This is the first post in our ongoing series Strategies for Unsettling Technology Research. The series aims to unsettle existing research practices by centering Indigenous, Asian, and Black feminist perspectives and unpacking technology’s myriad relationships to the historical, unfinished, and everyday effects of empire.
Illustration by Alexandra Mateescu
01. WHY CITE?
Citation is a way of showing who you are and where you are going. It sounds simple, but it goes wrong all the time. People, even feminist scholars of color, get caught up in lineage and originality. We want to be in good company but tend to get stuck on thinkers who others have already designated as important: (mostly) dead white men.
We want people to know we’ve got something to say, so we conveniently forget all the others who co-created our ideas: (mostly) Black and Brown women and people who don’t have formal credentials (like the people we interview).
This problem of lineage (the wrong kind) and originality (acting AS IF we stand alone) is compounded in tech worlds. Sometimes, even we believe that white people invented technology.
So, why cite at all given these problems?
First, it’s important to cite to avoid the erasure of our existence and our knowledge as Black and Brown people. Second, citation does not have to be a means of reinforcing privilege. It can be a way to spread SHINE.
We define SHINE as a tactic to counter our erasure by acknowledging one another and unsettling who is considered an expert. By spreading SHINE we build distributed networks and reinforce community through mutual aid.
As public interest technologist, Mutale Nkonde always says, “We are not the stars, we are the Sky.” And the sky contains multitudes.
02. BE A BADASS FEMINIST
Derrida, Foucault, even Donna Haraway do not need any more citations. If you HAVE to cite them just to get your foot in the door, put them in the footnotes. Or just put them in parentheses at the end of a sentence. Save those in-sentence mentions for the people you want to SHINE on. These can be writers. They can also be people you interviewed. It is powerful to recognize that the people we usually think of as ‘research subjects’ are theorists in their own right.
Professor Jasmine McNealy points this out all the time. She uses the work of Mariolga Reyes Cruz as an example. Reyes Cruz asks in the title of one of her articles, “What if I just Cite Graciela?” Graciela is what some might call a “research subject” but Reyes Cruz knows Graciela is an expert.
Recognize that we are all subjects of hegemony.
Recognize that your work is co-created.
Recognize that women of color, Dalit and Bahujan writers, Queer thinkers of color, disabled/crip scholars, non-U.S. based scholars, LGBTQIA+ thinkers hold expertise precisely because of the way they have been historically positioned at the intersection of many different kinds of power relations. Recognize that we are all subjects of hegemony — just when we think we’ve reached peak woke, we are more than likely to be forgetting someone. Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, and Rúben Gaztambide-Fernández have made a Citation Practice Challenge on tumblr to help us remember.
So, make it a habit to do a ‘badass feminist tech scholar of color’ scan on everything you write, every speech you are about to give, and all those emails you are about to answer. Ask yourself, for each topic you present, each yes or no you give to a request, where are the women of color? Who can I suggest who would be a better person than me to be the expert here? Who do I want to be in community with?
03. UNSETTLE EXPERTISE
Are you a tech feminist scholar of color? You are not alone. Sareeta Amrute has collected stories of preeminent experts in their fields whose work has been ignored, of graduate students whose work has been stolen by their advisors, of ‘research subjects’ who are never asked what they think or even if they think this research is worth doing, of mentors who give hours to students and colleagues only to find their expertise is never referred to in that student’s or colleague’s research, of non-U.S. based scholars whose entire existence appears unknown to the so-called center.
So, what to do about it?
There are ways to SHINE without reproducing the systems that exclude us. Center yourself and those you know. Feel your own expertise. CITE YOURSELF. When you review another’s work and you find your knowledge absent, make sure it is included. If you feel uncomfortable doing this for yourself, ask someone else to do it — an editor, a trusted colleague, an ally.
But, don’t only go about citing yourself. Practice SHINE as a way to extend your networks, distribute resources, affirmation and praise. Sharing prestige is more radical than hoarding it.
If you are invited to a conference, asked to speak, asked to write an op-ed, see who else you can ask them to invite. If you can’t make it, suggest the names of other tech feminist scholars of color who might. Cite your students, cite your colleagues, cite those whom others would call your ‘research subjects.’
Make a list, keep the names handy. Knowing that we can all fall back into reproducing old power relations, keep adding to that growing list.
Jessie Daniels offers this simple piece of advice: decide author order before agreeing to do a publication. Old power relations will always want to erase and demote the less famous, the less male, and the less white. Try to remember that and act accordingly.
Rigoberto Lara Guzmán is a xicanx producer, artist, and organizer. His work attends to the interaction of humans, objects, and the lived environment to explore coded knowledge systems and emergent ecologies. He designs experiences that facilitate situated learning and is currently unsettling socio-technical worlds at
Sareeta Amrute is the Director of Research at Data & Society and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research is focused on the integration of humans and technologies, with special emphasis on the raced, classed, and gendered implications of those relationships.
Alexandra Mateescu is a researcher in the Social Instabilities in Labor Futures initiative at Data & Society, where she has worked on issues around gender, surveillance, automation, and labor platforms. She also enjoys bringing art into many of the works and ideas she encounters.