Analysis of science and technology from radical leftist perspectives is often dreadfully dreary and dystopian, focusing on pessimistic narratives around job-killing automation and the planetary crisis of climate change. So its quite nice to come across more optimistic pieces that imagine positive deployment of technology, and call for leftists to be proactive in taking charge of techno-scientific systems for progressive ends.
Last December, The New Inquiry published an interview with Helen Hester of Laboria Cuboniks, a small group of feminists from around the world who wrote “Xenofeminism: A Politics For Alienation” (warning: site may induce epilepsy), a polemic arguing for the positive use of technology to smash hierarchy and oppression, particularly as they relate to gender. This could be seen as part of a diverse lineage of critical feminist analysis of technology, which includes classics like Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century” [PDF], and the lesser known works of Italian Marxist-feminists like Tiziana Terranova, who has written on things like communist algorithms.
Xenofeminism casts itself as ruthlessly and unapologetically “anti-natural”, noting that the standard of naturality has often been used as a cudgel against marginalized and oppressed people, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality.
The real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealized. Fed by the market, its rapid growth is offset by bloat, and elegant innovation is surrendered to the buyer, whose stagnant world it decorates. Beyond the noisy clutter of commodified cruft, the ultimate task lies in engineering technologies to combat unequal access to reproductive and pharmacological tools, environmental cataclysm, economic instability, as well as dangerous forms of unpaid/underpaid labour.
The manifesto goes on to attack observed tendencies within the radical left to retreat from broad analysis and ambitious, large-scale projects, as well as to exist only within the realm of critique and analysis instead of concrete, practical action. Xenofeminism also adopts a firmly “abolitionist” view with regards to gender, race, and class, while also rooting social hierarchy in capitalism.
Ultimately, every emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its transparent, denaturalized form: you’re not exploited or oppressed because you are a wage labourer or poor; you are a labourer or poor because you are exploited.
Specific comments on technological systems range from the relationship between architecture and gender, to the emancipatory potential of bio-engineering, all along peppered with demands for experimentation and ambition.
Without the foolhardy endangerment of lives, can we stitch together the embryonic promises held before us by pharmaceutical 3D printing (‘Reactionware’), grassroots telemedical abortion clinics, gender hacktivist and DIY-HRT forums, and so on, to assemble a platform for free and open source medicine?
All in all, the Xenofeminist manifesto is a nice bit of poetic polemicizing around an optimistic vision of technology and engineering. In particular, I enjoyed the presence of an underlying philosophy that sees little distinction between the natural and the artificial, as a framework that I haven’t stumbled across in a long time, but that I’ve always personally leaned toward.
Its unclear whether the theory is connecting with any real organizing yet, but it certainly has a lot of potential to fit into a larger assemblage of left-wing struggles that are looking to appropriate and/or control technological development.