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Category Archives: Hunter’s section

Before coming to Brown, I lacked interest in politics or any topic relevant to that area; I was not aware of current events or social issues that were not directly pertaining to my own life. However, with exposure to social activism on campus, I have come to realize the importance of such movements and protests. It is crucial that the voice of the minority is heard by the governing body, whether the problem lies in race, sexuality, or immigration. As Beltran explores in his piece “Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic,” digital media has been extremely helpful in this process of making people’s voice heard. Granted, it takes a lot of courage to speak up, online or offline, but the Internet undoubtedly provides a platform that is easily accessible by both the speaker and the public listeners. As a part of the “young generation” that is exposed to and is an avid user of social media, I have witnessed the power of these platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, in such matters. Even the student protests at Brown University, such as Act4RJ – #moneytalksatbrown, a movement that supports survivors of sexual violence, would not have been so successful without communication online through Facebook events and pages. Consider my current experience: excerpts of the well-written statements from DREAMers, such as Georgina Perez, Viridiana Martinez, and Carlos Roa, in the article are very emotionally touching to me, and these people’s influential words would not have reached me, an audience member, without the help of new media and the Internet.

One surprising point I found from this reading was that these typically lower class, undocumented youth seems to have access to the Internet (“nearly 95 percent of all youth across racial and ethnic groups”). It opened up a new perspective on how these devices and networks are prominent in the world and therefore powerful. On the other hand, I also question these claims: could it be the case that the individuals without access to the Internet are simply unable to report to researchers about their situation because of given circumstances?

Rafael Vicente’s paper on the effects of phones, and specifically cell phones, on a Filipino demographic take an investigative look at how effectual the introduction of a new piece of technology can be on a group of people.  Vicente describes the waves that the technology brings as truly revolutionary.  The nature of communication is changed down to its very fundamental nature.  Dimensions such as anonymity, distance, and expediency are all layered into what is normally a human activity.  However, while this communication revolution had the positive impact of restoring hope to a distraught public of individuals, its harms are seen in various manifestations.  Specifically, Vicente cites:

” For the anthropologist, this is evident in young people’s gullibility for the marketing ploys of cell phone providers: they end up spending more money sending messages of little or no consequence. He further charges cell phones with leading to “anti-social” behavior: children “retreat to their own cocoons,” while the parents who give them the cell phones evade responsibility for “interacting” with them in any meaningful way. Other writers report students’ use of texting to cheat on exams, or the role of cell phones in spreading slanderous rumors and gossip that may ruin someone’s reputation”

The problems presented here are a result of the power of communication being taken too far.  We see such unfortunate mishaps even more frequently and severely represented in our current society.  Gaming applications like Flappy Bird and Fruit Ninja frequently take individuals away from other stimulating activities, devices like iWatches allow students to cheat on their exams more efficiently, and parents and children alike opt to communicate remotely with others instead of each other when sharing the same company.  None of these phenomena were allowed to occur, however, when telecommunication was restricted to just land lines.  Furthermore, individuals were forced to remember phone numbers instead of storing them in contact lists, equipping them with that knowledge so that they could dial their contacts on another’s phone when they lost their own.  Individuals even needed to learn skills like deciphering physical maps instead of depending on GPS navigation.  Ultimately, Vicente’s investigation proves that the introduction of a powerful technology can certainly provide an increase in quality of life and efficiency for many.  The real question is where the increase in efficiency levels off and starts to see negative results as the result of distracting overstimulation.

When first reading the cyber-testimonios I was curious as to who the intended audience of the videos might be. Who were the DREAMers speaking to when they created these videos? The testimony of Georgina Perez addresses “my ally, my friend, my fellow undocumented student” at the end of her video and to stand with her. I guess upon first read I had equated the audience to only being other undocumented folks but I see now how the call for friends and allies broadens the reach. But why “undocumented student”? What is it about being a student that legitimizes their cause– or does it intensify their innocence? Similar to primary education where we don’t have much of a say whether or not we can go, Georgina was brought into the country without a say either, so I can see a utility of being a student perhaps supporting the innocence argument, but I have to say it gets much trickier when student is equated to being a good citizen. If anything that makes me thing back to the disciplinary societies and how the very reason a “student” would be a model citizen is because it leads to an accounted for person, following a prescribed curriculum, meeting state standards for test scores, and being funneled into the corporations of the discipliners. I think that it is very important that the DREAMers are dreaming out loud, because you never know who can help make your dreams come true — but it also makes me sad because as fast as things can spread on the internet, it can also be a very quiet place without much momentum backing its viral strikes. And it makes me realize how undemocratic the political system is. No petitions, demonstrations, or community websites will change the mind of those that get to make the decisions. Everyones dreams should be supported and families united.

Beltrán argues that undocumented activists who “come out” as such are “queering” immigration politics — their presence serves to transgress its predefined categories and, in doing so, destabilize their normative authority:

“Understood in the context of traditional logics of sovereignty and kinship, queering the politics of immigration means opening up new possibilities to imagine political membership and political claim making. By refusing the politics of innocence, questioning the state-centered logics of citizenship, and reconfiguring the criteria for political membership, DREAMers are queering the movement in ways that can’t be ‘delimited in advance.'” (88)

But lest we misunderstand this queering as a political panacea, Beltrán explains that it is not “always and only productively transgressive.” Instead, the “proliferation” of “normativities” “amid the complex and contradictory ways in which queer subjects relate to nation-states” can lead to a certain formulation of imperial American exceptionalism that Puar calls “homonationalism”:

“The very concept of ‘being out’ as undocumented is capable of challenging the logic of sovereignty while shoring up notions of American exceptionalism … ‘the emergence of national homosexuality . . . that corresponds with the coming out of the exceptionalism of American empire.’ By considering the unexpectedly ‘convivial relations between queerness and militarism,’ the logic of homonationalism serves to mark “the distance between barbarism and civilization.'” (88)

This queering problematizes some oppositions (e.g., the undocumented vs. the citizen) while supporting other questionable ones (e.g. the barbarian vs. the civilian, or the “good immigrant” (an academically achieving, militaristic, neoliberal rational actor) vs. the “bad immigrant” (perhaps criminal, perhaps anti-capitalist, perhaps less patriotic and more skeptical of American exceptionalism)).

Although I didn’t find Rancière’s discussion of democracy (and what it might mean) particularly accessible, he is invested in the role of marginalized identities in democratic government. To him, there is no “other” outside of democracy (as Derrida would have us believe) whose inclusion might come in the future: “democracy is this principle of otherness,” of heterogeneity. “This is what the democratic process entails,” writes Rancière: “creating forms of subjectivation in the interval between two identities: creating cases of universality by playing on the double relation between the universal and the particular.” (57).

Both writers are concerned here with the creation of democratic political subjects and the “proliferation of normativities” that happens when they are created. I haven’t done a lot more here than identify where I think these two essays intersect in their discussions of democracy … partially because I’m not sure where this argument leads. Does Rancière’s claim that democracy presupposes inclusion of the other mean that the “queering” of immigration politics, though seemingly transgressive, is actually fundamentally democratic? (And does that change anything?)

The notion of democracy highlighted by Jacques Ranciere is a compelling one. He argues,

…‘good democracy’ refers to a form of government able to tame the double excess of physical commitment and egotistical behavior inherent to the essence of everyday life. (47)

As he explains, there is an inherent tension between the implications of democracy for the individual and for the government, which leads to his conceptualization that,

…democracy is neither a form of government nor a form of social life. Democracy is the institution of politics as such, of politics as a paradox. (50)

The individual is implored to act in his/her best interests, being the economic rational actor required for the free market to function. At the same time, though, the institutions of the state must be able to control or manipulate (to an extent) the actions of its citizens or else the entire system breaks down.

Wikipedia is the embodiment of this notion of democracy. Users are hybrid consumer-producers (as they are in markets), and they are invited to edit pages at their own will. However, there is a protocol in place that restrains the user’s impact on the site. Edits are captured and saved in a publicly-visible log, enabling any edit to be quickly undone by any other user. There is also an explicitly stated list of what can be considered Wikipedia content. Important among these is that the content on Wikipedia be “neutral, unbiased”, the definition of which is laid out in a (notably uneditable) document which has the illusion of being another general Wikipedia article but is notably not editable. Thus the hybrid protocol/crowdsourced policing of Wikipedia is the factor which “tame[s]” (to borrow Ranciere’s words) the individuals’ urges. Further more, while the occasional vandalism (protest?) occurs on Wikipedia, facts are corrected with greater and greater speed.

But it is this notion of crowdsourced, protocol-based management of content that gives Wikipedia its authority. Indeed, it is easy to see that Wikipedia is more democratic than traditional encyclopaedia, which provide a single, static source of information. Untrusted at its inception, Wikipedia’s policing of its content and relentless requirement for citation have made it rather trusted, especially among younger generations.

Ranciere’s characterization of the tension inherent in democracy seems to paint it as problematic or at least unsustainable, but perhaps this push and pull can be beneficial. The tension requires that each side keep the other in line and establishes an understanding of the relationship between individual and institution.

In response to Lakshmi’s lecture and Beltrán’s writings, I find a particular trend worth investigating. In one of the videos that Lakshmi played for the class, a campaign advocating for immigration reform called upon Americans to “come out” with their open support for new legislation. The noteworthy premise of this advertisement, however, was that it made a plea for individuals to post their selfies publicly to show their support; to render themselves visible for the cause. This complicates some of the theories previously brought up in the classroom. In a postmodern digital age of traceability, where individuals can be known and participation in media is forcing exposure, it is peculiar that there still remains a contrast between a petition of names and a collection of photos.

It is implied that if these people take pictures of themselves and post them in support of the cause, it will have more meaning than their willing signature. Perhaps you could go as far as to say that lesser quantity of pictures would still have a greater impact than a higher quantity of names. Why is that? The role of the window and the navigation of public and private are at play here. At this point in society, interaction with media does not seem to allow privacy, due to the ever-present potential of being observed, tracked, and recorded. Yet, the perceived volition of disbanding one’s own privacy, to reveal themselves and come out is still considered to be a stoic, dramatic act. This signals to me that we are still operating off of a misguided gauge of freedom. Psychologically, the society feels they are actively effecting change by voluntarily making themselves visible and public, but to the government, they very well may have been this whole time. Therefore, will Americans’ actions really make a difference? Are their campaigns really making the shocking, overwhelming statement to Congress as they are hoping? I am weary that the answer is no, and no petition with or without pictures is going to change the government’s opinions, for it is information they already have access to.

I was intrigued by Beltran’s essay this week as it reminded me of a few things. First of all, I went to the only school among a circle of elite private schools in Atlanta (and I’m assuming therefore Georgia) that accepted undocumented immigrants. My school was the liberal, “hippy” school and even had a club called Student Dreamers and Allies, in which students “outed” themselves as undocumented described in the paper, and even went on to do so at rallies and in interviews. I always thought this concept was really interesting: that the status of these people was technically illegal but they were taking control of it and making it their own. When reading this paper, I made the connection between the idea of “queering” democracy and immigration to the idea of “queering feminism” I have encountered in my Intro to Gender and Sexuality Studies class. This concept was explained to me as women taking control of the word feminism and reinterpreting it so as to empower themselves, just as homosexuals have done with the word “queer”. It’s interesting to think that this may be what my classmates were doing by proclaiming their undocumented status and using it as a source of empowerment and a jumping off point for activism. I also think the use of social media in this movement is really interesting, because it projects something that is technically illegal to even more people and owns the ridiculous lawlessness of it. Social media seems like it would be a really important contributor to queering movements as the more people that agree to take over the meaning of a word or concept and reinterpret it the stronger the new meaning becomes, and we all know the best way to reach the masses is through social media.

During the lecture on Monday, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but there was a slide with an image with quotes from DREAMers, and one of them quotes Audre Lorde saying “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”  I’m pretty sure that the quotes were from LGBT DREAMers, but that could be wrong.

In Beltran’s paper, she discusses the politics of ‘coming out’ with regards to the DREAM Act and how they are trying to emulate LGBT rights.  Beltran specifically mentions the “Coming Out of the Shadows” campaigns that was “explicitly modeled after on National Coming Out Day.”  The main point she is addressing is the rejection of secrecy, and the desire to become speakable.

I think it might be interesting to consider these linkages from the standpoint of Baudrillard’s discussion of Simulacra and Simulation.  Baudrillard mostly discussed these topics with regards to symbols and signs, and how the simulate ‘reality.’  He then talks about how these symbols construct a perceived reality until the reality is no longer recognizable.  To what extent is this DREAM act emulation of the LGBT rights movement creating a malleable reality where we no longer know what rights we are fighting for?

To go back to the quote from the DREAMer quoting Lorde, it seems like it might be easy to play devil’s advocate and say that with social causes, it’s easy to just take a social problem that people case about, and latch your new problems onto that.  This way the traction from the one cause is used to help the new cause, and make them seem like a package deal, picking up support from people who otherwise may not have supported the cause.  This may seem morally questionable to some people.  However, you could also say that other issues are just as important, and utilizing the popularity of an existing movement to raise awareness for another is a completely legitimate method for getting the word out, and if it works, there is no reason not to do it.

In Lab today, I was prepared to learn the technological eccentricities of creating and organizing content on Wikipedia. As I have already decided to accept the Wikipedia assignment, I knew that an application of Terranova’s concept of Free Labor would be blatantly obvious. However, I was struck at not only the amount of ‘labor’ needed to post on Wikipedia, but the amount of labor needed to learn how to post on Wikipedia. It’s not enough to just have knowledge of a particular topic to post about, but to know how to post it correctly. If I make an incorrectly formatted edit, the site itself will not stop me, but the users of the site will. Before posting, there are ‘how-to’ articles to read and formatting codes to analyze on Wikipedia’s ‘cheat-sheet.’ It’s difficult to shake the feeling of being stuck in a “Wiki-opticon,” knowing that any user, from as close as Brown’s campus to half-way across the world, could be watching me and ready to point out my error. Posting on Wikipedia is much like any other job.

For example, if I begin work offline in the real-world at a Media Company, I can have extensive prior experience in Media (from this very class, for instance), but nothing will prepare me for the “culture” of the work environment except actually working in the environment. I’m now starting work at the company called “Wikipedia,” but there’s a big difference – I’m not being paid. This isn’t a game with labor designed for entertainment, like World of Warcraft, so why am I expected to return and contribute? What is my compensation? I expect to explore these and other questions next week in my assignment.

I have been thinking about holograms lately. Projection technology itself is not necessarily new (the Bat-Signal, anyone?), but their recent proliferation in the realm of protest have profound implications for how we imagine resistance. Projection technology creates another layer for “protection through collective action” (83), where an individual is not only difficult to recognize in a crowd but is also not physically present. Of course, this does not necessarily prevent policing through forms of digital surveillance, but it can certainly hinder physical violence.

If we think of queering as it is described in Beltran’s essay as “opening up new possibilities to imagine political membership and political claim making” (88), then holograms appear to be digitally queering protest. But as Beltran also describes, one should not assume “that queerness is always and only productively transgressive” (88).

This brings me to the differences between the Edward Snowden hologram and the UndocuQueer activists in particular. Each of these acts of resistance concerns “coming out” in different ways. As we discussed last week, Snowden “came out” as the NSA whistleblower and has since become a national figure representing the fight against national and global surveillance. But the “coming out” of queer, undocumented immigrants concerns the intersection of these identities, not just the revelation of one’s name occupation and political motivations. They are criminalized by the state in a different way than Snowden, who may never be able to return to the United States but is still regarded as American (and on another level, a normative, heterosexual, cisgender American). Visibility granted him celebrity status in a way that is not afforded to UndocuQueer immigrants. Or Chelsea Manning, the notorious whistleblower before him, for that matter.

Given this rhetoric, it feels as if Snowden embodies the homonationalism that Beltran addresses — revealing one’s identity and becoming nationally representative of dissent (unawareness of Snowden from that John Oliver segment notwithstanding). Holographic resistance is possibly queer, digitally possible and vital to protest, but the visibility it affords its participating transgressors and the contrast with other groups adopting digital resistance reveals concerning normativities.