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Handout: King, Digital Humanities Scholarship Panel addressing Emerging Technology and Womens Studies Scholarship, day 1

Womens Studies Summer Technology Institute, University of Maryland, 28 May 2014

Tangled thinkings: learn, think, play among materialities -- talk website:
Katie King, Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park / Email:; Home Page:

I use the word nepantla to theorize liminality and to talk about those who facilitate passages between worlds, whom Ive named
nepantleras. (Anzaldu 2002:1)
These are what I refer to as wizards: that is, they are both repositories of local knowledge about the social and technical situations,
and simultaneously, they know enough of more than one layer to perform rare cross-layering coordination. By definition, this work is
interdisciplinary. (Star 1995:107)
I guess Id locate my hope in being part of enough different worlds simultaneously. . . . Ive tried to model a way of being in this
kind of an organization that makes sense to me. It makes sense to me in the ways that its been formed by all these other worlds that
Im part of. (Suchman & Scharmer 1999)
"Differential consciousness requires grace, flexibility, and strength: enough strength to confidently commit to a well-defined
structure of identity for one hour, day, week, month, year; enough flexibility to self-consciously transform that identity according to
the requisites of another oppositional ideological tactic if readings of power's formation require it; enough grace to recognize alliance
with others committed to egalitarian social relations and race, gender, sex, class, and social justice, when these other readings of
power call for alternative oppositional stands." (Sandoval 2000:60)
People often cannot see what they take for granted until they encounter someone who does not take it for granted. (Bowker and
Star 1999:305)

TRANSCONTEXTUAL (Star & Ruhleder 1996:127 quote Bateson 1972:276; Bateson:272; Star 2010: 610)
phrases quoted from Bateson: "genesis of tangles," "the weave of contextual structure," and "transcontextual syndrome More
Bateson: It seems that both those whose life is enriched by transcontextual gifts and those who are impoverished by transcontextual
confusions are alike in one respect: for them there is always or often a double take. A falling leaf [or] the greeting of a friendis not
just that and nothing more.

Being inside and moved around literally by the very material and conceptual structures you are analyzing and writing about is a
kind of self-consciousness only partially available for explicit, or direct discussion
Under global academic restructuring we are obliged to network among all these lively agencies, as we look to see things as they
exist for others, in different degrees of resolution, of grain of detail.

BOUNDARY OBJECTS (Bowker & Star 1999: 297-8)
"Boundary objects are those objects that both inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of
each of them. Boundary objects are thus both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing
them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use and become strongly
structured in individual site use. These objects may be abstract or concrete.... Such objects have different meanings in different social
worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation
and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting communities.

Drawing on contemporary work in feminist science and technology research, we are working with an expanded notion of a learning
object to incorporate insights about boundary objects. This theoretical reframing asserts that the object participates in the
creation of meanings: of identity, or usefulness, of function, of possibilities. The concept of a boundary object was promoted by the
late Susan Leigh Starr (a prominent feminist scholar in science/technology studies) to assert that objects (material, digital, discursive,
conceptual) participate in the co-production of reality. At base, the notion asserts that objects perform important communication
work among people: they are defined enough to enable people to form common understandings, but weakly determined so that
participants can modify them to express emergent thinking.

Over time, people (often administrators or regulatory agencies) try to control the tacking back-and forth, and especially, to
standardize and make equivalent the ill-structured and well-structured aspects of the particular boundary object.
Star 2010:610: As I delved deeper into the relations between developers and users, it became clear that
a kind of communicative tangle was occurring. I used the work of Gregory Bateson, who had studied
these sorts of communicative mishaps under the heading of double binds. As with Batesons work on
schizophrenics, and what he called the trans-contextual syndrome, the messages that were coming at
level one from the systems developers were not being heard on that level by the users and vice versa.
What was obvious to one was a mystery to another. What was trivial to one was a barrier to another. Yet,
clarifying this was never easy. I began to see this as a problem of infrastructureand its relative

[different forms of materiality, gaps between formal representations and back-stage work] subtly influenced the development of
boundary objects in the sense of understanding local tailoring as a form of work that is invisible to the whole group and how a shared
representation may be quite vague and at the same time quite useful.

"We honestly believe that there are no positions that are epistemologically superior to any others. But I do at the same time argue with
and try to overthrow those I don't agree with! Relativism in this sense does not imply neutrality--rather, it implies forswearing claims
to absolute epistemological authority. This is quite different from abandoning moral commitments.

Boundary objects sometimes mediate among extensive and intensive feminist practices simultaneously. For example, Kathy Davis
(2008) calls intersectionality a buzzword, but thinking of it as a boundary object would more carefully allow us to consider both its
simultaneous intensive and extensive uses, allow us to pay attention to its INTENSIVE local tailorings in the plural as well as its
values as a shared representation across EXTENSIVE gatherings, reconciling divergent critiques and solutions to them.

The rigor of transcontextual feminist methods comes into play when we welcome peripheral participations (robust across sites)
as well as work for an exquisite sensitivity to each horizon of possible resources and infrastructures, local exigencies, and
differential memberships (plastic and local). Transcontextual feminisms as I have come to understand them, work to remain
curious, even about and in the midst the affects of affiliation and disidentification, scoping extensively and scaling intensively
among Ecologies of Knowledge.

(very) roughly 5000 years ago in (at least) two segmenting ecologies on our planet humans messed around with some cognitive
companions, each coordinating multiple agencies characteristically. In Mesopotamia tiny clay token sheep were enclosed in clay
envelopes with markings indicating what was inside. In the Andes strings were wrapped around sticks and attached to a main cord.
In the first case the favored sensory technology for making was molding and inscribing clay. Worlds set into motion from this sort of
making eventually sustain what some consider true writing: that is to say, writing that companions preferentially with language. In
the second case makings involved spinning plant and animal fiber and feeling, tying, and untying knots. Worlds set into motion there
eventually sustain a different sort of writing, one said to be without words (Boone 1994), instead preferentially coordinating
actions and practices directly as their very ecologies.

How do you entangle design, science, fact and fiction in order to create this practice called design fiction that, hopefully,
provides different, undisciplined ways of envisioning new kinds of environments, artifacts and practices.... Design Fiction is
making things that tell stories. Its like science-fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how
life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating bout the course of events; all of the unique
abilities of science-fiction to incite imagination-filling conversations about alternative futures. ...Its meant to encourage truly
undisciplined approaches to making and circulating culture by ignoring disciplines that have invested so much in erecting
boundaries between pragmatics and imagination. (Bleecker 2009)
SF scientifiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, speculative feminisms, science communication and fabulation, wormholes
& the plasticities of embedded realities ecological across systems and multiplicities, amid emergent self-organizing agencies

Some references [more online:]:
Anzalda, G. 2002. (Un)natural bridges. In eds. Anzalda, G. & Keating, A. this bridge we call home, pp. 1-5. Routledge.
Bateson, G. 1972. Double Bind, 1969. In Steps, 276, 272.
Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chandler.
Bleecker, J. 2009. Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction.
Boone, E. H., & Mignolo, W. (Eds.). 1994. Writing without words: alternative literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Duke.
Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. 1999. Sorting things out: classification and its consequences. MIT.
Davis, K. 2008. Intersectionality as buzzword. Feminist Theory, 9(1), 67-85.
King, K. 2001. "Productive agencies of feminist theory: the work it does." Feminist Theory 2/1: 94-98
Latour, B. 2004. How to Talk About the Body? the normative dimension of science studies. Body & Society 10/2-3 (June): 204-229.
Latour, B. 1993 [1991]. We have never been modern (C. Porter, Trans.). Harvard.
Salomon, F. 2001. How an Andean "Writing Without Words" Works. Current Anthropology, 42(1), 1-27.
Salomon, F. 2004. The cord keepers: khipus and cultural life in a Peruvian village. Duke.
Sandoval, C. 2000. Methodology of the oppressed. Minnesota.
Schmandt-Besserat, D. 1992. Before writing. Texas.
Star, S.L. & Ruhleder, K. 1996. Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure. Information Systems Research 7(1), 127.
Star, S.L. 2010. This is Not a Boundary Object. Science, Technology & Human Values, 35/5: 601-617.
Star, S.L., 1999. The Ethnography of Infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist (Nov/Dec) 43/3, 377-392.
Star, S.L., ed. 1995. Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and politics in science and technology. SUNY.
Suchman, L. & Scharmer, C.O. 1999. I have, more than ever, a sense of the immovability of these institutions.