February Visualizing Care Series - Digital Feminisms Between Archives and Networks

Zoom screen of seven individuals (speakers and moderators) in gallery view, all women
L to R:  Nicki Washington, Victoria Szabo (moderators), Caroline Sinders (Speaker), Sara Suárez (Speaker), Alice Yuan Zhang (Speaker), Jocelyn Olcott (GSF Director, RCGE), Mindy Seu (Speaker), Tania Rispoli (RCGE)

On Friday February 18th, the Revaluing Care in the Global Economy’s Visualizing Care series presented “Digital Feminisms between Archives and Networks”: a virtual Zoom conversation between digital artists about the avenues and communities of care that they craft and participate in through the internet. GSFS Department Chair, Jocelyn Olcott, introduced the conversation by examining our current “crisis of care”. Still experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a physically distanced world has created a desperate need for attention, care, and intimacy throughout our population. Artists, as Olcott puts it, “defamiliarize” our understanding of care, redefining how we offer support for one another. Tania Rispoli, a Duke PhD candidate and GSFS Certificate student and event mediator, explained the goals of digital activism spaces as forums to not only participate in the conversation of digital feminisms, but to create a community that fosters collective care. Rispoli emphasized the process of “reproducing” care, through internet data, artificial intelligence, and digital spaces. In this way, digital care is not an entirely distinct concept, but rather an evolution of the arguably rigid methods we use to care for others.

Mindy Seu, digital designer and researcher and Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, explains the motivations behind the creation of her Cyberfeminism Index, an online database of digital activism. Seu’s goal is to showcase the broad spectrum of cyber feminism and the many forms digital activism can take. The website allows for users to not only view these creations, but track their movements throughout the content, to bibliographically connect each piece. Seu’s ultimate goal from the creation of the Cyberfeminism Index is to envision a techno-future, or cyber futurity, that includes women and minorities.

Caroline Cinders, a critical designer, researcher, and artist, presented her project, Care Bot, a website that guides internet users after experiences of digital harassment. Cinders emphasizes the goal of offering “digital care”, and offering a space of support within the online sphere. This project is an intersection of issues surrounding human rights and the damages created by digital systems. Cinders regards the internet as a space where users express their emotional selves to an extreme, whether that be love, fear, or anger, and the Care Bot is a space to guide users in their emotional responses to both digital and physical conflict and abuse.

Following Cinders, presenters Sara Suarez and Alice Yuan Zhang, co-creators of the Virtual Care Lab, shared their efforts to create a collaborative online space to foster a community of digital care and support. Created in 2020, Virtual Care Lab offers digital gatherings, written pieces, visual art, and other mediums to connect with others and offer emotional support and solidarity across the digital universe. The emphasis of the lab is to serve as a meeting place, rather than an organization or group. This public forum allows for different forms of participation, giving users the freedom to both absorb content as well as create media as a method of support and care.

Digital Feminisms raises questions of how we can better care for one another in an ever-changing and increasingly technological world. As forms of communication become increasingly digitized, how do we reframe digital spaces as not only potential avenues for care, but as necessary additions to our non-digital forms of support?