February 2024

Our theme for 2024 aims to open up space for reflection on the incongruity we experience between the familiar zones of everyday academic life and the scale of unfolding global events. In struggling to reconcile the day-to-day of teaching, institutional concerns, and research with the stakes of global crises, we inhabit contradictions that feel alternatingly exhausting and vitally important to sustain. Contradiction is thus an embodied sense of wanting to hold space – for hopes, for dreams, for collective action – while struggling with the question of what to give our time and energies to, what we value, or can dare to hope for.  To generate this year’s theme we came together and wrote down what feels important (both worrying and exciting) to each of us right now and how that connects to our mutual need for the local environment where we work together. We shared various critical reflections and idealistic aspirations, but also questions and uncertainties we have about this current moment that seems crowded with competing urgencies. As a way to make space for these uncertainties, we decided to filter out the things we know we clearly want to move away from and abandon, as well as those that we know we want to move towards, i.e. the ideals that still ring clear to us and what we readily oppose. What this left remaining was the messy-in-between: the both-ands, neither-nors, the land of double-binds and double standards, where the illogical sometimes seems to make sense. These became our Urgent Contradictions – contradictions we feel are worth following, crawling, nagging, devouring, de-bugging, or trolling in 2024 as we dream of better times ahead.

What we want to fly away from (the winged earth)

As researchers and practitioners in the digital realm, we want to leave behind the AI optimism and digital exceptionalism of 2023. We feel the weight of accelerating technology, and the alienating effects of the synthetic dialogue that occurs as a result of the extensions of auto-complete. We fear we are living in Generation Generative, where the creation of commodifiable and transmittable content, be it text, images, code, whatever, carries more value than contemplation and rest. This obsession with generativity is troubling in many ways, not least because of the way(s) it impacts our planet. The invisible (yet visible) effects it has on our climate, and the inability of never-ending growth to respect the planetary boundaries. It is this outdated way of thinking that keeps us trapped in black/white thinking. 

What we want to move towards (the scarab beetle)

As academics who often call for forms of research and critique that are generative rather than extractive or paranoic, it is with some regret that we relinquish generativity to the bots. But we also see this as a reminder to ourselves to shift away from productivity metaphors that haunt scholarship. Perhaps we let this desire to be generative go… for now… so that we can focus on ourselves as life. As living beings, with physical bodies on a physical earth, we are finite and depletable. We are here only so long as we can breathe the air, find strength in vulnerability, and refuse safety and security as the only means to livable worlds. We want to move towards more deep belly breaths, slowness, softness, vulnerability and nurturing communities. Living as whole beings, rather than compartmentalised fractions. We want to build alliances and we want to make sense of things together. We want to lean into counter-narratives and to tell and hear stories from varied places and voices. We want to further explore our tech activism, and we want more collective queering of tech. We want to pay careful attention to the world around us, to build imaginaries, and to fabulate fables. 

The messy in-between (follow the rabbit)

Yet often we live much more in the messy middle between what we can unequivocally renounce or unanimously desire for the future, both because ideals can be hard to attain in practice and because it is hard to escape certain pressures, urgencies, and binaries that are sustained by the structures we live and work within, that require ongoing efforts to keep at bay or cut ourselves from. Many of us feel that false urgencies creep in and compete for our attention and that the only way to press for alternatives is to sound the alarms more loudly – to cry out that something else is yet more urgent. We find it contradictory at times to continue with the incremental work of building academic contributions in the face of spreading fascism.

Furthermore, we experience doubts about the values we tie our hopes to: the shifting meanings of terms like democracy, care, trust, and humanity are troubling. 2024 is dubbed to be “the election year”, with more people participating in democratic elections globally than ever before. And yet, war crimes continue to receive support from the US and the EU, rationalized in terms of “democracy’s foothold” – laying bare the absurdity of the term’s use as a justification towards colonialist genocidal and necropolitical ends. At the same time, within critical spaces, the idea of “contradiction” itself has become increasingly politicized – such that to suggest that we might need to “complicate” discourse or leave room for contradictions, can be viewed as apologist or complicit. And yet, as critical, feminist, researchers it has always been our strength to complicate, and to problematize false dichotomies, to make space for contradictions. 

Given that it can be arduous, precarious, and even problematic to hold space for contradictions, we wanted a theme that helped us to frame a set of questions both empirical and aspirational. While we wish for time to be less pressing, for time to be less crushed by crises, we admit that urgencies are hard to escape. What we find urgent, what we “feel” as urgent, is not always up to us. But we can ask what urgencies are attempting to capture us, claim our time, and which other urgencies do this occult or preclude? Whose urgencies go long unattended to the point where they are assumed to require no response? We ask: What contradictions appear urgent? What urgencies place us into contradiction? Which contradictions are double-binds to unravel and dismantle, which do we wish to be held accountable to, and which are vital to sustain us and our bonds of solidarity?

If urgency is one kind of contradiction in our lives, it also points to other contradictions we feel are essential to us right now: vulnerability as strength, being late as a virtue, craft as expedient, the uncomputable as accountable.

If generativity is a lost cause, what languages are being co-opted that we might yet reclaim? Perhaps there are other terms from computational and technological worlds that we can usurp and co-opt such as the bugs in the code, the trolls on the net, the rabbit holes to follow in social media vortexes. Maybe these critters can lead the way towards seeing the cracks in the pavement, the ways that technology breaks, its vulnerabilities as a source of strength, the uncomputable as that which opens up space for rapport, the oxymora of tech as our companions. Are there rabbit holes we should go down? Such as the question of how to maintain forgetability, unpromptable, untaskable or will we just feel perpetually “late” trying to “outpace” the algorithms? Might we think of the untrainable as an esc key to digital exceptionalism, a way to step out of the race all together? Within the autocratic rule-sets of computing are there any unexceptional functions that can be queered to make space for post-hallucinatory dreaming, post-digital solidarities? 

Perhaps we should linger more with the seeming contradictions between craft and convenience, hesitate every time we feel the lure of GAI to quicken a task and stop to ask what forms of reproductive labor or competing forms of care are at stake if we fall prey to speed as value, time as vice. Can we admit that time’s finitude and technology’s frailty are assets to us, are the condition of living, are a part of the furniture, and try to sit more deeply in the sofa? Can we catch ourselves in the temptation to tame tech and outsource our urgencies, before the whole earth auto-completes. Perhaps if computational infrastructures have always been engines of difference, we can troll the crawl spaces where accountabilities hide, and reclaim these for telling different stories together?



Marisa Cohn, Head of Lab
Henriette Friis, Lab Manager