As we alluded to in our final ETHOS Lab newsletter of 2022, we left the year on a strange tone; a hopeful tone but a strange tone nevertheless.
At the beginning of 2022 we were emerging from two years of on-again, off-again pandemic lockdowns and it set the scene for a routine of welcomes and farewells across the year. In January, we said farewell to our Lab Manager Merethe Riggelsen Gjørding as she took up a PhD position at Aarhus University and said a big hello to our new Lab Manager Henriette Friis just before the Easter break. And at the end of summer we said ‘vi ses’ to our Lab RAT (research assistant technologist) Mace Ojala as he went to join Ruhr University Bochum, Germany and welcomed Luis Landa into the Lab TA role. We have also welcomed new faculty to the ETHOS Lab, including PhD fellow Lara Reime, Assistant Professor Sunniva Sandbunkt and Visiting Researcher Alena Thiel. We also welcomed Jessamy Perriam as co-director of the lab in January and gave our best to Rachel Douglas-Jones as she focused on leading the Technologies in Practice group and eventually onto her sabbatical in 2023.
In 2022 our theme was embodied (re)enchantment. With embodied (re)enchantment, we wished to connect data to embodied experiences through speculative fabulations, and unfold numbers to explore the presence of what is difficult to describe and be fascinated by the messiness and complexity they cover. We wanted to play with materiality, experience awe for nature and all the things there are yet to know, cast spells, and hopefully get closer to each other – one way or another. In this spirit, we attempted to re-enchant our lab’s new machines – a 3D printer and Innovis embroidery machine – to consider what role they can play in a feminist methods lab. We “maged” and imploded the 3D printing, and choreographed the embroidery machine to bring it to life through movement and sound. We embroidered, stitched, and knotted to retrospectively explore our experiences of time, intimacy, and vulnerability during the pandemic lockdowns.
2022 was about remembering how we are working together as a lab and trying new things. Returning to in-person lab life proved trickier than expected as some of us only knew the lab in the context of restrictions, while some of us remembered how things worked before the pandemic. Even if we have mostly worked in person as 2022 progressed, the digital platforms of our virtualized co-presence haunted us, as we returned to both the joys and the distractions, the time sinks and impromptu sparks of insight gained by being together. So much of “life” of a university that we take for granted became new again, challenging us in expansive ways to remember how to make knowledge together, but also requiring re-calibration, prompting us to ask how these changes have impacted us locally as a lab and what new practices of time, energy, and attention this might require?
In this time of hellos and goodbyes and reconnecting, we had to take time to steward the lab in a way that made space for rest and renewal, collaboration and creativity. As a result, we have reconsidered the shape of our regular meetings and become excited about what we want to do together. With the leadership and initiative of Henriette, we have reinstated our twice-yearly research writing retreats where we spend one day away from ITU collaborating on ideas and writing in progress. We have also begun to imagine how we can take care together, whether this is formally through ‘soft landing’ days, where we do creative work together at the start of term, or more informally through “down time,” using the lab space to spend time together doing work at a slower pace.
We have so much to look forward to in 2023, much of it focuses on building our capacity to support research-based teaching and experimenting with feminist STS-focused projects. Autumn 2022 welcomed our largest cohort of Junior Researchers yet, whose first blog posts showcase their work with persona, mappings, poetry, and data visualization to explore topics ranging from AI accountability, toxic masculinity, commodified privacy, gendered futures of work. And our Python Study group continues strong with Edith Terte Andersen at the helm.
In late 2022, we brainstormed the possible themes we could take into 2023. As we alluded to in our last newsletter, we are intrigued by what we’re observing in the tech world. As faculty, we teach against taking a stance of purely tech determinism or tech utopianism, to imagine how things could be otherwise. At the end of 2022, we felt like the rest of the world was finally catching up with that train of thought. Social media platforms, cryptocurrencies, and other hyperbolic tech began to have a moment of reckoning and reflection that felt as though it was filled with more potential than the usual tech scandals that quickly blow over. Suddenly the narratives around tech didn’t seem like a forgone conclusion. With that observation in mind, we landed upon the theme: shifting inevitabilities.
With this theme, we hope to focus on some of the shifts that will impact our research interests over the next 12 months. With the ongoing demise of Twitter, the inevitability of it being an appropriate platform to conduct research with will decline. Technological determinism, while fallacious, performs in part through the narratives of inevitability – that certain platforms or technologies will always operate our public square, that the future is one of unlimited computational power, that AI will economize our welfare system. But when bubbles burst, and platforms enter end of life, these inevitabilities shift and transmute opening up new telos that can draw us into new narratives.
With what we see as a time of shifting inevitabilities, we hope to explore what’s possible for researching society with other platforms with other attributes and other tools. ChatGPT has already made us implode our exams from 2022 and ask what it means to learn with and write with bots. The ongoing climate and energy crises mean that we are continuing to consider the inevitability of our always-on, ever-connected digital working lives. We continue to explore the world of permacomputing through our solar server and individual efforts to work more offline in ways that are both environmentally and mentally sustainable. We also hope the theme will allow for exploration of the relationship between data and bodies to consider the corporeal and subjective experiences of tectonic shifts in our technological commons.
Alongside the theme, we want to use this year to explore the idea of having research agendas to support the themes our faculty lab members work with across multiple years. We continue to be interested in feminist approaches to data and the digital, bodily data and embodiment, and the world making of methods both quantitative and qualitative. So keep an eye on this space to learn more about the research we are embarking on in 2023. We’re looking forward to the Feminist Futures Hackathon in the spring and have been really pleased with the progress that has been made by the planning committee, but also the strong sense of community that has sprung up around the hackathon.
And as always, in 2023 we will inevitably embark on new unforeseen collaborations, perhaps with you! We welcome you to get in touch, have a look on our website to see the different ways you could work with us!
Jessamy Perriam and Marisa Cohn