Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Discussion Questions

Here are discussion questions for use in thinking about Bray (See previous post).

Question #1: How can technology help us understand culture?

Contextualization for Question #1: Bray suggests that technology “shapes and transmits ideological traditions” (2) and produces women (15) (or people, to take a broader approach). I believe she demonstrates her points clearly as they pertain to China throughout the rest of her book. What examples can we come up with of how technology shapes our ideology here and now? How can we apply the framework Bray gives us to the work we are currently doing?

Question #2: How do physical spaces construct the ways in which we construct ourselves?

Contextualization for Question #2: I’m looking specifically at the first section of Bray’s book, and in particular her footnote on Bourdieu on page 57: “Bourdieu identifies the house as a key mechanism in the inculcation of habitus, a site where symbolic relations are encoded in the everday and naturalized as physical patterns of behavior.”

Question #3: In what ways do we privelege certain roles among the many roles we fulfill? What does technology have to do with this?

Contextualization for Question #3: Bray discusses how the role of wife was primary in Chinese imperial culture to the role of (biological) mother. (Wives could “appropriate” the children of their husbands’ concubines or maids.)

Question #4: Why do we claim things as products of Western technology? Does this limit our understanding of said technologies?

Contextualization for Question #4: “A few years ago Basim Musallam castigated demographers for assuming that effective birth control was a product of Western modernity” (292). The printing press and acupuncture are other technologies that have been appropriated and even claimed.

Question #5: What are good sources for gynotechnic study?

Contextualization for Question #5: Bray mentions “written and material texts” on page 372, and throughout the book she references household account, works of art, and census data. What other means do we have for “providing a new perspective on gender and its place in the social order as well as a way of getting beyond what written texts alone can tell us”? (373)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Technology, Gender, and Cyberfeminism

In her riveting book Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China, Francesca Bray introduces “gynotechnics,” which is “a way of organizing materials from more varied sources into new patterns, providing a new perspective on gender and its place in the social order as well as a way of getting beyond what written texts alone can tell us” (373). The second part of her book is fascinating in its attention to the technology of weaving and how women’s lives existed in relationship to a technology that was considered “women’s work” without being devalued. Bray shows how women’s roles changed dramatically as weaving transitioned to being under the domain of men through this gynotechnical inquiry.

The part of the book of greatest interest to me was the third and final part, “Meanings of Motherhood: Reproductive Technologies and Their Uses.” Bray acknowledges that readers won’t be surprised that a society organized around the male descent line focuses concern over fertility on females (287). But what she tells us in Part Three changes what that statement means. Bray explains to readers that married men over age 40 with no children were legally allowed to take a concubine (although the practice was actually far more widespread than this statement would imply). While some wives resented their husbands’ concubines, others were eager for the concubine’s arrival and even sought her out. This is because the wife would be the real, or formal, mother of any child born to the concubine. Bray says that although “it appears to use that these women were simply acquiescing in their own oppression,” “such actions also offered to a childless woman the promise of a child who was formally hers” (357). Thus, women whose husbands had the status/money/power to take a concubine were released from the typical scrutiny surrounding fertility—and they could then avoid the plethora of frightening-sounding technologies Bray mentions for dealing with infertility and pregnancy. The wife employed a variety of social and local technologies, then, in the management of her household and the raising of the children that were now formally her own.

(However, even women who had no intention of bearing children still paid particular attention to their monthly cycles, because the Chinese conception of Blood as one of the vital organs meant that menstruation irregularities were a sign of bad health. Thus, technologies were often applied to women in imperial China in order to regulate them to a social norm.)

Gynotechnic inquiry is very related to the concept of cyberfeminsim, at least as represnted in Domain Errors!, although the latter is far harder to pin down. Cyberfeminism, according to Fernandez and Wilding in their book’s first article, came about in response to the fact that “historically, waves of feminism have often accompanied technological expansion” and the response of feminists to such expansions (17). A bit further on, they establish that cyberfeminism is, by nature, undefinable, unlabelable, and unidentifiable. As a person who likes definitions, this troubles me. Although I know that definitions (by definition) reduce complex ideas, I also find this initial reduction very helpful in developing a more complex understanding further down the line. Of course, “situating” a thing (as the title of the essay is “Situating Cybefeminisms”) may be a way to begin understanding it without defining it, and I found this technique helpful. I discovered that cyberfeminism is not feminism, but that it has much in common with second-wave feminism (20). I also found that cyberfeminism has its own two waves already as well: one that concentrates on the relationships of women and machines and a second wave that deals with politics and embodiment.

Among other essays I found particularly helpful to my work in Domain Errors! was Paasonen’s treatment of “the woman problem” in relation to the Internet. Paasonen notes that we (critical scholars) tend to “presuppose a given gender difference” in how women access the Internet. She also astutely points out that we incorrectly see gender is a polar characteristic and the Internet as gender-neutral (94). She goes on to present troubling depictions of expectations Internet authors have of women users … all of which, I think, go to show that more conversation on the topic is required in order to begin suggesting alternative methods that are less problematic. (But I’m out of room to ponder them here.)

Finally, Amelia Jones’ account of her infertility treatments was both touching and informative (an expected and yet interesting combination, given the book’s focus). “One’s entire identity becomes wrapped up in” a particular identity that is made possible by technology. Although I know it probably isn’t this simple, it seems to me that technology has allowed those dealing with infertility to hang onto hope, but also to make themselves miserable because of that hope. Technology has changed not only the way that women are perceived and embodied, not only the way they think and live, but also the ways in which they believe certain things about their inner selves.

Works Cited

Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. Print.

Fernandez, Maria, Faith Wilding, and Michelle M. Wright, eds. Domain Errors!: Cyberfeminist Practices. Canada: Autonomedia and subRosa, 2002. Print.

**I feel compelled to note that Fernandez, Wilding, and Wright maintain an anti-copyright on their book, so I feel that I’ve done it a certain amount of rhetorical violence by citing it in the conventional manner. I beg forgiveness for this offense as I found no better solution.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reproductive technology and the legal system

Here's another interesting article, this one at the intersection of rhetoric and technology, though I'm certain race, class, and culture would also provide highly informative lenses through which to view this situation. This article is a feature on a state-run drug-treatment program for pregnant women in South Carolina.

In my previous studies, I ran across a couple cases where a woman was prosecuted for her behavior while pregnant, and I also found several cases (in Canada) where a woman was prevented from getting an abortion by the father of the fetus she was carrying.

The rhetoric of this particular article is noteworthy, I think, because it does much less blaming than most discussions of this topic. Most such articles or other works use rhetoric that puts the pregnant drug addicts at fault. (Whether they are or not is beside the point; I'm only interested in the rhetoric and how it shapes these women in our minds.)

The article says some women find the program on their own, while others are forced there by law. This is all made possible, of course, by the advent of reproductive technologies (from formal scientific studies and the ways they get results to the use of fetal ultrasound) that allow us to trace cause-and-effect relationships between maternal drug use and fetal condition. In at least some cases, this relationship is also shaped by the rhetoric used to describe that technology--even if the technology is not used as the cultural knowledge that begets the rhetoric in question holds that it is.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A reflection on a talk by Louise Erdrich

Native American author Louise Erdrich gave a talk today at Milner Library at Illinois State University, and the following entry is my reflection on what she had to say as it intersects with race, rhetoric, and technology.

Erdrich began her talk (which was so well attended that extra chairs were brought in and some people climbed to higher floors to look down on the event) with a reading of a story. Erdrich did not say which of her books the story came from (and I wasn't close enough to see the cover of the volume she was reading from), but she did say that her stories tend to "hitch up," meaning some of her books overlap. This connectedness is certainly the case outside of her work, as well, and may be a cultural characteristic of some stories. (Erdrich later addressed the oral traditions of many cultures and said she self-identifies as a storyteller.)

The reading centered on the character of Lipsha, a recurring character in Erdrich's novels and, she said, one of her favorites. It followed him through coveting a van on display at the hall where his Grandma Lulu plays bingo to meeting a girl, Serena, and going to a hotel with her. At this point in the story, Serena sends him to the gas station for condoms, and this got me thinking of birth control as a technology.

I haven't given this much thought before, but birth control (of whatever kind) is certainly a technology ... and it's a technology that is very connected to race. My mind immediately jumps to my course project, which (as you can read in a previous entry on this blog) will include examination of China's one-child policy. This is birth control in the form of a law, and it's aimed directly at a particular nationality, which encompasses several particular ethnicities.

Interestingly enough, it turns out the technology of the condom most likely originated in China. According to Aine Collier, "In Asia before the fifteenth century ... Condoms seem to have been used for contraception, and to have been known only by members of the upper classes" (qtd. in Wikipedia article under "Condom"). This technology is a class-conscious one. Members of the upper classes, then, would have been more able to control the number of children they had, while the lower classes would have lacked this ability. The expense of children and the resulting population disparity would, theoretically, reinforce a class divide. Certainly those Chinese families with access to ultrasound have an advantage today in producing the coveted male heir through sex-selective abortion.

In the same sort of legal vein as the one-child policy, Erdrich also touched on the absurtity of allowing a government to "create" racial background for individuals. She explained (as we have discussed in class) that governments prescribe ethnicities to people. For example, the U.S. government has instated laws about how much Indian blood a person must have in order to claim a tribal affiliation. What's more--this measure is likely based on an arbitrary judgment made generations ago by another government official.

Another interesting race-related reaction to the technology of birth control shows up in a study by Kalichman, Williams, Cherry, Belcher, and Nachimson, who found that black and Latina women reported fearing violence from the partners if they suggested using a condom.

But birth control and law's relation to race were hardly the only mentions of race/rhetoric/technology in Erdrich's talk. Another, unrelated issue, also caught my ear. First, inspired by the 25th anniversary of Love Medicine, Erdrich discussed how easy it is for an author to make changes to a book, thanks to current technology. This seems to me to parallel the shift in student's conception of writing after the advent of personal computers and word processing technology. I have no doubt that students think about writing differently today on a very basic level than students thought about writing 20 years ago.
Perhaps the new technology in the publishing industry will yield a culture that allows for more conversation between books, letting works change with time and creating slippage that could open up new avenues of dialogue.

Louise Erdrich (enrolled Turtle Mountain Chippewa w/ MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1979) is the author of twelve novels, 5 children's books, 3 poetry volumes, and a memoir. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her most recent novel, Plague of Doves, was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is also the owner of Birchbark Books (, an independent non-profit bookstore and press . She and two of her sisters host annual writers workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. (qtd. from an e-mail from Angela Haas)

Work Cited

Kalichman, SC; Williams, EA; Cherry, C; Belcher, L; Nachimson, D (April 1998). "Sexual coercion, domestic violence, and negotiating condom use among low-income African American women". Journal of Women's Health 7 (3): 371–378. Web.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Obama's race speech

I recently found a link to this Daily Dish article on the techret listserv. It talks about Obama's speech on race and how it came about -- including an admission from the speech writer that he was freaked out, so he went out with friends instead of writing and then ended up writing the speech in one marathon session (Who says these famous political people operate any differently from grad students?) I don't know that there's a whole lot of fodder for critical inquiry here, but it's an interesting story that centers on race, rhetoric, and technology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Patient power ... or not?

Yesterday I stumbled across a CNN story entitled "Mom won't be forced to have C-section." Of course, because of my areas of interest, this immediately grabbed my attention. As it turned out, the reason the expectant mother in the story won't be forced to have a C-section is because she is traveling 300-odd miles to go to a hospital with a policy that allows for patient choice. You see, she is hoping to have her fourth child VBAC, meaning she has previously had a Cesarean section and now wants a vaginal delivery. (To make the situation even more appalling, it was her second child who needed a C-section. Her third child was delivered VBAC at the very hospital that then threatened her with a court order if she refused the C-section for the fourth child. Apparently their policy changed.) Rather than explain the story here, I'll just direct you to the link I've provided and say it's interesting reading.

Stories like this have really intriguing implications when we examine the ways technology and culture intersect. (I wouldn't be surprised if race plays into this as well ... I'll keep my eyes open for more on that.) And the rhetoric of the hospital adminstrator appears to have been quite problematic, which is really scary when one considers how we give doctors in our culture an almost god-like status. But perhaps more interesting than anything I could say here is the rhetoric in the comments on the story! Here are a few:

"C-sections are done in the US more routinely than in any other developed country but our infant mortality rate is not lower but higher. Doctors do not want to deliver on weekends, at night, if the mother is one week over her electronically determined due date."

"I think it is a little pretentious for doctors to get on here and give their speeches about how she should just listen to her doctor... there is a reason why they call it 'practicing' medicine and family 'practice.'"

"Did anyone else notice that when they list the risks of a C-section, they failed to mention that the mother is 4-7 times more likely to DIE than with a vaginal birth.?!?!?!"

"From many of these comments, it seems like many people do not grasp malpractice and insurance companies. This is not about the hospital, but about medical professionals and hospitals not wanting litigation. Can you blame them? After spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education before making a dime, I would do what I needed to to avoid a lawsuit, too! And to Tamara, we go to doctors because they DO know what is best for our health! Like another poster said, in health care, the customer is NOT always right."

"Good grief, get the lady to sign a waiver regarding rupture and give her the VBAC."

And here is the one I found most shocking ...

"I worked in the hospital for 5 years and then in a birth center for the last 4 years. I had to get out of the hospital because I started feeling guilty about my complicity in that system in which so much goes on behind closed doors of which the patient is never informed.

I've had docs tell me in the lunch room that they are doing a c-section because they have an important golf game, fishing trip, or hot date. Then they go into the room, lie to the woman and say, " oh your baby is too big, your progress is too slow, it's never going to happen." the woman believes them and thanks them so much for saving their babies lives. Over and over and over again. In Miami we have over 50% c-section rate, and it's way more convenient for the docs. If VBACS are not allowed at more and more hospitals, the rest of the country will soon be like it is here.

Women need to start demanding more informed choices, more providers, more options, not just from their local hospital, but from their insurance companies, representatives, etc. we will continue to be 22nd in the world for number of babies we lose in childbirth.....many of them from unneeded c-sections."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Course Project Proposal

In my course project, I plan to examine the relationship of reproductive technology and culture. My purpose is to interrogate two main ideas: how institutions prescribe technology to fit particular cultures as well as how individuals appropriate technologies and enculturate those technologies on their own behalf. This examination will involve questions of ethnicity, culture, rhetoric, technology, agency, and how these five categories interact. In the context of this proposal, I would like to follow the line of thinking leading me to this area, and I will conclude with an explanation of the more exact plan I am formulating to interrogate this intersection of technology and culture.

Because I am a product of Western culture, I believe it may be more informative for me to examine how such webs play out in an Eastern culture. The obvious choice of country for my subject, then,—because of the international spotlight on reproductive issues and the controversial “one-child” policy—is China. I will give an overview of this policy and discuss how reproductive technologies have driven cultural and social changes in relation to it, and I will make a case that understanding of this phenomenon in the Western world is limited.

I will also devote considerable space to looking at how Eastern uses of reproductive technologies have influenced the Western conventions that we often believe are ours alone. I will incorporate knowledge about the roots of medical technologies as they relate to reproductive medicine and I will discuss how such technologies are appropriated/reappropriated/poached. I plan to use Michel de Certeau’s theories about production as a framework over which to weave my examination of the everyday decisions and technologies made and used within the cultures I will examine. Because de Certeau argues for two productions—the first being equivalent to creation and the second being consumption, a sort of re-creation—I can situate American and Chinese consumption of reproductive technologies relative to each other.

I will also use de Certeau’s term “poaching” to promote understanding of how one culture’s use of a technology may differ from when another culture takes up the same technologies. By poaching a product and re-creating it in one's own context, othered communities find a tactic to gain power. This is what has happened in China as women abort female fetuses in an attempt to heed the cultural desire for sons. While this tactic reinforces the power of the culture, it also undermines other social desires (such as the opportunity for a Chinese son to find a Chinese wife, to say nothing of the ethical issues at stake).

My working question, then, in order to examine the relationship between how institutions prescribe technologies and how individuals appropriate technologies depending on cultural influences, will be: In what ways and for what reasons do Chinese women poach reproductive technologies? This question, though a workable starting point, presents problematic avenues for inquiry from the very beginning. I will address such complications early in my paper, including: how one might define “Chinese women,” since the term does not represent a homogenous culture; what poaching means in regard to where a technology came from; why women are placed in a position to do this poaching; and how my own situatedness influences this investigation.

Potential Works Cited

Blair, Kristine, and Pamela Takayoshi, eds. Feminist Cyberscapes: Mapping Gendered Academic Spaces. Stamford, Connecticut: Ablex Corporation, 1999. Print. New Dimensions in Computers & Composition Studies.

Blair, Kristine, Radhika Gajjala, and Christine Tulley, eds. Webbing Cyberfeminist Practice: Communities, Pedagogies and Social Action. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press Inc., 2009. New Dimensions in Computers & Composition Studies.

Bordo, Susan. Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997. Print.

Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. London: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Domar, Alice, Irene Meshay, Joseph Kelliher, Michael Alper, and Douglas R. Powers. “The Impact of Acupuncture on In Vitro Fertilization Outcome.” Fertility & Sterility 91.3 (2009): 723-26. Elsevier. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Domar, Alice D. “Acupuncture and Infertility: We Need to Stick to Good Science.” Fertility & Sterility 85.5 (2006): 1359-1361. Elsevier. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Eckholm, Erik. "Desire for Sons Drives Use of Prenatal Scans in China." The New York Times on the Web. The New York Times, 21 June 2002. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Evans, Karin. The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000. Print.

Ikemoto, Lisa C. "Eggs as Capital: Human Egg Procurement in the Fertility Industry and the Stem Cell Research Enterprise." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 763-81. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Junhong, Chu. “Prenatal Sex Determination and Sex-Selective Abortion in Rural Central China.” Population and Development Review 27.2 (2001): 259-281. Population Council. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

LaDuke, Winona. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge: South End Press, 1999. Print.

Lay, Mary M., Laura J. Gurak, Clare Gravon, and Cynthia Myntti. Body Talk: Rhetoric, Technology, Reproduction. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. Print.

Loo, Kek K., Xiling Luo, Hong Su, Angela Presson, and Yan Li. "Dreams of Tigers and Flowers: Child Gender Predictions and Preference in an Urban Mainland Chinese Sample During Pregnancy." Women & Health 49.1 (2009): 50-65. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Mamo, Laura, and Jennifer R. Fosket. " Scripting the Body: Pharmaceuticals and the (Re)Making of Menstruation." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 925-49. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Miller, Barbara D. “Female-Selective Abortion in Asia: Patterns, Policies, and Debates.” American Anthropologist 103.4 (2001): 1083-1095. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Mitchell, Lisa M. Baby’s First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2001. Print.

Roberts, Dorothy E. "Race, Gender, and Genetic Technologies: A New Reproductive Dystopia?." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 783-804. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Ryan, Maura A. " The Introduction of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in the “Developing World”: A Test Case for Evolving Methodologies in Feminist Bioethics." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 805-25. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Samerski, Silja. "Genetic Counseling and the Fiction of Choice: Taught Self-Determination as a New Technique of Social Engineering." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 735-61. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Shanley, Mary L., and Adrienne Asch. "Involuntary Childlessness, Reproductive Technology, and Social Justice: The Medical Mask on Social Illness." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 851-74. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Short, Susan E. and Fengyu Zhang. “Use of Maternal Health Services in Rural China.” Population Studies 58.1 (2004): 3-19. Population Investigation Committee. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Solinger, Rickie. Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America. New York, New York University Press, 2005. Print.

Taylor, Janelle S. The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram: Technology, Consumption, and the Politics of Reproduction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Print.

Wyer, Mary, Mary Barbercheck, Donna Giesman, Hatice Örün Öztürk, and Marta Wayne, eds. A Reader in Feminist Science Studies: Women, Science, and Technology. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Indigeneity

This week we are examining Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart's Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. Partly because all members of our class are reading the Introduction (while the other reading is dependent on personal choice) and partly because of my fascination with definitions, I'd like to begin by asking this question: What does the word "Indigenous" mean?

Steward and Wilson first use the word in reference to the Sundance Film Festival's support of "Indigenous independent filmmaking," and in this context, it applies to "eighteen eager Native American writers, directors, and actors" (1). But it's clear that this is not the book's working definition. On page 12, the editors discuss Indigenism as a "call for 'globalization from below.'" They go on to discuss how very idea of indigeniety is contested in some countries, particularly in the People's Republic of China, which claims that it does not have indigenous people or indigenous issues (13). The editors finally put forth four "general guidelines" for determining who is indigenous (14). Indigeneity involves:

1) a claim to a particular geographic place
2) identification with a particular ethnicity
3) self-identification
4) experience of colonization

I still struggle with this definition, and I think I almost prefer the simpler "submerged nations" suggested a little later on the same page. This is another term I'll have to keep working on.

A little later in the introduction, the editors note that they do not have any case studies from China in this book. I was disappointed at this, because my course project will revolve around Chinese culture (I know, it's not a monolith, but humor me for now) and its appropriation of reproductive technology, perhaps as compared to parallel phenomena in the United States. (I will post my project proposal here later this week.) I was encouraged, though, by the short discussion of minority status in China and the "recognized fifty-six minzu" which are indicated on "an individuals' passports, identification cards, and all official documents" (17).

For the purpose of collecting more material for my course project, I picked the article I found most interesting in this collection and began an unabashed mission to poach passages that will also apply to my work. The article I chose was Kathleen Buddle's "Transistor Resistors: Native Women's Radio in Canada and the Social Organization of Political Space from Below." In the paragraphs that follow, I will take quotations from her work, which deals with Aboriginal women using technology to reinvent themselves, and apply those bits of information to the work I plan to do in my project for this course.

Early on, Buddle addresses how "popular constructions of Native women structure their capacities for sociability at work, on the street, and at home" (129). This bit also applies to colonized peoples in general, including the mostly female demographic my work focuses on. People are always limited by the popular constructions of their own abilities.

At the bottom of the same page, Buddle refers to the lack of a gap between makers and consumers, which certainly has interesting echoes in terms of the study of the fetal ultrasound/sonogram, since most sonographers in the U.S. are female and thus are both makers and consumers of this particular medical technology. A little later, she talked about "the feminization of public political space," which rings of the debate surrounding the ethic of care (130). The public political space surrounding fetal ultrasound is sharply divided, with certain uses being rationalized according to the ethic of care (getting to "know" the fetus, assuring oneself that all is well) and certain uses being rationalized according to a more patriarchal ethic (laws forcing a woman to view an ultrasound prior to abortion, laws which ultimately cause sex-selective abortion).

One of my favorite parts of Buddle's piece is in the section "Hearth Space for Smoke Signals." "By engaging in certain activities and not others, Aboriginal women collectively reconfigure the symbolic repertoires through which Aboriginality and womanhood can be thought and formulated--shaped by discourses on duty, family, and tradition" (132). They learn to act in non-traditional ways, and in so doing, "they challenge the grounds on which their authority is disqualified" and "they broaden the scope of possible roles for Aboriginal women" (133). This is precisely the model by which other colonized populations--in my studies, for example, those who believe they must use medical technologies in particular ways--can begin to work toward new possibilities.

Although it may or may not tie to my work, I was also interested that Buddle's acquaintances would not self-identify as feminists. The stigma surrounding that term continues to both hinder and fascinate me, because I once fell into the category of people who would have denied being a feminist based on the idea that feminists are too radical.

Buddle also employs de Certeau's notion of "pedestrian speech acts" to demonstrate that "reserves in the popular imagination are bastions of Aboriginal tradition" (135). This quote could certainly provide a sound theoretical point for many arguments about social construction and determinism if only the application to Aboriginal women alone is expanded.

I also think I may have found another space in which de Certeau's theories can be very helpful to me by paying attention to Buddle's claim that "women's everyday engagements ... are socioculturally embedded and are conceived in specific locales" (141). It does seem to me that everyday rebellions are those that are most marked. Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat--a fairly everyday sort of action--sparked (arguably) an entire movement, whereas more grand gestures of rebellion are tossed aside as displays by radicals. Perhaps this is exactly why the term "feminist" has such trouble sticking. I wonder how the everyday rebellion plays out in Chinese culture.

Finally, Buddle tells us that her study speaks "to the need for a more nuanced understanding of the nature of the linkages between cultural expression, gender issues, and political practice." Culture, gender, and politics--and race--are certainly intertwined, and I can't imagine that anything but good will come from a better understanding of the relationship between these terms.

Work Cited

Wilson, Pamela and Michelle Stewart, eds. Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. London: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Facebook vs. MySpace

I just happened upon this CNN story about the "class divide" between Facebook and MySpace. (The article also discusses several other social networking technologies, though Facebook and MySpace are the foci.)

While I think this article articulates a feeling that most users of the sites already deal with, at least subconsciously, it also brings another nuance to the forefront. Take a look at this quote, about halfway down: "I don't mean to be a racist or anything, but MySpace is like, ghetto."

And, farther down:

"Multiracial students tended to have more Facebook friends than students of other backgrounds and were often the sole connection between white and black circles, Kaufman said.

Nonetheless, Kaufman feels that social networks may one day help us overcome our instinct to associate with those who share our income level, education, or racial background."

Interesting stuff ... and it seems to play into our text for this week, depending on how one defines "indigenous media." (More on that tomorrow ... )

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Access: Is it a right? And how do we make it meaningful?

Adam Banks' book Race, Rhetoric, and Technology left me thinking something like this:

"Hell yes! Wait, what am I supposed to do?"

I'm missing the call to action. Or I think I am. Banks' parting admonition to "carry others" confuses me, reinforcing my belief that there were parts of this book that I just didn't "get." Any help would be welcome.

Here's what I did get, including some points I like and some I don't.

I love the argument Banks makes for meaningful technology access. He points out that providing someone with a computer and Internet connection is not the same thing as providing access. "Meaningful access to technology involves political power and literacies" (17). But the discussion of literacies in the text was, I thought, convoluted. Banks wonders why Black leaders sound white, why technological interfaces are white, why what we think of as Standard English is white English. These are valuable ponderings, and they leave me asking two pointed questions:

1) If Banks has a problem with how no one has taken up "non-standard" (for him, this is African American Vernacular English, but it encompasses a wide variety of Englishes) English as an academic form, then why is his book written in what could only be called Standard English? The answer is that SE is seen as the language of academics, which puts composition teachers like me in a difficult position. We want to allow space for non-standard literacies and dialects, but we know our students need to master SE in order to be successful in the endeavors they say they want to pursue. (Besides, being able to code switch between several dialects is empowering. Empowerment is a goal of teaching. How can we not teach SE?) Non-standard voices still are silenced in the workplace. Banks is just as caught in this trap as we are, although he does not address it.

2) And, given what we now know about meaningful access to technology, how are we supposed to teach about this technology without reinscribing standard views/uses and quashing the vibrant uses of technology that arise on their own in the Black community? This is where Banks does a truly awesome job giving teachers advice on how to provide meaningful access without forcing conformity. His list beginning on page 139 strikes me as a nice articulation of good pedagogy. (Go slow, let curriculum drive technology use, let students teach, etc.) He tells us that "we have to be willing to get lost together" (146). This is one area in which his call to action is clear.

While I love the notion of getting lost together, I resist the idea that we have to get lost together in our learning of specific technologies. Why is personal computer use such a huge issue?

I'm just not sure I take Banks' point about the basic right of access. He mocks FCC chair Michael Powell when Powell facetiously refers to a "Mercedes Divide. I'd like to have one, but I can't afford one" (34). But, though crass, I think this quote has merit. I, personally, do not have access to the quilting technologies Banks discusses in his final chapter. That's unfortunate, and perhaps my life will be less rich because of it. But do I have a right to access to African American quilting technologies? I don't think that I do. What material, survival-based use do they have for me?

Thinking about computer access in the same way raises some questions. I have a friend, a factory worker, who does not have a computer. Is he a "low-technology" person? Consider this: The factory he works in manufactures electrical boxes using giant, complicated machines ... machines he can alter, fix, and even cause to break down when the social environment requires it. (Think of the Silicon Valley experience referred to in last week's post.) What do you think he'd say if I told him he is on the wrong side of a Digital Divide and he'd better get a computer and let me teach him to use it? Talk about enforcing standards (and forcing out rich cultural practices). I think that much of the rhetoric about a digital divide devalues the technologies that are being used. While using a computer for a job search may be handy, we ought to consider that there are likely community-based methods for conducting a job search that might be easier, safer, and more productive.

Basically, I'm not convinced that access to a word processor and/or the Internet is a basic human right. It's certainly not a necessity. Although I would support any philanthropic organization that tried to provide computers to those who want but can't afford them, I do not understand why the government ought to provide everyone with a personal computer. And I don't believe that everyone wants one, and I don't believe those people are wrong or backward for not wanting one.

Wiring classrooms and providing meaningful access, though, is another matter. Computers are a valuable educational tool, and if all citizens are exposed to computers (with meaningful access) in the education system, then they can make an informed decision about their own access later in life. (I don't have time to address here the problems with our education system not reaching everyone.)

There were several other things I didn't "get" in this text. For example, I'd like to know how laws "continue to disproportionately imprison African American and Latino men" (91). I don't dispute the veracity of this claim, and in fact it seems to me that it might parallel many of the claims I make in my work about the systematic oppression of women. But I'd like an articulation of how and where this discrimination is happening, because I truly don't know what Banks is talking about. The only example given involves the application of law--when a black person receives the maximum penalty and a white person the minimum--but Banks seems to be positing a problem with jurisprudence itself that I don't comprehend. I think, perhaps, Banks touches on the key to this when he mentions "systematic problems resulting from slavery and racism (as) the source of the persistence of African Americans' problems in the United States" (100). This is a historical problem, like that of women. I would have liked more elaboration on this, and I hope that perhaps others address it in their analysis of this book.

The book discussed in this post is:

Banks, Adam J. Race, Rhetoric, and Technology. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Print.