Research as kinship
Cloud infrastructures are typically hard to study and we need imaginative and collective methods to trace the long tail of their effects and make them legible. In the work of TITiPI and in this workbook, creative practice and collective organising is vital to restructure both the way we research and how we understand infrastructural implications. In the conversations and workshops, we attended to our companions' proposals for socially and technically remaking or resisting infrastructures. These conversations and workshops attended carefully to the shapes that we make for research to happen within and we resisted (where we could) using extractive cloud infrastructure. Instead the conversations and workshops took place using a patchwork of otherwise-hosted Free, Open Source softwares. This publication for example was made with an implementation of wiki-to-pdf, allowing the workbook to be collaboratively edited and published without needing to use graphics cloud based software such as Adobe Creative Cloud. Within the institute we are committed to shaping research differently, and we have a sneaky feeling that the possibility of our imaginations of different institutes and infrastructures are interdependent on the infrastructures we use to communicate, write, make and do research. So many tools and infrastructures for research are extractive, damaging and harmful, how come we so often ignore this part of the relationality? As Femke once said: "these tools are so banal people can't even bear to think about how they are shaping their research." So we also try to practice radical care here, to attend to the infrastructures we use and their extractive forces.
In the research that led to this manual we combined creative practice, queer theory, historical materialism, critical computing, together with approaches from infrastructure studies to disclose the shifts and damages of cloud infrastructures. In a series of conversations, we documented stories and experiments of inventive ways to trace and disclose these effects.
One of our strong motivations was to connect people through the research conversations and workshops. We wanted to start the conversations by asking questions, but also inviting our collaborator's, companions and future instituters to intervene in each other's answers or to frame the discussion with each other. This is also how this workbook was written. The workbook itself was composed together with artists, technologists and activists, committed to non- extractivist research practices for and with refugees, anti-racist, trans* health and sex work, and our hope is that through the workbook you will also get to know these different groups and networks. To get to know the imaginative ideas, suggestions and experiences, if you will, of The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest, and for our companions.
The transcultural and differently situated conversations that fueled this research, inquired into and documented creative and grassroots approaches for counter cloud infrastructures that are being built, or will need to be built. They revealed the intricate ways in which power asymmetries by design necessitate us to shift our critical analysis from the received idea that the main problems with cloud infrastructures and digitalisation are centered around personal data, privacy and surveillance, to a much more complex perspective that takes the political economy and financialisation of institutions operations of cloud infrastructures into account. Here we share some of the crossings from these conversations which get taken up in different ways throughout this workbook.
Anita: What is missing in school is a discourse on algorithms, and the politics of the technical; there is no grounding of this in the everyday. It is admitted that tech questions are important but there is no concrete way to engage with it, it is not part of life. The researches that are happening on technology are always treating it as a topic: The Bot, The AI ... it is not part of normal life with technology. The workshops we are organising are grounded in choices we are living in, technologies we are using every day ... this is where connections are made.
Naomi: I think when it comes to anti-fascist politics, it's not actually just the infrastructure of the street that you're working to remove from fascist organising.
Arun: The question is how do we keep fighting for the near future? Black Lives Matter is quite a broad open space as a physical concept. The physical concept is very broad. It can mean, the thing that Google puts out saying, we support Black Lives Matter, or it can mean Ruth Gilmore's idea of abolition and ending racial capitalism. It's a massive spectrum. The question is, how do we create organisational infrastructure to make sure it's the second of those and not the first? That seems to be the problem across the board in terms of radical politics.
Seda: Now you know why we're called The Institute.
Seda: Nothing more, nothing less.
Arun: Thank you. There you go. I set it out for you nicely, right?
From survival to resistance in racial capitalism
Arun: For certain communities, just defending your own sociability relationship is itself political. Just to keep either alive and survive is itself political because you have a community politics history that is already there. So in keeping the community alive, you keep that politics alive.
Miryam: Obviously, also a very important theme is resistance. What forms of resistance have people managed to design or come up with or discover? As they say, need is the mother of invention, the father of invention, the grandmother of invention.
Seda: The cousin.
Miryam: The cousin. Everything. It's through needs. Working-class people, it's through need that they come up with. It's not some blueprint thing that some very smart organisation told them to think about making and developing. It's resistance is one of the themes as well. I think these are roughly the themes that we had thought of.
Nadia: Yes, radical care is a big question. In the group that I'm following of the families, I think for me the radical care is really in the WhatsApp group of the grandmothers who send each other. One of them sends the other mothers every morning a good morning and she says “bonjour les mamans” every morning and asks the mothers how they are doing. These are all people who haven't seen their children or grandchildren for more than eight years. Who don't know whether they will see them back, who have lost children and grandchildren also in many cases and the kind of daily hope basically of trying to keep hope alive.
Sometimes it comes up, sometimes it goes down, and then they started basic stuff like saying hi to each other every morning and then it's followed by hearts and emoticons and these kinds of things. Emoticons play a very important role in the WhatsApp group. I'm always impressed. It's very stupid but I'm always impressed by the tenacity of it.