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Feminist Infrastructures - Inhabiting affective infrastructures: How not to scale a feminist video platform

Published onAug 21, 2023
Feminist Infrastructures - Inhabiting affective infrastructures: How not to scale a feminist video platform

'We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it's never a question of 'critical mass'. It's always about critical connections.'

- Grace Lee Boggs

The following essay is concerned with practices of weaving feminist networks of solidarity and care1 in the age of hybrid on- and offline world making.2 More specifically, it investigates questions that accompany the continuation of a feminist video platform project which has started in 2021. The idea for an affective space for sharing and streaming videos away from centralized platforms emerged from the closely knit contact of our three feminist servers: Anarchaserver, Systerserver and Leverburns.3 While each of these servers - virtual or bare metal machines -  explores different sets of online tools and learning environments, they all form part of a wider ecosystem of technofeminists, admins and allies, mostly across Europe and Latin America, which stays in touch via mailing lists, meeting up during events such as the Ecclectic Tech Carnival or the TransHackFeminist Convergence. The essay is situated in the specific experiences of the sysadmins of the servers at hand and our emerging relations with those who inhabit them in the various roles of data bodies, guardians, fire extinguishers, interfaces and scribas.4 It subverts normative expectations around growth and scalability while reflecting on the notion of inhabiting affective infrastructures and questions of how (not) to relate, to form alliances and/or to take up and make space for queer, female and non-binary identified people in the cis-male dominated sectors of technology, politics and arts.

To us, a feminist server is an emancipating space, where we develop and share our technical skills and care for our bodies, machines and tools through ongoing and fluid processes. Instead of thinking in terms of a purely technical architecture, in this context a server becomes an affective infrastructure organizing the relations that form around it.5 Like all technologies, servers are not neutral as they generally propose a hierarchical relation between 'privileged' admins and servers in charge of providing services on the one hand and clients and 'non-expert' users on the other hand. Furthermore the concept of a 'service' disguises invisible (and often feminized and racialized care) labor as well as environmental damage and imposes relations of abstract commercial exchange. Feminist servers by contrast not only set out to queering binary gendered or other violent and oppressive vocabularies relating to technologies but also to the production of horizontal peer relations6 by imagining alternative roles of responsibilities and care-based approaches to technologies. Looking at feminist servers as cyborg protheses [human-machine entanglements], we understand them as "oppositional, utopian,and completely without innocence".7 Part of and connecting to the Internet, a network of networks with several million servers and billions of users, feminist servers are navigating the patriarchal, capitalist and colonial technologies of control, exploitation and surveillance. It is within this reality that they propose carefully making choices of certain interdependences while rejecting others.8

The affective infrastructure set up through and alongside our servers is precarious and volunteer-based, with sysadmin contribution depending on our availability and capacity. For the longest time the expenses for material and maintenance were covered through income from events, donations and from the members' own financial contributions. This changed when we decided to seek out funding for the realization of a feminist video streaming platform in 2021. Awarded with the "A Fair New Idea" (AFNI) grant, we started to install, configure and customize a self-hosted instance of the free and open source peertube software. Peertube forms part of a bigger environment of federated social media called the ‘Fediverse’. It is maintained by the French Framasoft initiative and it’s freely available for installation and configuration. To make it habitable and suited to our needs and desires we conducted a "digital maquillage" workshop to create a more queerfriendly interface,9 and defined a set of shared guidelines and terms of use.10 With our platform11 the feminist servers opened their affective infrastructure to seek out critical connections with other feminists and collectives by organizing an open call for artistic online residencies. During these residencies, we entered in exchange with the technopolitical desires and needs of different modes of inhabitating our feminist video platform. Together with the video practitioners of Broken House,12 a community tool for a sexpositive collective, we realized an unlisted and invite-only 24-hours streaming event. Another residency with the design research collective for disability justice, MELT13 ended up including sign language alongside different sets of subtitulation in their videos. Trust and openness regarding resonating political projectories, close communication as well as a shared language and attitude towards intersectional matters of accessiblities and vulnerabilities made space for the realization of different artistic visions. The collaborations also produced points of tension regarding the aspirations to trans and disability justice in relation to server accessibility - not only from a technical perspective, but also in terms of bodies' needs and rights.

After the funded period of the AFNI project, questions regarding the continuation of the platform and its maintenance as well as longterm availability were at stake. While the response from our communities was positive throughout, keeping the platform up to date seemed like a self-exploitative and unsustainable scenario. Thus instead of taking up more and more responsibility as  a 'single point of service' and adopting the naturalized logic of 'scaling it up', we decided to explore different paths which led to a new project: 360 degrees of proximities. Through the financial support of Stimulerings Fonds, starting out 2023, this project centers around the idea to empower other feminist and queer communities around us to host their own feminist video platforms. It entails processes of collective learning and knowledge transmission which aim to  accommodate a network of small scale nodes (peertube instances), who eventually become interconnected affective infrastructures in themselves. This practice of feminist networking intersects with the principle of federation, which is common in the realm of FLOSS [Free/Libre Open Source Software] communities. Federation is a concept that derives from a political theory of networks in which power, resources and responsibilities are shared between all actors thus circumventing the centralization of authority.14 But in spite of a power-distributing approach, the reality of FOSS communities tends to be cis-male dominated, oftentimes enabling illusions of meritocracy and excluding others by gating technical know-how and expertise. This goes diametrical to our understanding of feminist technologies and the building of networks of trust and solidarity. Using our privileges to the empowerment of others and valuing the importance of both online as well as physical meetings we therefore pursue a feminist approach to the concept of federation: The building of networks of solidarity and trust.

Based on and firmly situated within our feminist servers, we hope that our feminist video platform continues to support us and our communities as an affective infrastructure as we keep on carefully choosing what kinds of relations and alliances we’d like to strengthen.

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