In May 2016, a Western media outlet echoed recent research warnings that the lives of girls and women, particularly in non-Western countries, are often missing from official statistics. In the article, David McNair, director of transparency and accountability at an international Africa-centered nonprofit advocacy organization, explained that we have a sexist data crisis because “women and girls are disproportionately left out of data collection. They are uncounted, therefore they don't matter.”1
The situation is not necessarily different for data about girls and women in Western countries. At the Archives Matter Conference held at Goldsmiths University of London in June 2016, the feminist scholar Sara Ahmed discussed the absence of data on sexual assault at UK universities, the confidentiality clause responsible, and the violence, lack of accountability, and institutional failures that this missing data represents. At that time, she had just resigned from her university post as director of the Centre for Feminist Research. Ahmed used social media and microblogging channels to be vocal about the reasons for her resignation: the institution's constant failure to deal with the problem of sexual harassment. Her blog post “Resignation Is a Feminist Issue” soon went viral, creating a newfound awareness of the importance of data in measuring women's and girls’ problems.2
Thanks to the Internet, the archive got that “sense of artistry” needed to reach Friedrich Nietzsche's solution to The Use and Abuse of History: the rebuilding of history by means of new creative practices in online environments.3 Creative archives are often associated with user-generated content, created using tools available from microblogging sites and social media platforms—listicles, hashtags, playlists, et cetera. But not only does the idea of the creative archive frame how remix and mash-up cultures employ social media to produce new meaning, it also brings about new archival practices that can challenge traditional, gendered, and colonial assumptions of what constitutes, and who validates, knowledge. Today users are constantly sharing documents across a wide variety of social media platforms, creating an endless stream of data.4 To help make sense of that data, new archival phenomena and practices have begun to emerge, creating a new data ecology.
In terms of gathering and presentation, my project Retrieving from My Digital Body: A Map of Abuse and Solidarity dialogues with the idea of the “warm database” introduced by the artists Ghani and Ganesh in their installation How Do You See the Disappeared? (ongoing since 2004). The artists treat the concept of warm data as “exist[ing] in contradistinction to the ‘cold data’ gathered in official government questioning of immigrants.” That is, “to scale the political back to the personal, the abstract to the specific, and the foreign to the familiar.”5 My priority has been to give the data specificity and humanity, and to explore the possibilities of the personal archive by reflecting and giving force to the “data” that helps constitute my personal social network. Here the network performs as a highly functional recommendation algorithm that allows me to find, read, and save data that is relevant to my activism and my research. The archive has several purposes: to give access to women-centered knowledge and experiences, to problematize the current sexist and racist data crisis, and to explore new tools for knowledge discoverability in creative archives from a feminist standpoint.
Through an appropriation of Marshall McLuhan's approach to the media interface as an extension of the body, and Paul B. Preciado's line of thought on the body as an archive of experiences, I propose the idea of “the experience as document,” resulting from the user's interaction in and with creative archives.6 Sara Ahmed turned her resignation experience into a shareable document. Philando Castile's wife turned the death of her husband into a live shareable document, forcing an urgent and honest conversation about police brutality in the United States.7 By practicing the collective display of our experiences, we are making it possible for the creative archive to become “the body politic.” But how do we meaningfully retrieve from there?
The conceptual apparatus for Preciado's body archive builds on an intersection of theoretical assumptions to help rethink different historical modes of oppression and domination and their possible breaking points. Preciado analyzes how the relation between body, power, and truth has been transformed throughout history from the assumption that it is urgent to think about underprivileged communities as somatopolitical protest movements. It may be interesting to observe from a Foucauldian power-knowledge perspective under what circumstances the same action—“to display”—may lead to user oppression or user empowerment as a result of a series of design choices and the nature of the relations and interactions in the archive.8
Drawing from auto-ethnographic practices in online environments, I am coding—tagging, making lists of—data manually harvested, mainly from media coverage, and also from some user initiatives shared by my feminist networks on Facebook between 2015 and 2016, following Sandra Harding's standpoint thinking, that is, focusing on the user experiences of women and underprivileged communities.9 The creative archive contains links and Facebook statuses previously shared within my network, reflecting on how feminist communities respond to abuse online and off, their concerns, and their strategies to fight abuse and build spaces for healing and solidarity. In terms of issues surrounding “control creep” and “anticipatory governance,” in the event of harvesting direct links from personal Facebook profiles instead of media coverage, I have asked for consent from the people involved.10 The digital project presented here is hosted on my own personal server provided by the company Dreamhost. The database does not contain documents, but paths—links—to original sources. The database is hosted on Airtable (a user-friendly online tool for creating DIY databases) and was previously coded into “themes” and “communities,” exploring the relations between abuse, solidarity, and digital memory as well as focusing on the experiences of the underprivileged.
The visual components of the network have been created with Gephi (a free software tool for network analysis) and imported into a web file with the plugin Sigmajs Exporter, with the collaboration of Edu Martín-Borregon from Data'n'Press and Méxicoleaks to prepare the database. To identify neighborhoods within the data, I selected ForceAtlas and ForceAtlas2 as the layout for the network visualization, after applying modularity calculations for the entire network. The final network visualization shows labels for communities and themes, and identifies by color seven clusters or neighborhoods emerging from my coding. This process depends only on the connections between nodes, that is, the shared codes assigned to each individual online resource (like a tag or a hashtag).11 That way, I am also exploring the ForceAtlas algorithm and the resulting data neighborhoods as a way to encounter new meaningful relations between connected themes and communities. It will be interesting to follow the discussion on knowledge discoverability tools for creative archives and share the technical and ethical challenges and practices behind the creation of the archive with the rest of the community.12 In the future, the project can be adapted as a workshop to explore ideas of community empowerment and self-archiving practices in dialogue with feminist-standpoint thinking.