. A lot of it emphasises either the affordances of the technologies, or the extraction of value from the data the tech generates – both of which are important of course. But Glitch Feminism – which is brilliantly written – kind of just sidesteps those analyses and starts from a life – a body, Russell’s – the formation of which has been inextricably affected by the many other bodies she’s encountered online. Russell approaches bodies as things that are made and take shape, and are persuaded to take limited shapes but many of which continue to want more and different embodiments repeatedly. And which use online (and offline) technologies to invent, perform, repeat and mutate those embodiments. So Glitch Feminism emphasises the communicative capacities of online platforms and the way they can enable the glitch at the heart of her feminism, which is the body that refuses to be categorised.

For all their very different formats and styles and effects, I think these two books complement each other beautifully. Immense and brief, fragments or singular, code or comms, they both point to the impossibility of understanding what online life without a diverse feminism.

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