Full Stack Feminism

Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities is a two year project jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the Irish Research Council and is part of their ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in Digital Humanities Research Grants Call. The project is born out of the IFTe network and programme of events and continues the work and research of that network.

It is a trans and inter disciplinary research project tasked with developing an intersectional feminist framework for digital arts and humanities (DH) practice and research. It responds to calls within DH and broader fields to take action against bias and implicit, as well as explicit, forms discrimination that manifest in our digital worlds and technologies. The project highlights and addresses specific points in project development (user design, data modelling, code (re)production, end user testing and experience) that, often unconsciously, manifest inequalities or bias, in, for example data models. Drawing from ‘The Feminist Principles of the Internet’ we want to understand the machine and to reclaim it ‘down to the code’ (see https://feministinternet.org/en).

Applying and rethinking, a feminist praxis throughout the ‘full stack’ (to include a feminist ethics of care, FAIR CARE principles, feminist epistemologies, decoding existing epistemologies) will lead to an overall intervention in the creation of more inclusive digital cultural heritage in DH.      

We achieve this by embedding intersectional feminist methodologies in Digital Humanities and through the development of an interoperable ‘Full Stack Feminist’ methodology and toolkit. The project focuses on 3 areas, referred to as stacks: data & archives; infrastructure, tools & code; access, experience & integration. We use ‘full stack’ as a metaphor, with the understanding that this term has specific uses and meaning in software development – we use it in a similar but not precisely equivalent way.

Data and Archives supports a focus on the ways in which data, in all its manifest forms, is harvested, collected, described and stored. It is concerned with the foundations of knowledge and how certain data (or histories) are either silenced and/or side-lined in favour of others. Example areas in this stack include: digitisation priorities; archival descriptions, methods and standards; gaps in data collection; machine learning and biased training data sets. As Klein et al ‘Data Feminism’ (2020) states, ‘what gets counted counts’. 

Infrastructure, Coding & Tools considers the underlying architecture, systems and code upon which DH projects rely, asking how they are built, and what, if any, exclusionary practices manifest in this space. For example, how does a gender imbalance affect the functionality of a particular system, how do monolinguistic software languages affect how code is produced and how it is re-used. It allows us to ask questions in relation to the open software movement, gender imbalance in development teams and other considerations such as access rights and permissions (e.g. the use of infrastructures or platforms such as Mukurtu provides a wholly different perspective on access permissions). This stack is also concerned with data models, how they are created, and how they extrapolate and present a certain world view. 

Access, Experience and Integration is concerned with the way in which digital tools, resources, and ‘archives’ are accessed and experienced by users, by consumers, by archivists, and ways in which knowledge and digital cultural heritage is accessible or indeed inaccessible. It considers the developer’s point of view as well as the user/consumer’s point of view. Public understanding becomes central in intervening in DH and in creating milieux for intersectional cultural heritage. 

An analysis or investigation of the landscape within each stack, will help us inform future cultural imaginaries in each area. The stacks will inform our analysis and scoping phases and will inform our interventions and the development of our FSF tool kit.   

This research/project was funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Research Grants Call’  (grant numbers AH/W001667/1 and IRC/W001667/1).

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