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Towards a Relational View of Digital Sovereignty
Essay on theorizing sovereignty and digitality as necessarily situated and partial constructions
by Lauren Bridges
Does digitality complicate notions of sovereignty? Or does it present a crack in historical conceptions of sovereignty and citizenship? Does data have dominion over us? Under us? Through us? Or have these conceptions always been troubled by feminist, critical race, and decolonial perspectives which throw into chaos any normative claim to citizenship?
Rather than viewing sovereignty as a fixed category that has been disrupted by digital reformations, how can we move towards an understanding of digital sovereignty as situated, partial, relational and always in a process of becoming? Techno-feminists argue for the radical potential in abandoning the desire for ownership or dominion over the digital and instead they advocate the need to focus on our relationship to the digital and seeing our bodies, lives, subjectivities, as always entangled with an ongoing, unfinished, process of digital formation. In this way, the digital affords us a chance to challenge fixed notions, as a way to think through classification systems that have been used as tools of exclusion and oppression.
Reconfiguring historically flawed concepts of citizenship and sovereignty requires a reimagining of “the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations... This is the self feminists must code”. This coding is both a material and semiotic. It is the project of rewriting algorithms and digital standards with a feminist, intersectional, antiracist, and decolonial agenda and to encode digital systems with an alternate cyberfeminist imaginary. This is a process not just of material construction, but a reimagining of technologies that serve us.
Part of this work can be found in the project of feminist servers, which offer both a technical alternative to storing and serving data and applications and an alternate imaginary for digital practices that attend to feminist politics. Feminist servers seek out an alternate narrative based on repair, care, maintenance, equity, and ecological sustainability. Through these alternate imaginaries, one may be able to subvert the dominant systems and open up alternate paths for technological design, policy-making, and political action.
Critical Digital Scholar, Wendy Chun (2006), argues that “we must explore the democratic potential of communications technologies – a potential that stems from our vulnerabilities rather than our control. And we must face and seize freedom with determination rather than fear and alibis.” Techno-feminist activists recognize that it is precisely from these vulnerabilities that emancipatory projects must be conceived. In abandoning desire for dividuated sovereignty over the digital, feminist servers seek strength in vulnerability, to create community-led digital infrastructure projects that reflect the needs of their communities. Feminist servers recognize that technology is gendered, raced, classed, and entangled in long histories of oppression and control. Rather than viewing technology as a finished tool to be applied to complex societal problems, feminist servers offer a radical reimagining of technology as relational, ongoing and unfinished, embodied and situation, and always attending to partial perspectives.
Learn more about feminist servers:
- Feminist Server Summit: Feminist Perspectives on Servers
- Anarchaserver founded in 2014 by members of post-capitalist, eco-industrial colony, Calafou and THF!. Focuses on leaving/dead/transitional/zombie data.
- Kefir.red feminist cooperative of free technologies for activists, human rights defenders, journalists, social organizations, collectives and artists
- Systerserver founded in 2002, systerserver focuses on hosting free online services and supports trans-feminists learning how to become system administrators
- Vedetas feminist server launched by feminist hackerspace, Marialab, based in Brazil.
- 1984 feminist server based in Iceland
- Diebin feminist server based in Vienna
- Tactical Tech: Gender and Tech
- Rise Up: Radical Servers list of other "radical" servers around the world
- Global Information Society Watch 2015: Feminist Autonomous Infrastructures