::fibreculture:: Seminar on Automation and Gender

Ned Rossiter ned at nedrossiter.org
Tue Apr 17 10:15:24 CEST 2018

Institute for Culture and Society

Western Sydney University

* *

*Seminar on Automation and Gender*

*Professor Caroline Bassett, Sussex University*

*Associate Professor Helen Thornham, University of Leeds*

* *

Date: Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Venue: PS-EA.1.04 (Parramatta South campus)

Time: 11am-1pm

* *

*Helen Thornham*

*/Autom-data-ed bodies and the irreconcilable/***

* *

Steph is one of the 12 young women we worked with for 2 and a half years
on a project exploring the felt and lived impacts of the Digital by
Default agenda of the UKs Coalition (2010-15) and Conservative (2015-)
governments. She tells us on many occasions:  ‘I might as well have a
big fucking sign on my head: [It says] ‘/On Benefits/”.


Drawing on the work with young women who are NEET (not in education,
employment or training), I suggest that the increasing elision between
the datalogical and discursive is repositioning issues of gender and
class in problematic ways. The category of NEET is arrived at through
longstanding digital bureaucratic processes embedded in education,
social and health services that can, through a series of binary
quantifications at the age of 16, label the young adult ‘NEET’ (not in
education, employment or training). Once the NEET status is generated,
it is powerful both within the datalogical system and beyond it: it has
utility and meaning across different systems and at different scales; it
creates ‘brutal expulsions’ (Sassen 2014) and inequalities. 


NEET is an algorithmically generated category, but it is also a
socio-economic category positioned within a wider culture of gendered
neoliberalism that seeks to construct individuals as responsible for
their own status. There is a particular elision between the normative
consensus and the values of the datalogical system, which we should not
ignore (see also Berry 2014: 14, Cheney-Lippold 2011: 165) – a
particular convergence of the datalogical and the discursive. It is
this, I think, that for Steph generates the feeling of obviously and
problematically being labelled as ‘on benefits’ and I want to suggest in
this talk that this is incredibly important for two reasons. The first
is because of what it reveals about the close correlations between
datalogical and discursive systems. The second reason relates to what
this does to gender, namely subsuming or even obscuring gender within a
wider datalogical system that is also – as Steph’s experience reminds us
– lived and everyday.


*Caroline Bassett*

*/The Automation of Gender /*

*/ /*

The automation /of/ gender can be taken to concern algorithmic operation
and machine learning; the impression and learning of gender bias: the
operation of gendered divisions. Automation /and/ gender meanwhile
suggests an exploration of the relationship between processes of
automation and forms of social discrimination or discrimination; and in
response the distinction between feminist accelerationism and its
unmarked other (an accelerationism in general that feminism feels the
need to write against) is germane here. Looking back to earlier moments
of the encounter between the computational and the cultural the
ambiguity amplifies. Then gender was said to have been automated through
its ‘becoming virtual’ – which was sometimes also taken to imply
gender’s confusion, its final end. This is in contrast to the early case
of ELIZA, the therapist bot, whose apparently ‘gendered’ personality was
part of why ‘she’ was (wrongly) celebrated as a marker of AI success in
NLP. The automation of gender, in sum, is widely understood to be an
intrinsic element of an encounter between automating machines, and human
cultures; but what is really meant by this coupling is often left
unexamined. This paper begins to redress this neglect - or at least to
recognize the complexity of what is often taken to be a simple relation.
My interest is partly media archaeological, but also arises out of a
concern with the new behaviourism; I am interested in the implications
for social subjects of the new behaviourism, and with what might be
termed, adapting Mark Andrejevic, the /droning/ of gender in new
circuits of everyday life where modulation rather than
self-consciousness is the key.


*Speaker bios*

*Helen Thornham*is an Associate Professor in Digital Cultures at the
University of Leeds. Her research focuses on gender and technological
mediations, data and digital inequalities, embodiment, youth, space,
place, and communities. She has been led a number of recent research
projects (2012-16) investigating practices in digital media that are
funded by the EPSRC, ESRC and British Academy. Author of /Ethnographies
of the Videogame: Narrative, Gender and Praxis/ (2011) and co-editor of
/Renewing Feminisms/ (2013) and /Content Cultures/ (2014), her
forthcoming book (2018) is entitled /Gender and Digital Culture: Between
irreconcilability and the Datalogical/.


*Caroline Bassett*is Professor of Digital Media at the University of
Sussex and the Director of the Sussex Humanities Lab, a £3.7m research
programme investigating critical digital humanities. Her research
explores digital technology and cultural transformation. She has
recently published work on Weizenbaum, automation and behaviourism, and
is currently completing two projects; on anti-computing, defined as
critical response to automation, to be published by MUP in 2019, and a
collaboration exploring feminist technophile politics and writing (with
Kate O’Riordan and Sarah Kember). She has published extensively on
gender and technology, critical theories of the technological, on
automation and expertise, and on science fiction and technological





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