Exploration 1: Autoethnography

In our first unit, we have focused on what digital feminisms challenge: race and gender as cultural  systems whose digital aspects cannot be understood separately from their larger histories and contexts. These are structures that shape the ways we move through the world, giving us a sense of identity but also constraining what we see, know, and do. We talked about the ways in which these systems have been created by long histories of patriarchy, colonization, and other hierarchies, about how profoundly our raced and gendered locations can shape our experience and understanding of the world, and about how feminism is the work of pushing to transform these systems for equity and justice. As we go forward, we will be exploring how these systems interact with the “digital” part of our course title.

For your first assignment, you’re going to connect your emerging understanding of feminist critique to your everyday digital experiences. We will the use the method of autoethnography (loosely defined, as we will not be fully engaging in qualititative research practices) to develop your understanding of how our digital media habits are shaped by  systemic oppression and the movements against it.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.”

To begin your systematic analysis, spend one day paying conscious and close attention to two things, making notes as you go.

1. The way digital technologies mediate your life. Make notes and take pictures or screenshots: What ways of seeing, hearing, moving your body have become intuitive and natural to you because of the ways you use digital devices? Do you feel like nothing’s real unless it’s documented on Snapchat or Instagram? Do you encounter different digital experiences through work, family, or friends? Do you come into contact with a lot of digital activism, or are you mostly engaging other kinds of content?

2. The appearance of power systems in your everyday life. Do you typically hear and participate in a lot of conversations about race, gender, or other kinds of social difference (such as sexuality, class, disability)? When do these issues come up and who discusses them? How do you and the people around you feel when they come up? Are there times when they are lurking beneath the surface without being mentioned? Try to notice not only the presence of these ideas but their absence. (If no one in your life really ever mentions race, or gender, or disability, why do you think that might be?)

Once you have gathered your field notes, read through them and see if you notice particular themes. You might find it useful to informally share these with your classmates. Think back to our readings from class, and note down any moments where your experiences brought a reading to mind. Then, bearing in mind everything you have been attending to, write a response to the following question:

How do systems of privilege and oppression make themselves felt in your digital life?

You do not need to write a thesis-driven paper, and you should feel free to interpret both “systems of privilege and oppression” and “digital life” as broadly as you need to in order to account for what you discovered in your autoethnographic research.

Take this opportunity to think things through as you write, to explore ideas and they ways they can tangle together. Bear in mind that you will all be reading your classmates’ autoethnographies and discussing them in class on February 19.

• Write between 800 and 1200 words
• Include at least two images or screenshots
• Include at least two quotations from assigned readings (both can be from the same article if you like).
• Post your response to the class blog, using the category “Autoethnography.” The default setting is class-only though you may make it public if you wish.

Due Sunday February 17 at midnight.