i dream of being possible

situating myself

One of the more interesting things about my experience as #gsisc14 yesterday was feeling kind of out of place based on the presentation I gave and my own position relative to the two major kinds of people at the colloquium. The group was mainly comprised of either academics and/or information professionals. I feel like my presentation stood out for being classified in either.

While I was technically there as an information professional, the content of my presentation had very little to do with my job. I tweeted at one point that I wish I hadn’t mentioned my institutional affiliation because the work I was describing has nothing to do with my institution, so it shouldn’t be given roundabout credit for the work that I do around my community-based web archiving project. The project, rather, was started because as a member of a certain community, I felt it was important. And my presentation was definitely more about my position within this community, rather than how I make money.

I very much was also not there as an academic and, indeed, a great deal of my presentation on ethics was a not-so-subtle calling out of academics for how they exploit marganilized people online. Beyond this aspect though, it was more apparent in my entire lack of citation or mention of any academic discourse in my presentation (and paper). The ethical considerations I discussed within my presentation were developed via participation in intellectual communities situation outside of academia. While, sure, these communities don’t exist in isolation from academia and many individuals have various ties to the academy, the ways that the ideas are articulated and developed aren’t academic (indeed, often are about resistance to academic ways of expression).

As much as I have conceptual issues with identifying as an activist, it really does seem the best way to situation myself within a colloquium like #gsisc14. I was definitely more there as an activist than either an academic or an information professional. I mean… this is pretty self-apparent in the preamble to my presentation where I acknowledge my position as a settler on Indigenous land. This is a fairly common thing to see at more activist oriented spaces/gatherings, but I think I may have been the only person to do this yesterday.

Conceptualizing things this way helps explains some of the intellectual disagreements I encounter with other librarians or academics – we aren’t really articulating ourselves within the same domain of discourse.

As an example from some tweets yesterday… I mention in my presentation that I fully support the ‘right to be forgotten’. Which, in the context of my presentation, is a claim I’m making about marginalized people (and to be even more specific, a claim I’m making about people of colour with multiple overlapping sites of oppression). This claim was not a universal one or one that should be understood to apply to all people. But, on twitter (who, to give credit, may not have had the context of the presentation) I get people playing the devil’s advocate asking about what happens when overtly oppressive privileged people want to exercise this right…

My response is, of course, why is my discussion being derailed right now?

But, of course, this question is pretty reasonable within the decontextualized, general, abstract discourse that academics prefer. It is also pretty reasonable in a professional discourse that is often policy based, thus interpreting my claim as being about or primarily relevent to policy decisions (where this kind of hypothetical is necessary within policy discussions).

In activist types of discourse… playing the devil’s advocate is derailing. It serves to disrupt productive dialogue and discussion by recentering privileged people. It is also very aggravating and irritating.

A great example of how this disjunct between activist styles of engagement vs. academic ones is my discussion with Wayne Bivens-Tatum over the enlightenment:

I had one Twitter interaction with nina de jesus regarding the Enlightenment where we each decided that we were right even though we completely disagreed with each other, so pretty typical for an Internet discussion. source

I guess… First, I’m not sure why either of us needs to have ‘convinced’ the other. This certainly isn’t why I engage people. Moreover… I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have debates or discussions about my humanity. Enlightenment thought is an ideology where I literally cannot exist (not just as a human, I don’t exist within the ideology). He has his opinion, I have mine. My opinion happens to be that I’m human and that I do, in actual fact, exist. I see no reason to think that my ‘opinion’ is something I should be willing to discuss with anyone. If you disagree with me… well, I can’t really say anything to you because, um, I either don’t exist or I am not a human being, according to you.

I think people will get on better with me, or be better able to understand why I engage in discourse the way I do if they keep the “nina is an activist” in mind, rather than trying to situate me within either academic or professional discourse. I actually think that this is what I’m going to start writing in my bio for the professional things I do. Heck, I’m going to update my twitter bio once I’m done writing this.