Speeding into the new year

So much has happened since the start of this year. I have that feeling of running to stand still. Beautiful experiences, powerful conversations, ah ha moments, deep discussion and yet, have not been able to fully digest these times, to appreciate their full impact on me as work has exponentially increased. And yet we do what we do, move by the forces that are out of our control. I need to keep flagging for myself that passion is not good enough reason to speed this fast as it takes its toll on one’s mental and physical health. I cling to my sabbatical that kicks off this summer and promises quiet time for me to write my new book. Cannot contain my excitement as the full book is in my head, ready to be out on paper. And so I wait for that summer, glancing at the clock once in a while, marking the calendar boldly, promising myself that I will bring everything else to a standstill – become the writer again -first and foremost.

In the meantime, FemLab, the organization I co-founded has found a kindrid spirit in MICA-the School of Ideas in Ahmedabad. We organized a roundtable on the platform economy, gendered informality and the future of work in January where our team got to engage with the MICA staff and audience and share their findings from over two years of research during the pandemic. I also will be their Distinguished Visiting professor this April and am looking forward to being there and meeting their team face to face, a precious novelty these days.

Gave a keynote on Decolonising Approaches to Users and Audiences in the Global South at CAMRI- Westminster with such a wonderful group of thought leaders including Tanja Bosch, Cape Town University, South Africa on decolonising digital media research methods, Prof. Guobin Yang, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania on How Not to Theorize a Pandemic from Afar, Prof. Claudia Magallanes Blanco, Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, Mexico on decolonizing through self-representation, and Prof. Marwan Kraidy, Northwestern University, Qatar on Entangled Modernities. It was a packed house and the energy was amazing. Also was part of the Geomedia speaker series on Spatial Justice and Data Justice where we really dug deep into these topics with some of my favorite people – Emiliano Trere, Senior Lecturer in Media Ecologies and Social Transformation, Cardiff University and Anne Kaun, Professor in Media and Communication Studies, Södertörn University.

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In line with this decolonial wave, got to also discuss data colonialism, with another anthropologist Philip McKenzie, the host of Deep Dive. He is considered one of the “75 Leaders of Tomorrow” by Capture Your Flag and his podcast has hit some charts and no wonder- he knows how to get you talking!

We touched on crypto, on the gig economy, on the datafied ‘us’..Who are the arbiters of doing good and why? How can history inform our socio-digital future? Can we speak in global terms as we immerse in particular cultures? What is unsustainable in the way we organize work and play in this datafied era, and how do we speak about these issues and more. Got to also do a number of interviews with WeContent and related media groups like a top Romanian media magazine –AList Magazine on cross-cultural content marketing, how culture shapes communication, what to make of an audience with the rise of Squid Games and other such shows which tells us that we are on the brink of opening up to what audiences are actually receptive to – bold new worlds, new ideas, fresh stories, and language is not a barrier but may add context and flavor to immersive storytelling.

On the academic front, Kiran Bhatia, this kick ass brilliant PhD and upcoming Assistant Professor at Tulane university and I partnered on this article called Discursive Toolkits of Anti-Muslim Disinformation on Twitter. In this article, we investigate the socio-technical ecology of Twitter, including the technological affordances of the platform and the user-generated discursive strategies used to create and circulate anti-Muslim disinformation online. During the first wave of Covid-19, right-wing followers claimed that Muslims were spreading the virus to perform Jihad. We analyzed a sample of 7000 tweets using Critical Discourse Analysis to examine how the online disinformation accusing Muslims in India was initiated and sustained. We identify three critical discourse strategies used on Twitter to spread and sustain the anti-Muslim (dis)information: (1) creating mediatized hate solidarities, (2) appropriating instruments of legitimacy, and (3) practicing Internet Hindu vigilantism. Each strategy consists of a subset of discursive toolkits, highlighting the central routes of discursive engagement to produce disinformation online. We argue that understanding how the technical affordances of Social Networking Sites are leveraged in quotidian online practices to produce and sustain the phenomenon of online disinformation will prove to be a novel contribution to the field of disinformation studies and Internet research.

Of course, what was super special in February was my first in person teaching with my students for two courses after 2 years of teaching them online! It was so surreal, so beautiful to just walk into the classroom and erase the last two years, as if nothing had happened. Felt natural, felt easy and felt at home. So that’s in a nutshell the crazy few months that has passed me by.

Webinar talk: Feminist perspective on the Future of Work

I was invited to speak at a webinar on “The digital economy in Asia: feminist perspectives” organized by the Women and future of work working group of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Asia, in cooperation with WIDE+ on 22nd April. This webinar provided an interesting and much-needed discussion on how feminism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is impacting the present and future of women’s work in Asian economies. The kinds of issues we discussed was about the gender digital divide and implications of platformisation and automation of value chains on women’s work and livelihoods, to reflect on future priorities for feminist action in the region. I enjoyed the back and forth discussion mediated by Farzana Nawaz, at Laudes Foundation in Bangkok, between myself, Anita Gurumurthy, IT for Change, India, Nadine Siregard, Gojek, Indonesia and Verna Dinah Viajar, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of the Philippines Diliman studying labour issues and the future of work.

In my opening statement, I tried to steer away from the gender-divide framing, reminding the audience of the age of problematization of the divide discourse that implicates an evolutionary and deterministic direction. I also spoke about the feminist data dilemmas along the lines of misrepresentation as deliberate vs imposed obfuscation where women’s dominance in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and other such markets are masked as the popular trope of these fields being masculine circulate in the media and policy reports. This is partly due to the subsistence and collective/cooperative models of sustainability that women choose over that of market driven. In the COVID times, this makes them invisible and ineligible for bailouts, creating further inequality between the sexes. I also talk about the value of privacy versus the amplification of voice being the perennial and hard to resolve tensions that women grapple with especially in this datafication age. Overall, I advocate for shifting focus from the user to the design of socio-technical systems if we are to move forward towards a more just society.