In this brief short article, I reflect on the relevance to think in decolonial and intersectional feminist ways in order to open up new investigations in the discipline of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and within STS conferences. I do this by highlighting the critiques of indigenous and black feminist scholars about the discipline.
I start this brief conference afterthoughts with a point made by Malcolm Ashmore and Olga Restrepo Forero’s at EASST conference during their talk entitled: “Why Bogota? The local, the global, and the interesting. Or: STS, here and there”. In their presentation they spoke about the importance of place in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Part of their argument was to highlight a bias in the ways in which researchers needed to give reason(s) why they studying in or about a location seen as the ‘periphery’, while those studying a EuroAmerican topic/location rarely needed such justification.
The issue of place begs a number of additional questions: How does place affect perspective(s)? How does it impact a discipline such as STS? To which extent place influences who is listened to, who has the authority to speak and who is invited to a panel? How does place influence the conference experience? I am located in Canada where I live and where I am doing my PhD. Its current forms of activism and societal debates influence me greatly. I am particularly animated by critical voices and actions that are making cracks in past and present forms of colonialism and capitalism. Questions of decolonization, decoloniality and indigenity are not only part of an analytical framework I am inspired by, but more so my praxis is more and more informed by such thoughts.
In the past couple of years, indigenous resurgence has marked and influenced those who have been willing to listen and to attempt a long process of decolonizing one’s minds. Even in university settings, academic activities are now starting to include land acknowledgment as part of a decolonizing process. After all, Canada, like many other countries, is a settler colonial country. Such acknowledgment reminds us that the land that we live on, that we benefit from in terms of its rich resources (oil, water, minerals) was stolen by French and British colonialism with the doctrine of terra nullius. This symbolic gesture of land acknowledgment within conferences is a small act in a wider and more complex process of decolonization.
I cannot talk about place without talking about situatedness or what Donna Haraway calls situated knowledges. According to Haraway (1988), all knowledge production is situated in social relations, all knowledges arise from a partial perspective, and all perspectives taken from subjugated positions provide the most “objective” accounts of the social worlds from which they emerge. In Canada, one of the most important situated knowledges is that of indigenous peoples. Without taking seriously their claims to sovereignty and for nation to nation relations genuine process decolonization will remain a metaphor (Tuck and Yang 2012).
Discussing the relationship between place and situatedness is relevant when one travels to a conference in a country with a different political heritage, decolonization process, activism, and current burning debates. I consider place and situatedness less as categories and more as relations embedded in larger geopolitical and economic processes to only name two. Notwithstanding, burning debate(s) in a discipline are often informed by place and situatedness and in turn influence ones thinking: the theoretical approaches that one is animated by and the types of voices one wants to listen to, among others.
In an attempt to initiate a process of decolonizing STS, the metis scholar Zoe Todd (2016) who teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa talks about the erasure of indigenous knowledges in STS. Her critique has wide ramification since she argues that knowledge production in STS still perpetuates colonialism today. In her article entitled “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism” she pushes us to rethink how knowledge production functions and how this process is still connected to colonialism. She asks two interrelated questions. First, how can a decolonial approach ensure the acknowledgment of indigenous thinking in Euro‐Western scholarship, activism, and socio‐political discourse? The discourse on STS she argues has to be decolonized and ought to acknowledge the work of indigenous peoples in the turn to new materialism (in other words the human-non human relation) otherwise colonial relationships are replicated. The second question she asks is how can marginalize voices be heard in academia, including within conferences? Making room for such voices is essential for making STS a discipline that continues to evolve, change and be relevant.
Feminist Science and Technology Studies (FSTS) too is a framework that is called to change in exciting directions. New engagements of FSTS with intersectional analysis of gender and race, for instance, open up areas of investigation that have at times been overlooked. This framework for deepening an analysis of power and oppression across multiple axes and rooted in black and African feminist thoughts allow us to highlight the relationality or co-construction of the world we live in. In “Feminist Science and Technology Studies: A Patchwork of Moving Subjectivities” (Bauchspies and Puig de la Bellacasa 2009) Banu Subramaniam identified intersectionality as an understanding of gender which FSTS should engage with more deeply. Such engagement had already started with the writings of Patricia Hill Collins (1999) in her article “Moving Beyond Gender: Intersectionality and Scientific Knowledge”. In this article, she examined how feminist analysis of gender and scientific knowledge might benefit from closer ties with intersectionality. She identified two types of relationship that came to define this understanding of gender. First, the interconnectedness of ideas and social structures in which they occur, and second, the intersecting hierarchies of gender, race, class, sexuality, and ethnicity (1999). Collins argues that feminist criticism of scientific knowledge gives little attention to the issue of race rather favoring the category of gender. She uses the term parallelism rather than intersecting to refer to the assumption whereby social categories such as gender and race are too often disconnected. Emphasising only the male/female dichotomy while forgetting all others weakens scholarly feminist analysis.
In her intersectional feminist technological work, Safia Noble (2018) shifts discourses away from liberatory possibilities of the internet toward more critical engagements with how the internet is a site of power and control over Black life. Her use of intersectionality allows to interconnecting ideas of power and control and the social structures in which they occur. Her work is important for feminist engagements in STS as it highlights the failure of the social construction of technology theorists to identify how these practices are co-constituted in racialized and gendered ways that involve power and often maintain systemic discrimination and oppression.
I close this reflection by stressing for continued engagements with critical and feminist science and technology studies among which are decolonial, postcolonial, anticolonial, intersectional feminist and indigenous perspectives. This engagement can also be reflected in the plenary panels and talks where an even greater place to diversity is made. Feminist science and technology were very well represented at EASST (such as meeting soil and meeting Frankenstein) it would be fantastic to make room for a greater diversity of voices and non-white speakers in the next EASST.
Bauchspies WK and de la Bellacasa M (2009) Feminist Science and Technology Studies: A Patchwork of Moving Subjectivities. An Interview with Geoffrey Bowker, Sandra Harding, Anne Marie Mol, Susan Leigh Star and Banu Subramaniam. Subjectivity 28: 334–344.
Collins PH (1999) Moving beyond Gender : Intersectionality and Scientific Knowledge. In: Revisioning Gender, edited by Ferree MM, Lorber J and Hess BB, 261–84. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.
Haraway D (1988) Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feministstudies Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–99.
Noble SU (2017) Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Todd Z (2016) An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ is just another word for colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology 29(1): 4-22.
Tuck E and Yang KW (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society 1(1).