Minutes from October meeting

Discussion of chapters 1, 2, and 5 of Data Feminism:

  • It is worth noting that the only people present at this meeting were white and male so the perspective on the work put forward below will be influenced by that.
  • The tables in chapter one and two were ‘neat’ (in the sense of being tidy) ways to put forward the ideas of the matrix of domination (in chapter one) and the differences between individual and structural factors (in chapter two). However, as a consequence of the brevity of these tables, it began to feel somewhat under-theorised. A more robust theorising of oppression was suggested through the axes of privilege. It was felt that it presented the issues devoid of any theoretical history. It was suggested that this could be an epistemological result from the feminist starting point, in which oppression is (at times) identified first and theory is built outwardly from there. This is not to say this approach is inherently negative, simply that some other (pre-existing) approaches felt ignored e.g. Allan Luke’s critical media literacy; Nancy Fraser’s three R’s; Lisa Nakamura; or Wendy Chun. Most of these are women and/or POC so the feeling that they were omitted seemed odd. This was tempered by stating that the critique of ‘lack’ is often an easy one to make and does not necessarily address the work on its own terms.
  • In addressing the book on its own terms, the question came up of, ‘who is the book for?’. The answer was that it is not necessarily for us and it doesn’t have to be. The lack of overt history (of theory) present and the brief acknowledgement of influences that were used (like Patricia Collins) might have felt to be lacking here but that is not necessarily what the book aimed for anyway. The real benefit of the book is that it appeared to be very useful for teaching (it felt ‘teachable). It is filled with contemporary examples of on-the-ground data use about issues that matter. In this sense, the book is communicative, something that is often missing within media studies more broadly. Reading the book does not require that you first go and become knowledgeable about some semi-obscure mid-century theorists and it is written in a digestible manner. Accessibility, in this sense, is something to be recognised here because it can lead to impact. This level of engagement is a model of scholarship that is commendable. 
  • In terms of accessibility, the use of medium by the book was seen to be important too. In being open online, being aesthetically easy to read (as well as content-wise), and having lots of relevant and useful diagrams, the book is again very engaging. It would, in this sense, be very easy to share: it would be easy to take elements from it and reblog/retweet/TikTok about them. This means that the book can be accessible to those not entrenched in academia (while still being academic), which is not often the case. 

The appendices of the book (here and here) make the methodology of the book much clearer. It is a very transparent form of scholarship, showing what kinds of people were cited, how often they were cited, and how this relates to their aims (see table one in ‘our values and our metrics for holding ourselves accountable’). Even if it is felt that some scholars were left out (as stated above), why this has happened is made clearer through these appendices.

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