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For CS


Authors: Loren Britton, Helen Pritchard
Posted: Tue, July 07, 2020 - 10:27:18

In the text that follows, we share our conversations during the early days of the pandemic. In this moment when many things get reduced to usefulness, we propose stories that are positioned to teach us more connection, how to be in contact, and with less certainty.

In this conversation, we draw on Fred Moten’s concept of chance and scandal, and develop it within computer science as a path to justice and freedom. We share our discussion of how scandal might break through established practices. Working through what it might mean, we dream of a computer science otherwise, where diverse practices might flourish. Through a back and forth filled with vulnerabilities and uncertainties, we rethink how we might make affirmative interventions. 

We touch on projects we love, how we met, what we are reading, the work of maintenance, rising oppressions, and the desire for less determinacy. In this spirit, we propose that we need more stories of: scandal and enjoyment, friendships, refusals, inaction, hums, modes of survival, modes of non/commitment, damage, namings, cruising, feelings, pockets, tooling up, reading, dreaming, writing, making, smelling, rhythms and flows, tunings, cusps, insensibilities, and wayward practice.

For us, this conversation asks questions of multiple CS practices: computer science, chance and scandal, committed survival, care and shelter, chocolate and strawberries, cushions and support, collective strategies, chancer scientist, cohabitation and sharing, conditions and structures, choice and scandal, careful slug, collective scandal, crip studies, composed silliness, compulsory sleep, canceled stories, crying sabotage, carceral states, cut and scale, considerable scaffolding, collapsing species, collective suffering, companion story. 

In reaching toward scandals that are chance, and less closely tied to actions, we loop to calling for CS as a figuration on its own terms, now. CS is a figuration, a playful theoretical assemblage that helps us practice:

  • CS (chance and scandal) is a demand.
  • CS (chance and scandal) has everything to do with CS (computer science) and CS (committed survival).
  • CS (chance and scandal) is not an event or critical break after which new normativities are established.
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be trained for, with the commitment toward undoing another source of oppression like: extractivism, optimization, white supremacy, carceration, tokenization, othering, reproductive capitalism, the family, binaries, linearity, attention. 
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be found when inaction is present.
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be a form of failure less closely tied to action.
  • CS (chance and scandal) helps to set up an expanded gestural repertoire of “how” and “what” “to do” 
  • CS (chance and scandal) can be resourced.

Our aim is a commitment to survival with CS. 

March 18–May 11, 2020

I put a crisis-call meeting event with you in my calendar. I remember I wanted us to speak about the translation of crisis, and everything that was quickly unfolding within it. I was being contacted and asked to respond to technology designs in response to Covid-19 and the new normal. I thought we needed to have a crisis call about the demarcation of this so-called new normal and how CS (computer science) was responding to it. 

Yes! We were speaking about the proposals for monitoring movements during the lockdowns, quarantine, and shelter in place, such as contact tracing and using data from social media with image recognition and machine learning. We had been writing about contact tracing apps and the lack of public discussion happening around their development. Your partner reminded us that these technologies for/in crisis drew on designs that had been supposedly discarded due to ethical concerns. For example, many of the proposals for monitoring movement of Covid-19 in Europe were first developed (and discarded) for tracking refugees and migrants. She said, maybe that’s a good place to start in a way that connects to an HCI audience? 

IKR [I know, right], so much of the framing (based on violent practices) that attempts to establish normality in a situation that just isn’t, reminds me how much rides on business as usual. It’s exciting (and also terrible) to think about this crisis as a way to resist all these little normalizing practices that come with new normals—practices that get pushed out when the process of normalization appears. I don’t think the normal that we’ve had is so great to start with—not for me, not for a lot of others.

I think it’s really important for us to resist renormalization during times of crisis as much as we do in other times (which were already in crisis tbh). In spaces of trans*feministtechnoscience (T*FTS) [1], we have worked hard to refuse to reinstate normative structures through our work. I really think we have done this collectively through resisting and responding to the scientific agendas in HCI and CS (computer science) more broadly that often reflect gender-normative, racist, heterosexist, classist, and ableist assumptions that are used to justify, create, and enforce social inequalities [2]. This resistance is scandalous. We have as a community dreamt and worked on design practices or engagements with technoscience that highlight how specific practices reinforce or hold in place normative ideas of what the body is or can be, what nature is, what computers are. As Alex Taylor asks in his blog post: “What worlds are we making possible?” These practices and engagements often do slow things down… or put a spanner in the works on solution-driven practices.

Yes! Or are less committed to stability and progression, but we shouldn’t give up on these approaches during crisis moments just because they might be less tied to action or to fast solutions. 

This history reminds me of the precarity within which so many marginal practices inside and outside of CS (computer science) broadly and CS (chance and scandal) specifically operate. I wonder how we could show CS (care and shelter) toward the maintenance of non-normative practices of engagement like the ones we are talking about here. Thinking with Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s speculative ethics of care [3], there’s a lot of care needed that is both very direct—I need someone to pay my rent or how do I develop technologies for resistance? and less so—how do I comfort loved ones? or how do I allow for practices of tunings in my work? These precarities are in need of some CS (chocolate and strawberries) as well as some CS (cushions and support). Sitting with not knowing and not jumping to solutions might be part of this care. For designers, engineers, lovers, companions, this “care for not knowing” could replace normalization as the way to deal with the new-normal answer. 

How might we mobilize this care for not knowing? 

I think this care for not knowing has been held by a community of practitioners who have worked on the reframing of questions, epistemologies, methods, results, and interpretations embedded within CS practices. What we are making space for with our CS figure is the destabilization of what CS is defined and known to be. CS has been debated historically and can be debated still, but who gets to determine what comes to matter is still very much dependent on moments of translation, moments in which that which might not be recognized as CS becomes so. Instead of asking who gets to have a voice, we ask: Which practices get to produce knowledge? There has been an important history of this at the intersections of HCI and T*FTS, but in the context of computer science, it often exists only on the margins or peripheries of recognized practice within the discipline [4]. Due to what the existing and stabilized version of what CS (computer science) is, it is difficult for these practices to be translated as recognizable to the discipline. Part of the work of science is in the effort it takes to arrive at a stable agreement on a problem, situation, or thing. When developing the CS (citizen sense) infrastructures, we worked together with citizens on a design process that could both make legible air pollution but also a set of practices that could upset the usual politics of expertise and evidence [5]. We interrogated technologies as both interdependent but also as sites of normative conditions in a way that continuously resisted reinstating new normals, while holding on to the particular politics that were at stake. And Jennifer (Gabrys) proposed that instead of care as a set of normative relations we might rethink care “as a speculative mode of encounter” formed through practices that engage with harm [6]. 

When you talk about this I am also reminded of the work that Aimi Hamraie and Kelly Fritsch are doing with the “Crip Technoscience Manifesto” [7] on interdependence. Hamraie and Fritsch focus on centering disabled people as doers and makers. They point to the etymology of the word access, which bifurcates into the meanings of a “kind of attack” as well as an “opportunity enabling contact.” They mention many projects that offer alternatives, such as Mapping Access a collective mapping project that brings people together to collect access information about the everyday built environment. 

Resisting normalization as a form of care might also be way of “flipping the system,” as described by the research collective Our Data Bodies Project (ODB). During their research, they found that one of the reoccurring themes was that many people experience a feeling of paranoia, raw emotions, and memories when talking about data collection and data-driven systems. They have been working with communities to flip the scripts and strategies used in data collection, to move from paranoia to power, to “think about CS (collective strategies) for now and in the future.”

I think all these research projects focus on the importance of working with interdependence and rejecting the new normal—scandalous practices.


Maintaining Indeterminacy by Loren Britton.

March 18–May 11, 2020

Of course, there are always historical underlying causes. I’m fearful that in multiple contexts we see the underlying realities of oppression in a newly brutal way because of this lockdown. We see this both in the ways in which big tech takes up contact tracing apps, which clearly show the issues with contact with health authorities and commercial partners, and further in the police state regulating in a heightened way by arresting the homeless, people of color, and sex workers for practicing survival. Both of these brutalities are posed as modes of care. And this is a care that is based on predetermining the subjects of care (or not).

In relation to our proposition of care for not knowing, I’ve been thinking about our maintaining CS project. It feels like I’m engaged with caring for indeterminacy and indeterminate care all the time right now. Has it crossed your mind too?

I feel the same way. When we wrote the proposal for the workshop series, it was more about proposing other ways of relating to each other, slowing down, making different or new formats. We are both having to do a lot of work to maintain spaces for indeterminate practices and thinking but also on a daily basis inhabit a deep embrace of indeterminacy toward modes of survival. All of which is not recognized by institutions.

So it’s interesting that we are thinking about our work on maintaining indeterminacy during this time, because it also calls us to consider what this indeterminacy is that we are committed to and how it becomes a way in which our practice is figured within T*FTS. Since our Oracle practice [8] workshop, I’ve been caught with Alexis Pauline Gumb’s proposal of unknowing.

I’ve been thinking about Gumb’s work too, and specifically working with the practice part, by practicing the indeterminate, i.e., not aiming to overly control the path in which the practice will develop but rather allowing the materiality of the environment and the conditions to emerge and to allow for the emergence of knowledge that exists outside of the previously nameable. 

And this is a much bigger move than how less determinate paths are often imagined. For example, when indeterminacy is designed in HCI, there might be a discussion to loosen the outcome by changing the mode of touch interaction from an on-off switch to a galvanized moisture sensor. 

Ha! Indeed I think we are demanding something else here...

Yes, I don’t think that all that might come up needs to be named either. I think that unknowing and indeterminacy are far apart. Indeterminacy to me seems to be about practicing the space of the possible, whereas unknowing seems to be about knowing from where you begin and then unlearning that thing. 

Practicing indeterminacy is a kind of space for chance that is necessary in order to practice and to think the world differently. Chance, as a verb, is to do something despite its being dangerous or of an uncertain outcome. We see something very different in the ways in which Covid-19 is addressed by technoscience; secure answers are demanded and possibilities are collapsed. To be a practicing CS (chancer scientist) means that it becomes almost immoral to demand spaces of dreaming or indeterminacy as a response, a mode of responding in which facts might not be so secure.

We read a text a while ago by Kathryn Yusoff [9]. I like how she troubles response. Before action, representation, affirmation she wonders, What is response? What you’re saying about Covid-19, care, and response brings up a lot. I am thinking about how Jeff Bezos has gained millions of dollars through the continued extraction of his workers. I have read that many workers at Whole Foods got a raise during this time; however, they still do not have paid sick leave or hazard insurance. It’s this very fine line between being an essential worker while also being treated as dispensable. 

What is considered essential in cohabitation is deeply entangled with questions of comfort. Yusoff proposes that another mode of cohabitation would be to be in a mode of sharing, CS (cohabitation and sharing), even when this sharing is uncomfortable and causes discomfort. To cohabit would be to share conditions and place, CS (conditions and sharing). Instead, today we exist in extreme separations of condition and place. This is aided by big tech, for example, those who are tied to forms of labor that mean that they are not able to shelter in place.

All sorts of people continue to survive and thrive through so much CS (committed survival). I’m reading Saidya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments [10] right now. That book is full of so many vignettes of thriving and joy. Hartman talks about kinship as a resource and a practice of survival. It makes me realize again how many histories are ignored and the need for narratives outside of a dominant archive [11]. I don’t think the point is to romanticize, but rather to value lived experience that is not couched within oppressive norms. 

May 11–May 18, 2020

How do we make space to maintain CS (choice and scandal)? and chance, oops? All of it is a figuration like Haraway’s SF signifier [12]: CS—(computer science), (chance and scandal), (chocolate and strawberries), (couches and snuggles), (committed survival), (co-habitation and sharing), (chancer scientist), (careful slug). 

I guess when we first started discussing this, we were talking about indeterminacy and then we found chance and scandal.

Yes! I have been reading Black and Blur by Fred Moten [13]. In there he has this beautiful quote:

Indeterminacy doesn’t ground freedom or equality (by way of some magic operation whereby the absence of basis becomes a basis). Rather, they are part of a complex field of scandal and chance, wherein the very idea of ground remains to be retheorized [...]. 

I shared this with you and we started talking through the differences between indeterminacy and chance and scandal and what they might mean. 

In the context of thinking about technoscience, we came to understand this proposal from Moten that practices of survival and freedom within computing will not be achieved through a design for the play of indeterminacy, which might fracture the existing moral grounds on which it is built. Instead, freedom and equality are made possible only through the disruptive moments of scandal (which may be tied to enjoyment) that reroute, destroy, turn over, or refuse attachments in a complex and uneven field. 

This complex and uneven field might actually be understood as CS. 

Yes! And we might recognize this field as attachments of the infra-ordinary, a term that Tina Campt uses to describe the “everyday practices we don’t always notice and whose seeming insignificance requires excessive attention. Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed and the possibility of black futurity” [14]. 

Instead of talking about the new normal that emerges from the crisis, or that is the crisis, we are thinking about really the shuffling of everyday attachments that Covid-19 brings about on CS, and the new openings for scandal and chance that it presents or limits. 

Yes! And I think here is where making our desires for CS figurations of chance and scandal, or cushions and support, are important, because desire allows us an openness.

This also gets me thinking about Andrea Long Chu’s [15] work around whose responsibility it is to desire trans* people. I like how she talks about trans* and desire as being shaped co-constitutively and how it is our responsibility to develop desire for all sorts of variation, which is like a desire in a complex field. It’s a practice of attuning to how to collectively resist, with joy. It reminds me actually of when we met! Thinking with all sorts of conditions for collectivities, what grounds we can meet on, and what scandals can be—CS (collective scandal). 

When we met at Collective Conditions, those experiments with the types of resistances and the laying of new possibilities for CS were very much dunked in questions of responsibility. The “we” at Collective Conditions did a lot of working toward how to desire differently, and to desire different infrastructures, including technical ones—and making desire into an analytic is scandal in itself. 

Yes!

Endnotes

1. Trans*FeministTechnoscience (T*FTS) is defined as a branch of science studies and practices, that recognizes the inseperability of the merging of boundaries and the inseparability between science/technology/society (technoscience) and remakes the material semiotic boundaries of the body, nature, and technology. We use the formula of the star (*) which sharpens the points of the intersections of antiracist, queer, trans-disciplinary and intersectional sensibilities alongside broader STS.

2. Cipolla, C., Gupta, K., Rubin, D.A., and Willey, A., eds. Queer Feminist Science Studies: A Reader. Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle; London, 2017.

3. Bellacasa, M.P. De La. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2017. 

4. Some examples of these practices are: Oracle Practice (c.f Pritchard, Snodgrass, Britton, Morrison, Moll 2020) (https://facctconference.org/2020/acceptedcraftsessions.html#burn), Micha Cardenas - Unstoppable Project (https://michacardenas.sites.ucsc.edu/unstoppable/), Meltionary (http://meltionary.com/), Underground Division (https://hackersanddesigners.nl/p/The_Underground_Division)

5. Pritchard, H. and Gabrys, J. From citizen sensing to collective monitoring: Working through the perceptive and affective problematics of environmental pollution. GeoHumanities 2, 2 (2016), 354–371, 2016.

6. Gabrys, J. Citizen sensing, air pollution and fracking: From ‘caring about your air’ to speculative practices of evidencing harm. The Sociological Review 65, 2_suppl (2017), 172–192.

7. Hamraie, A. and Fritsch, K. Crip technoscience manifesto. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5, 1 (2019). 

8. Gumbs, A.P. 17th Floor: A pedagogical oracle from/with Audre Lorde. Journal of Lesbian Studies 21, 4 (2017), 375–390; DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2016.1164519

9. Yusoff, K. Insensible worlds: Postrelational ethics, indeterminacy and the (k)nots of relating. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31, 2, (2013), 208–226, 2013.

10. Hartman, S.V. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Norton & Company, 2019.

11. For a discussion on Sadiya Hartman’s work taken up within HCI see: Daniela Rosner’s book: Critical Fabulations: Reworking the Methods and Margins of Design. MIT Press, 2018.

12. Harraway, D. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke Univ. Press, 2016.

13. Moten, Fred. Black and Blur. Duke Univ. Press, 2017.

14. Campt, T.M. Listening to Images. Duke Univ. Press, 2017.

15. Chu, A.L. Females. Verso Books, 2019.



Posted in: Covid-19 on Tue, July 07, 2020 - 10:27:18

Loren Britton

Loren Britton is an interdisciplinary artist based in Berlin. Focusing on radical pedagogy, play, and unthinking oppression, they make objects that reposition and collaborations that unlearn. Britton is responsible to questions of techno-science, anti-racism, trans*feminism, and making accessibilities (considering class and dis/ability). Britton researches within Gender/Diversity in Informatics Systems (GeDIS) at the University of Kassel, Germany. hello@lorenbritton.com
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Helen Pritchard

Helen Pritchard is the head of Digital Arts Computing and a lecturer in computational art at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work brings together the fields of computational aesthetics, more-than-human geographies, and Trans*FeministTechnoScience to consider the impact of computational practices on environmental justice. She is the co-editor of Data Browser 06: Executing Practices published by Open Humanities Press (2018). h.pritchard@gold.ac.uk
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