Thinking about feminist theory paper topics again

I am very much not satisfied with the paper topics I considered last week. They just aren’t me. I could write them, but that’s not who I am academically. While I still don’t feel comfortable being my usual deviant self, I am just going to have to push through that and be myself.

I have been thinking about the topics for a little while and I do have a few topics I feel I could work with.

  1. Stresses of Gender Performance (or the Stresses of Gender Policing) – basically considering the methods through which men have to control their outward identity. While identity may be fluid in gender-variant and sexually open settings, there is a lot of stress on men who are not in those situations. There is a constant risk of not being masculine enough given the context, always that risk of the anti-masculine shaming. Do men take certain actions do reinforce their own feeling of masculinity? What about gay men who embrace their identity in sadomasochistic settings? Do they use pain (maso.) and control (sado.) to reinforce their gender?
  2. Role of sexual subcultures on the identity of their participants – My perspective on sexual subcultures is that their seem to have an “always-on” libido or at least identity inside the culture. Is this really the case? Is the in-group identity only performed so that the emotional resources of the community are always available to them or is the subcultural identity a component of their primary identity?
  3. What happens when you integrate sociology’s identity theory (or affect control theory) with Butler’s performativity?

Sonic Corporeality, Gendered Vocal Embodiment

The two readings for this week, Milla Tiainen’s Corporeal Voices, Sexual Differentiations and Anne Carson’s Gender of Sound discus the status of gendered sound and the role of sound in sexuality. This is a particularly interesting question for me because my interests center on cultural elements that are constructed (or ascribed) as being erotic. In research for my many papers on the topic including those involving fetishes, sadomasochism and pornography I have never run across any literature regarding the erotics of sound. I have seen numerous articles involving fetishes of materials (leather, latex, lycra, etc), of sensation (pain, tickling) and of imagery (nudity, various implementations of the gaze). For sound, nothing. One topic I was particularly interested in was the presentation of masculinity in queercore music, but that still wasn’t about sound, it became about imagery, sensation and a lyrical content analysis. There is a focus on the visual for western philosophy and feminism.

So what about sound? Why is it important? From the readings over the course of the previous weeks I have gathered a sense that voice matters because there is a lot of power in a voice, and as with most things of power it is typically regulated to favor males in hegemonic systems, although Taininen claims voices are “less codified by power than visual practices.” Perhaps the disparity between the feeling of importance and hegemonic regulation that I perceive in the articles and Taininen’s claim can be resolved through considering how it is that the visual has been given preference. If voice and sound are less codified, perhaps this is due to the treatment of sound by the hegemon is of a feminized modality which is disempowered by that lack of codification. I think back to some of Focault’s arguments regarding language and think that perhaps it is the lack of codification, the lack of language to discuss sound, that confines it to the space of a secondary sense.

The visual modality is restricted by the physical. To be made intelligible visually there must be some link or resemblance to material that is in the world, perhaps to something that the viewer has seen before or would have a sensory awareness of. Sound is not confined in such a way because it does not have to be “understood” as a whole to be meaningful. I have difficulty following the entire argument of either of the articles, but I recognize the distinction between visual materiality and the materiality of sound. To me it seems as though sound has the potential to be more material than visual stimuli because it retains more of its original corporeal properties. The vibrations set in motion are more “real” than the bouncing of photons. Sound has more in common with tactile senses than it does with anything visual.

Tiainen’s idea of micro-sexes bothers me. To sex an individual by an expressed corporeality whether it is vocal or genital is equally precarious. Biology may matter and corporeality may matter to some degree but I do not feel that it has any place in feminist literature. The body is oppressive due to the social abstraction of the body. I see no reason to feed another potential site of oppression back into the social system. Until the harshly guarded relationship between sex an gender is dissolved I cannot appreciate any reconceptualization of sex. More work must be done on gender, specifically in the area of fluidity.

Also, I must regard any work that references psychoanalysis with skepticism.

Concepts for my feminism paper

This post contains notes. This is not intended to resemble my typical article style.

Current ideas for topics for my feminism paper…mostly based on my plans to integrate technology into my eventual thesis topic.

  1. Identity considerations with new gTLDs with regard to consumers and producers.
    1. Movement from large structures of society and government (COM, NET, ORG, EDU, MIL, etc) to domains for markets and target populations (.PHOTO, .FISH, .XXX)
    2. No longer about identity of producer, now about the markets.
    3. Does this make the Internet any more queer, or just more compatible with neoliberal ideologies?
  2. Analysis of use and intentions of ccTLDs compared with their gTLD counterparts, giving specific attention to the phenomenon of making generic (as in gTLD) a TLD designated as a ccTLD.
    1. .me = Montenegro OR “Me”
    2. .ws = Western Samoa OR “Website”
    3. .tv = Tuvalu OR “Television”
  3. Gendering of smart phone/tablet platforms. Primarily comparing Android and iOS (because no one cares about Palm, Firefox, Windows phone or whatever the Ubuntu phone thing is called)
    1. Gendering of platforms
      1. Android as “technical” (technical = masculine)
      2. iOS as “pretty” and “easy” (pretty + easy (soft) = feminine)
    2. Policing of what is “safe” in mobile OS land (Smasung KNOX, Kindle Fire limitations, Apple’s walled garden approach)
    3. Cultures surrounding the dominant operating systems (iOS = Instagram culture, Android = rooting, “power users” and gadgets)
    4. Re-masculinization of iOS via iPhone as symbol of privilege/power



HTML as a Document Baseline

In some of the work I am doing I have had the need to create documents programmatically. Specifically I have to create documents that look a certain way based on dynamic data sources which may or may not need calculation before output. I considered a few options when deciding how to approach this, one possible option was to write the output using Visual Studio objects, another was to write the output using the C# drawing libraries to create the document line by line. Neither of those options had much appeal as they would take a long time to implement and would require me being a lot more comfortable with that aspect of programming than I currently am. I considered, and attempted, things like Microsoft’s reporting framework and also the VS version of CrystalReports. The output looked absolutely awful from those attempts and I felt like I needed something more flexible that I knew for certain I could manipulate, modify and contort to my needs. As an experiment I decided to translate some of my PHP skills to C#. I began writing some sample output in HTML using C# and then displayed it in the build-in web browser control. It seemed to work well. I began experimenting with using CSS to control the design of the output and that worked well also. I’m not sure it’s the best possible practice, but from my perspective it is HTML doing what HTML was designed to do. Most of my report output is tables, which has always seemed to be one of the strength’s of HTML (before the invention of the DIV and the SPAN anyway), so it was a logical choice. I also could not see the point in reinventing the wheel for this particular case since HTML is so flexible. The other encouraging thing is that MS Word can read basic HTML documents with a surprising level of accuracy to what its browser counterpart (Internet Explorer) displays. That simple capability makes it possible for the document to be manipulated after it is generated so that other elements can be added (such as graphs and charts) while still having the bulk of the data already prepared.

Writing a report in HTML may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it is a lot cleaner, easier and overall more flexible than anything that CrystalReports could ever do. Also I found the lack of conversion options for the Crystal report objects to be a major turn off. I was encouraged several times to try Crystal, and I did, but for me it just can’t do what I need. Where it took my supervisor several hours to develop a simple multi-table report to measure survey responses, once I had my baseline report writer created it only took me a few minutes to enter the parameters for the report to have the desired output. Also, I noticed that what both Crystal and the Microsoft reporting tools refer to as a “report”, I refer to as a “section.” At best they are useful for writing a single table per page, at worst they just don’t understand and try to produce multiple pages of nothing.

There are obviously a few problems with this. Most notably, I did have to write the report writer from scratch and conceive of the entire structure that it uses to be able to make things work this easily. It has taken me a few weeks of work to build the writer to where it is, but now that I have, it is very flexible. Also, I can evolve the writer as little or as much as I need. If I were to decide later that I want it to be able to create graphs and include them, I can do that by using C#’s libraries that bridge to Excel, then pull in what I need using the drawing libraries (dumping the output to image files). Another option is to move some of the controls that I have placed in a database table to a more user-friendly control panel for editing, giving a lot more flexibility with less effort. The other problem that I’ve encountered is that at this stage it is very difficult to include graphs. I mentioned how I could from Excel, but that would require more data juggling and complex operations to accomplish. It may be possible to write them with CSS/HTML5, but that would also be a challenge of my coding skill and probably still wouldn’t work in Word.

I started writing my output as HTML as a temporary solution for what I perceived to be my lack of skill with report writers. It turns out I just have a huge distaste for report writers because they are not flexible, intuitive or adaptive. I now feel like using HTML for output might be the best for my particular situation and I think I can evolve my report writer to be perfectly suited to the needs of my organization.

The Voice of Ambiguity

Language is imperfect. It is impossible to convey an exact meaning with words, but yet without words precise transmission of ideas and meaning is even more difficult. Cavarero states this and demonstrates it in “The Devocalization of Logos.” When comparisons are made to the visual I am stuck questioning how it is that visual information is represented as the guarantee of truth. Visual information is a two-dimensional representation (with basic cues for a third dimension) of a three dimensional world. Visual information can tell us a lot about an object in the time span in which it is visible, but very little about the essence of the object. I’m not sure that vocal information can resolve those concerns with any greater accuracy, but there is some comfort in the possibility of interrogative or bi-directional information such as is possible with vocal communication.

Cavarero brings together many perspectives about voice, some of which are complimentary, whereas others are almost conflicting. It is sometimes difficult to discern whether she is discussing voice as an audible act, a written act or as a component of agency.  In any form, she argues that the voice is regarded as unworthy of attention in philosophy, but I cannot say that I have seen this treatment. The center of academic life (which sadly, is the primary realm in which philosophy has any power) is conversation between the knowledgeable people in the field. Academic conferences (and various Symposia) are the site of knowledge exchange. Voices are often lost in these settings and therefore  I suppose that from that perspective it can be seen as being disregarded by philosophy.

Cavarero spends more time with the dead guys of Greek philosophy than I care to think about, but she does make some interesting points regarding the position of vocal communication in relation to other ways of perceiving.  I am left feeling as though I would have greater success with understanding her more subtle points if I had a stronger understanding of the work of Plato.

New Materialism

I approach this week’s reading on New Materialism with deep understanding of the work of Anne Fausto-Sterling. As such I feel most comfortable to direct my thoughts to the Samantha Frost chapter “The Implications of the New Materialisms
for Feminist Epistemology”.

The introductory paragraphs touch on the interesting history that feminism has had with corporeality.  Many early feminist writers expressed the need to move away from the physical body as the site of gender formation, moving gender into the realm of the social. I do not believe that this movement was ever intended to negate the impact of the biologically sexed world that exists, but to draw attention away from it long enough to introduce the concept of socially constructed gender and non-conforming physical bodies. With ‘New’ Materialism it seems that feminism is providing a space for the corporeal to exist again, but this time it is more than existing, it is granted a “distinctive kind” of agency. Upon first reading of this agency I became concerned that feminism was opening a higher-level philosophical question traditional left in the space of cognitive philosophers, rather than wishing to engage the body in interactions of political empowerment. New materialism expands the previous discourse involving the inscription of social constructs (and meaning) upon the body to include how the body is involved in this process itself. As Frost quotes Elizabeth Grosz, “what these bodies are such that inscription is possible, what it is in the nature of bodies, in biological evolution, that opens them up to cultural transcription, social immersion, and production, that is, to political, cultural, and conceptual evolution.” A question this brings to mind is: what inhibits the bodies from rejecting the inscription of cultural meaning? The primary concept that I draw from the new materialism framework is not allowing feminism to become stuck in the same cultural trap that other disciplines fall into. Why do we have to seek answers as being either cultural or biological? That method of thinking is too simplistic, too narrow to provide productive understanding of the processes which have led to the social problems that feminists seek to solve. At this point many fields have accepted that their simple models with simple explanations are not capable of fully answering questions, so it is reasonable that feminism would accept more possibilities as well. The attributes “complex, recursive and multi-linear” seem more like something that would be discussed in a computer science class than in feminism, but as Frost states, feminists need to retool to continue making useful contributions to theoretical frameworks regarding the construction of the body (and specifically gender).

Intersectionality vs. Assemblages

Intersectionality is concerned with the subject and the multiplicity of subject identity in relation to the culture surroundings of the subject or the ability of the subject to have a multiple perspective due to the sum of the subject’s identity (and potentially past experiences). Assemblages, in Deluzian tradition, are a more solid experience that does not necessarily allow the individual identities to be considered apart from the others, but yet does maintain the collective sense of identity. Both the intersectional and assemblage approaches consider multiplicity a trait of social identity.

In social theory (or at least social psychological social theory) the primary objective of social interaction is meaning-making. Intersectionality and assemblages both work toward explaining meaning-making from an identity that is perceived to be constructed from multiple cultural contexts. The interesting thing about these two approaches over anything social theory has to offer is that they consider external factors of identity and meaning making not being something happening only within the subject, but also something that is happening in interaction with the subject. In essence, these approaches provide for a mechanism in which the subject shapes (to some small degree) their social environment. A specific social theory, such as affect control theory or identity theory, might specify internal mechanisms by which the social actor attempts to internalize meaning that is created around them. The problem with that approach is that it assumes a homogeneous societal environment, or subjects that are interested in conforming.

One of the most striking differences between intersectionality and assemblages seems to be in degree to which corporeality matters. The discourse of intersectionality has been artificially confined to observing the intersection of race and gender, specifically in observing the political identity of women of color.  This limit is reflective of its original purpose as a tool for decentering identity and its function of revoking significance of labels.  The assemblage de-privileges corporeality. In moving beyond corporeality it is possible to step away from an entirely subjective conceptualization of identity and begin considering aspects of agency.

A problem that I observe in the concept of intersectionality is that it is based on the idea of an intersection, identities combining for an  additive power is demonstrated, usually additive power of discrimination or disenfranchisement. What about identities that emerge and function parallel to each other (exclusive identities that would not be active at the same time)?  Basically intersectionality presents a model in which identities have to all have the same relationship to each other. As Puar points out, intersectionality is a model of static identity that does not account for change or evolution of identity, and perhaps doesn’t create a space in which additional identities can be added.  Assemblages are not conceived as a specific type of relationship and do not give meaning to each identity separately, but instead gives meaning to the combined identity and to the relationships between the individual identities (which might be better termed as “traits” in an assemblage).

An analogy that comes to mind is from the discipline of chemistry. Intersectionality:Mixture::Assemblage:Solution. Essentially intersectionality is a combined experience in which  individual components can still be drawn out, whereas an assemblage is a cohesive identity wherein the parts of identity are much harder to look at individually. The later would certainly annoy most sociologists as they enjoy being able to draw nice neat categories in which a single trait (or simple pairing of traits) can explain social phenomena. I can think of no better reason to use an assemblage over an intersectional concept of identity.

Why does it matter how we conceive of identity? If identity is conceived as intersectional, then only the various attributes (mostly corporeal) may compose the identity. The identity is thus rendered as static and can only exist as a finite set of combinations of various recognized identities. Also, there is further limitation on the intersectional variety from external power structures when confronted with these intersectional identities as they will often be reduced to hierarchical binaries. In the hegemonic perspective there does not exist a multitude of races, only white and non-white. While assemblages do not escape hegemonic restrictions or assumptions of identity, it is possible for an assemblage identity to be significantly obfuscated from hegemonic interpretation to be subversively unintelligible and be granted agency outside of that granted to any specific identity.

Puar, Jasbir K. “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”: Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory. Philosophia 2.1 (2012): 49-66.

Pop Feminism and the Expansion of White Heterofemininity

One of the readings for feminist theory this week is a critique of Sheryl Sandberg by bell hooks, Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In. I approach this reading as a very biased reader. I am quite fond of bell hooks as she has always been a sort of “anti-Butler” for me in terms of her style and I am already predisposed to a passionate hatred of mainstream ideologies.

As hooks points out, one of the key problems of Sandberg’s work is her reliance on an old definition of feminism which is strongly tied to the gender binary and does not allow for other categories of difference or for the potential for intersectional concerns. With the following comment hooks is very clear in her belief regarding the work of feminism:

“No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within existing patriarchal structure.”

I agree with hooks’ statement almost completely. If feminism is only working to improve the status of one group inside of existing structures, then it really is not doing any work at all. Hegemony needs the structure of patriarchy to function, there have to be power relationships to support its white-supremacist and male-dominant interests. Even if it were possible for women to achieve full equality inside the system, it would remain a constant struggle to maintain that position. The only option is to break patriarchy. I do not agree with the tone taken by hooks as it can be read as an attack on a form of feminism that is not the same as her feminism. While I share her dissatisfaction in the approach taken by Sandberg, I do not believe that discrediting her so directly serves any purpose toward the improvement of feminism.

If I were evaluating Sandberg’s approach without the guidance of hooks I believe I would find nothing new or noteworthy about it and I may even suggest that Sandberg is taking a pro-capitalist and almost anti-feminist approach to feminism. Sandberg has produced a book of empowerment for women that gives them no real theoretical tools, only a gimmick of “lean in” to encourage the taking of leadership roles in corporate or pseudo-corporate systems. Corporate systems ARE patriarchy and they provide support for the oppression of women and other marginalized groups. Sandberg is profiting from her book, but can it really be helpful for many women or anyone else? Is Sandberg teaching women how to “play male”?

Unrealistic Epistemological Assumptions for Social Theory

One of the courses required in the Master of Arts in Sociology at UNC Charlotte is Social Theory. The course is always taught by the same faculty member, even when he is on sabbatical, so there are few options in this situation if a student is a “mismatch” for the epistemological requirements dictated by the instructor. Unfortunately, this particular instructor has stable notions about who “fits” into his class.

From the syllabus:

“I presume that students here: …. Adopt the scien­ti­fic ap­proach to developing know­­­ledge; “

“This course may not fit well for someone who: …. Wishes to read post­modern thought or cultural studies.

Given that this class is supposed to be involving theory formation and the evaluation of theory, I do not see the relevance of accepting the scientific method as the only method for developing “knowledge”, nor do I believe that “knowledge” is real. I accept that the scientific method is one possible way for discovering information, and it is certainly the most practiced method for establishing evidence for claims regarding the nature of reality.  As for the second suggestion, that the course may not be a good fit for someone who wishes to read postmodern writing or cultural studies, what I prefer to read is likely not very relevant to the content of this class and I do not think that such a preference will deter me from developing an understanding of how to form, apply or evaluate social theory.

My social and theoretical background is from postmodernism, cultural/critical studies and queer theory. I am not the traditional sociology student who comes from a background of a single tradition, I am interdisciplinary and my beliefs about the acquisition of knowledge reflect that background. I will not accept that the scientific method is the only way and I will not avoid cultural studies just because this one instructor feels they have no benefit to social theory.

On a positive note, early readings for this class advocate for a diminished role of quantitative methods in sociology and an increased emphasis on a qualitative approach and the integration with theory. I am very interested in the course, which is good since it is required for graduation, but I find such qualifiers in the syllabus to be off-putting.


In this first attempt at philosophical blogging I will address the recent societal phenomenon of “resilience” as presented by Mark Neocleous in “Resisting Resilience.”  I find the article itself to be a rather unremarkable piece of writing, as it seems to make no attempt at an argument, only presents a number of absurd obsessions around the term “resilience”. The author relates the current uses of the term resilience to the past uses of phrases like “security”. The author also makes a few jabs at the usefulness of resilience as a social framework merely because it is embraced by a few military organizations.

The problem with resilience that is alluded to in the article is it is a new form of mediocrity that generally encourages a stable constant state of being. I think that the quest for being resilient is a collective fear of change and a desire for a feeling of safety in that nothing will change, but if it ever does it will be possible to quickly get back to that previous state. Unpredictability is a component of life and change happens, so I don’t think that fetishizing the status quo is the best idea. Progress is made through taking risk and looking beyond the current state, not wasting time trying to plan every potential disaster and be constantly prepared to avoid or recover from those disasters.

One of the areas where I have practical knowledge outside of philosophy (sociology –> social philosophy –> philosophy) is in information systems. Resilience is part of everything from designing a large scale system to selecting a hard drive. In information technology a lot of the factors of resilience are accomplished through redundancy, mostly because its easy to do and relatively inexpensive compared to other ways of recovering from a disaster. A lot can go wrong with technology, starting with the end user (the most likely reason for any disaster) and moving to more external things like power outages, hurricanes or locusts. Resilience (or redundancy) is a major component of the field, with the overall goals of maintaining data integrity and a certain level of “uptime”. A long time ago redundancy and fault tolerance were buzzwords, roughly equivalent to resilience, but now they are traits that are assumed to be goals of every system and every developer. This works well for information technology, for machines that can’t adapt on their own (at least not yet). Humans and societies are not machines and can adapt without any sort of prior preparation. While some level of preparation is good, dedicating a lot of resources and time to the task of maintaining the current status seems wasteful and overall an inhibition to progress (where progress = moving toward personal or societal improvement).

Posted from Bessemer City, North Carolina, United States.