By Cécile Chevalier, Irene Fubara-Manuel, Ranju Upadhyay, Sharon Webb.           

Last week members of the Full Stack team presented at the Algorithms for Her? 2 conference in Sheffield. Organised by a consortium of researchers across the University of Sheffield, King’s College London, LSE, and Keele University, the conference included a mix of topics from algorithmic and political bias across social media platforms, feminist digital activism, AI policy and intersectional feminism, as well as misogyny in AI enabled social avatars.


The team presented our progress on a key element of our work around ‘autonomous feminist infrastructures’, outlining both the rationale for this endeavour and the technical as well as institutional restrictions and obstacles. The presentation confronted the (im)possibility ‘autonomous feminist infrastructures’ and paid particular attention to feminist servers as independent infrastructures which reveal to us the entangled nature of technologies within and across technical, social, institutional, global eco-systems of power. It asked how can we build and maintain feminist autonomous servers within (im)possible constraints. What negotiations with existing infrastructures does feminist technological autonomy require? What further constraints emerge in creating these autonomous servers? (e.g. skill, collaboration, labour, economic).


Building a feminist server (or at least trying) is motivated by a desire to (re)claim the machine/system/stacks/infrastructure we use “back to the code”, as per the Feminist Principles of the Internet. As we discussed in the presentation, we do not intend or try to go up against the big tech giants but by testing the limits of “autonomy” we can unravel the entanglements of power but also return a sense of empowerment in the technologies we rely on and use.


Our experiments with feminist servers draw on and acknowledge existing work in this field, including, TransHackFeminist, Systerserver, and the work of Winnie Soon, Mara Karagianni, Sophie Toupin, among others. Highlighting this work acknowledges the need to build from each other, to work across and within initiatives, to acknowledge the collective effort – Full Stack is therefore just one part of this collective eco-system working or striving to explore autonomy which can only come through collective action and knowledge exchange.


Our paper questioned how the scaling-up, speeding-up, and powering-up of technology, which are all coterminous to the hegemonic cycle of infrastructural development, makes alternatives (im)possible. Through our experiments and theorical framing we query how alternate servers and imaginaries can disrupt hegemonic infrastructures and processes of homogenisation. Importantly, we locate a ‘feminist autonomous system’ as one that resonates with Ara Wilson’s (2016) conceptualisation of intimacy, infrastructure, and power. Feminist autonomous systems acknowledge the relational role of infrastructure, in bridging and excluding communities.


The next step in this work is to build a raspberry pi cluster and to compare this set up with our current step up which uses MS-Azure. By exploring two different technical solutions to server set up, we hope to do a comparative study as well as test the limits of each approach and ultimately identify the scenarios when either is useful/feasible/sustainable route to take.


We plan to publish our paper presentation in our PubPub space and will carefully document the next phase of this work – building an autonomous feminist server.