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This talk presented 2/13 at Pecha Kucha Buffalo, Western New York Book Arts Center.

I am a game designer, theorist, and hacker. You might say that game design is my artistic practice. But I don’t really want to talk about games tonight, because I spend a lot of time talking about them in other venues. Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a more personal aspect of my practice, one which is based upon my complex set of social identities — compiled into a single identity that we might call cyborg identity. This is the first and foremost way in which I am a hacker.

We are all cyborgs in a Harawayan sense. We are amalgamations of complicated histories of violence, socialization, and the internalization of the oppression that surrounds us. In her 1989 “Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway writes about the ways in which feminism has failed women of color and women in the Global South. She neglects to mention the group which has been failed most violently by feminism, transgender people. Feminism has a nasty history of erasing transgender people: denying the humanity and womanhood of trans women, fetishizing and degendering trans men, and rejecting legitimacy of all people who queer gender. This is a topic for another talk entirely — what matters tonight is that Haraway is not trying to squeeze all non-men into a certain framework. She is trying to pull apart the tangle of identity.

The interesting thing about Haraway’s exclusion of transgender identities from her discussion of cyborgs is that we are perfect examples of cyborg praxis. By that I mean, we have bodies mediated in complex, meaningful ways by technology which, in many cases must be separated into component parts (and we are often examined as medical curiosities and rarely treated as holistic people); we have a preoccupation with the technologies of writing and language; and regardless of the complex gender identity we claim for ourselves, we represent an embodied experience of dissonance, language-play, Deleuzian multiplicity, and mediation. Trans people are living rejections of a dualism that separates the mind from the body: by virtue of our trans-ness, we refuse that there is any division at all.

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or, recovering at home.

On the car ride down from Montreal, Jordan talked a little about what he saw as the three main reasons people join a hackerspace. They are: learning, sharing resources, and community. I pointed out that these are good reasons for most people, but they’re needs that are fulfilled for me by DMS. Jordan paused and said, “then I’d argue that you already belong to a hackerspace, it’s just not called that.”

I don’t know. The one aspect that seems to exclude DMS from being considered a hackerspace is its obvious exclusivity. While there are exclusive hackerspaces, like NYC Resistor, which is invite-only, they don’t discriminate on the basis of technical ability. People who are interested in learning, sharing, and making are welcome in hackerspaces everywhere, whereas here, one must first prove one’s worth as a media maker before being accepted into the community.

That said, I don’t think that hackerspaces are as diametrically opposed to the academy as at first they might seem — or as some of their proponents might make them seem. I think that they are a venue for learning and education that falls outside the traditional boundaries of structured education, but who’s to say that all academic activity falls within those traditional boundaries?

One of the things that excites me the most about having visited a number of hackerspaces over the weekend was that their group teaching, group learning ethic resonated very strongly with me. Currently I’m working with some other graduate students from a variety of departments in putting together a reading and workshopping group for radical pedagogy, as well as an experimental academic journal. I’ve decided that I belong in the academy, but I also want to reform the academy. From a theoretical standpoint, I know what I want to see. I’m beginning to figure out what I want to see from a practical standpoint.

There are a few possible starting points I’ve been considering — one is adapting intergroup relations-style training and dialogue for the diversification and enrichment of hackerspaces; another is the development of open skill shares between people who are part of the University community and people who aren’t. The first leads to truly diverse groups at hackerspaces, an elevated critical consciousness, and perhaps an increased sense of social purpose. The second means that knowledge bases are never off limits due to any one person’s affiliations, as well as integrated community involvement between the University and its environs.

I guess the real question is where to start? There are points of contact already between DMS and the art/tech community in greater Buffalo, and there need to be better points of contact between hackerspaces and DMS. Maybe IGAP is a good vehicle for this. What do you think?

For the past couple days I’ve been traveling around with my friends Bilal, Jordan and Paul, who are working on the Two Hands Project — a documentary about hackerspaces across the U.S. and Canada. One conversation I’ve been having a lot is how to engender more diversity at hackerspaces. I think it’s interesting that a lot of the hackerspaces I’ve seen so far have been more diverse than the stereotype of a hacker might imply, but there is a lot of concern about including women and people of color. However, a lot of times when the folks at these spaces talk about diversity, they talk about diversity of background and skill sets, and balancing between men and women. But there’s a huge amount of other diversity that they might be missing — especially because gender diversity often just means parity between men and women, and nobody seems to want to talk about race, socioeconomic status, or queer diversity.

The remarkable thing is everyone we’ve met so far has been hugely nice. They’re very committed, energetic, smart, socially involved, and want to start a movement of people who are self-motivated autodidacts. I think that there’s a culture of being very welcoming and tolerant here, but maybe that’s the problem. There seems to be the assumption that because they’re welcoming and tolerant, diverse people will come to them. But I think that thinking is where the problem is, for several reasons. First, tolerance is not enough. Acceptance is essential. Second, because the majority of hackerspace members are white men, it’s less likely due to social segregation that they will have as much facetime with queer people, people of color, and people of different socioeconomic statuses. As a result, outreach is something that they need to start focusing on. Third, I think many people do like to think of themselves as progressive, and like to find a way to sweep their subconscious or socialized biases under the rug.

For starters, I think that the idea that tolerance is important is very limited. Tolerance means that we can live in the same community, but acceptance means that we embrace each other with open arms. Tolerance is a bare minimum, but we’re at a point that we should demand acceptance of diverse people and points of view. Acceptance means that all are welcome, not just afforded.

We also tend to deny the fact that we do self-segregate. I know a lot of extraordinarily committed, nerdy, creative people of color and queer folk. I think that not all of them would immediately think that a hackerspace is somewhere they can do work and find community, and part of that is the fact that the community seems very homogeneous at first blush. Self-segregation means that the word-of-mouth recruiting that hackerspaces employ is limited to similar people. It does, whether we like it or not, perpetuate certain social divides. So, it’s imperative that we start thinking about other ways to recruit.

Finally, I think that everyone I’ve met is amazingly kind, generous, thoughtful, creative, and smart. But, like most people, they don’t necessarily like confronting things like their social privilege or ways we can deal as a group with the oppression others experience. As people who care about the communities we live in, we don’t like thinking about situations where others in our communities are not our equals, or that the systems that keep us apart are also socialized into us, personally. Encountering that within ourselves is important to making social progress but it’s hard. It’s painful. We tend to avoid it unless we’re forced to confront it.

I’m thinking about ways in which we can solve these problems without tokenizing the members of hackerspace communities who are minorities of some kind; I’m wondering what role I can have in supporting potential allies in hackerspaces in my region. I’m thinking about how we can work together to make hackerspaces into microcosms of the way the world should work. Because of the nature of hacker communities, I think there’s a huge potential there to model truly diverse communities working together for sustainability, education, and social action.

What kinds of ideas do you have for hacker communities? What kinds of support systems do you think should be in place?

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