Session 4: Rethinking solidarities through time and space: Decolonization and the digital

Building transnational communities in feminist and queer film archives: digital archival practice between recognition and (dis)engagement
Dagmar Brunow

Digital technologies offer new challenges for feminist and queer archives. While visibility has been an important trope in the feminist and LGBT+ struggle, notions of visibility and recognition also increase the risks of vulnerability for LGBT+ persons (Foucault, 1990; Schaffer, 2008). For queer individuals, visibility comes with an increased risk of vulnerability in forms of surveillance, governmentality, policing, pathologising, homophobic or transphobic violence, stereotyping and/ or modes of shaming (Munt, 2008). This paper sets out to discuss the ambivalences of queer visibility in relation to archival practice and access politics in audiovisual archives. These archival practices include the choice of metadata, the modes of selection for public screenings and online exhibition as well as the curation and contextualisation of online content. What are the repercussions of digital archives on the visibility and vulnerability of LGBT+ lives? What happens, if personal memories or footage filmed in separatist spaces enter the (heteronormative) public sphere? 

This paper argues that queer and feminist film and video archives need to negotiate the line between exploring digital forms of archival recognition (Brunow 2018) and “digital disengagement” (Kuntsman/Miyake 2019). Archival recognition, on the one hand, allows for interventions into dominant historiographies and hegemonic audiovisual memories. Acknowledging vulnerability, digital disengagement, on the other hand, involves the right not to be included in digital data. For audiovisual archives the situation is urgent: film gauge and video tapes are decaying and therefore in need of immediate restoration. Digitization, while increasingly being used to preserve the film footage, also offers the possibility of widely disseminating and circulating films, for instance via online exhibition. How can the power structures at work within the representation of LGBT+ audiovisual heritage be addressed? Merging conceptualizations of the archive as an instrument of power (Foucault, Derrida) and a site of both materiality (Steadman) and affect (Cvetkovich), I will present the findings of my research on the archival practice in three digital archival collections: the Lesbian Home Movie Project (Maine), the Swedish Archive for the Queer Moving Image (SAQMI) and the feminist video archive bildwechsel (Hamburg). This paper will discuss the following questions: How do these archives (each of them ground-breaking in their own right) set out to build online communities? Are “digitalized transnational encounters” and community-based small-scale local practices” (this cfp) mutually exclusive? How are notions of the ‘safe space’ played out in online collections and their metadata? In short, how can online communities be created that are drawing on local practices, networks and histories, while at the same time reaching out globally, enabling transnational encounters? This paper looks especially at these archives’ responses to covid19, some of which can pave the way to rethinking feminist and queer archival practice for the future.

NiUnaMenos in Times of #MeToo: Towards Decolonial Feminist Solidarities in Necropolitical Times
Francesca Dennstedt

Throughout the Americas, we are living through a moment driven by queer and women’s joint resistance to a distinct variety of right-wing fundamentalist politics and broader systems of oppression that attempt a return to a status quo that has only been made possible on the backs of subjugated gendered and racialized populations. #NiUnaMenos, #EleNão, #MeToo, las pañoletas verdes, among other movements, are examples of the demand to be seen and heard that use social media and other internet-based applications as means of mobilization, organization, and safety networks. By paying attention to the case of Mexico’s #NiUnaMenos movement in relation to the “global” hashtag #MeToo, I interrogate what solidarity means when the identities of the individuals and the collective are disrupted by the violent consequences of neoliberalism in the so-called global south. The question guiding my research is: what kind of solidarity can we bolster in necropolitical times when we are surrounded by dead bodies? These bodies are commonly stripped of their identity to become a numeric statistic. By literally saying “not one less,” feminists’ movements in Mexico (and in the rest of Latin America) are challenging and disavowing identity politics from a position of interdependence and mutual respect, mainly given by the affective correlation of being survivors of the violence of capitalism. The slogan highlights a double meaning: neither from feminicidio nor from the violent consequences of neoliberalism—not one woman less. 

The uses of social media and activism have been studied from the social sciences using quantitative and ethnographic methods. I seek to propose a framework for the study of social media and other internet-based applications from a cultural studies perspective. I highlight cultural production as central to the meaning and uses of social media. By paying attention to the triangulation of music, the uses of public spaces, and social media, I look at #NiUnaMenos as an affective (emotional) space from where decolonial solidarities emerge. Through practices of communality and desapropariation (Cristina Rivera Garza), I understand decolonial solidarities as those that affectively disavow or suspend a sense of political identity in conditions of extreme violence such as the necropolitical time that Mexico is currently living. Using cultural production ranging from the streets to the screen as support, these affective spaces propose a sense of togetherness through emotions such as satiation, fear, and anger provoked by systems of power and not identity politics. 

As a case study, I look into the last public insurgency (women’s march) that happened days before the global pandemic of COVID-19 quarantined the world into private spaces. Through decolonial solidarity, this insurgency carried the hope and promise of something different—feeling the destruction of the system, if only for a few hours. During the first week of March 2020, several (feminist) collectives called for a (feminist) insurgency during the weekend of the International Women’s day. This insurgency looked different for everyone according to their own personal politics, for example: burning buildings, proudly wearing the pañuelo verde to demand legal abortion, graffiti on national monuments or throwing glitter in the streets—all acts considered equally violent by the state, the media, and a large part of the (conservative) population. But it also carried a common longing manifested through the call for a “day without women.” What would happen to the system if women disappeared completely? Las brujas del mar, a feminist collective, called on all Mexican women to “disappear” for a day—no work, no family, no consumerism, no social media or any digital print during 24 hours. Despite the fact that by March 9 the uncertainty of the pandemic was already present in our lives, Mexico felt the disappearance of women. At the same time, a new kind of solidarity was emerging—one that was not centered in our shared experiences but in our rage at a system that erases our communality and leads us to think in the individualistic terms of “me too” instead of “ni una menos.” 

Unveiling colonial power through the digital protest: “uneventful” feminism in Ukraine
Maria Mayerchyk and Olga Plakhotnik

Our presentation stems from a larger study that explores how feminist imaginaries and practices have been recalibrated in the rapidly changing political landscape of post-Maidan Ukraine. In particular, we focus our analysis on the discourse of colonialism/coloniality in feminist and LGBT online activism and related praxis of digital protest. Understanding coloniality as a fundamental matrix of power, which operates through the control of four interrelated domains – economy, authority or governmentality, gender and sexuality, and production of knowledge and subjectivity – we developed a critical perspective on multiple regimes of power that marginalize and subjugate Ukraine. Firstly, it is well recognizable Russian imperialism, which positions Ukraine as its own less modernized, therefore backward “little” province. Secondly, it is less recognizable in Ukraine hegemony of Western imperialism that positions Ukraine as a not fully civilized periphery of Europe, which remains hopelessly lagging behind the “democratic” and “progressive” Western world. In economic terms, for both imperial centers, the main value of Ukraine is to provide a cheap labor force for construction, agriculture, care work, surrogacy and sex service for first-class Western and Russian citizens. 

Looking through this analytic lens at the contemporary Ukrainian feminist scene, we have identified several interconnected grassroots collectives that develop a critical view on colonial power and its symbolic-material repercussions. We call them “uneventful,” borrowing the concept from urban activism studies in Central and Eastern Europe (Korolczuk and Jacobsson 2019) and reframing it with respect to the studied phenomenon. For us, uneventful feminism is an analytic term to designate a relatively new form of activism in Ukraine that pursues an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial agenda. It emerged in post-Maidan Ukraine as a critical response to the growing NGO-ization of mainstream feminism and its complicity with colonial regimes of Western-centered political economies. Analyzing open-access online data, we explore the phenomenon of uneventful feminism to understand it challenges the dominant discourses. 

In our presentation, we consider one direction of uneventful feminist protest that discursively aligns with a decolonial view: the coloniality of global capitalism. One of the most telling instances of the anti-capitalist critique that targets both local and global capitalist regime is “Poverty. War. Eurovision” digital activist project. It took place in May 2017, when thousands of international visitors have crowded Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest. Seeking to challenge the glossy media picture of the show, “Poverty. War. Eurovision” group revelated an extensive set of evidence pointing to such pressing issues behind the scene of the “celebrated diversity” as growing poverty and continuing war. The activists drew attention to the multiple cases of violence that took place within the preparation for hosting the Eurovision in Kyiv, such as burning down the Roma settlements, homeless people’s displacement and stray animals’ mass extermination. Carefully documenting and publicizing these cases online in Ukrainian, German, English, and Russian languages, the activists criticized the neoliberal instrumentalization of the idea of diversity and Europeanness.

Another facet of colonial capitalism, targeted by uneventful feminist critique, is the growing NGO-ization of feminist and LGBT activisms, fueled by the economy of Western donor agencies. Within this process, NGOs are typically used by capitalism and state to control social justice movements and dictate a particular agenda while marginalizing more radical grassroots initiatives. The case of online debates between resourceful NGOs and uneventful groups around “The Women’s March” 2018 is particularly illuminative in this regard. During the preparation of a street rally on the 8th of March 2018, the traditional (since about 2008) feminist march had been suddenly monopolized by an NGO and renamed to “The Women’s March” following the lead of the famous anti-Trump rallies in the US. Being excluded from the discussions, grassroots uneventful initiatives withdrew their support of the march and issued online statements. Pointing to how “The Women’s March” in Ukraine (re)produces colonial power, they also stressed that having already a several-years tradition of feminist marches, a transition to “women’s march” means a step back for feminist struggle in Ukraine. The statements sparked fierce debates in activist communities on the matter of solidarity, feminist agenda and forms of protest. 

In sum, an uneventful protest is a new form of digital feminist activism in Ukraine that is substantiated by clear political positionality, non-formality and refusal to be institutionalized, therefore, embedded in the neoliberal grant economy. Residing on multiple margins of a variety of activist scenes – namely, feminist, LGBT, leftist and anarchist – these groups have developed specific strategies of online activism. They embrace anonymity as a way to act below the radar of capitalist forms of recognizability and success. Also, anonymity facilitates a powerful discourse of collective action that is focused on a political message instead of prioritizing a publicly visible individual leadership. In so doing, the uneventful groups reinvent feminist protest beyond the institutionalized scripts, neoliberal agenda of “women’s rights” and Western models of activism and citizenship. 

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