Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Queer Ontology of Digital Method

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Queer Ontology of Digital Method

Article excerpt

For many in the field, the idea of queer method will always sound hopelessly discordant-an awkward codification of a deliberately unstable and ontologically interdisciplinary discourse. If academic method describes a procedure, a codification of disciplinarily grounded rules, then we might imagine that queer thought would thrive mostly through provocation and deconstruction, not the building of a new canon. Indeed, to the limited extent queer method has been articulated, it has typically been to bring queer theory to method-subjecting the epistemological assumptions of fieldwork and textual analysis to critical scrutiny. While this tendency to mobilize queerness as a critical verb preserves maximum theoretical malleability while usefully complicating the assumptions of academic systemization, there is a limit to the political efficacy of queering existing methodologies. Of course there will never be a queer method, but the time has come to shift from queering methods to experimentally using methods to more widely distribute queer politics, sociality, and sensibility.

My focus here is encouraging queer digital experimentation in the practices of the everyday by appropriating, hacking, and even constructing networks of social, corporeal, and environmental sensors. While I'm not arguing that the built architectures of sensing and tracking data- networked, embodied devices like the Fitbit, ambient environmental sensors like Nest, or the oedipally named, versatile sensors of Mother by Sen.se-are queer, the increasingly pervasive underlying technology provides possibilities for distributing a queer politics of ontological interconnection and indeterminacy. This sense of possibility, however, rests on an uncomfortable resonance between data capitalism and queer ontology that requires a critically engaged and reflexive methodology.

Reaching into the beyond of biopolitics (Clough and Willse 2011), I look at capitalism and digital media after "the normal." As queer theorists continue to debate the value of critical orientations to normativity (Wiegman and Wilson 2015; Halberstam 2015), I explore the emergent postnormative, where the modulation and capitalization of bodies and populations rests less on broad cultural and technical averaging. In suggesting this realignment of queer attention, I do not discount the striking persistence of wildly inequitable distributions of violence and death through the calcified norms of sexual, racial, classed, and otherwise corporeally marked social violence. Rather, I hope to galvanize queer critical capacity toward new forms of sociocorporeal modulation and classification and encourage experimentation with those quantitative and digital methods typically dismissed or ignored by queer theorists. By foregrounding queer experimentation with digital methods, I look to balance an oppositional epistemology with the more active development of "transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities" (Haraway 1990, 154). How might we create new open-ended circuits using emergent technologies to proliferate forms of relationality and bring queer notions of ontological indeterminacy and interconnection into consciousness?

While the notion of using digitally processed quantitative data to promote a queer indeterminacy might sound counterintuitive to some, it is a strategy that reflects the intensified biopolitical modulation that defines our age. While submitting "our" data to networks gives us free (Facebook) or subsidized (23andMe*) products, we rarely have access to these pref- erences, traces, or bodily processes. Therefore, while this networked data gets used by corporate entities to serve us ads or design our drugs, we are blocked from reimagining its social utility except in highly circumscribed conditions.2

In part, I'm advocating for queer theory to take a hard look at the quantitative methodologies of what Nigel Thrift calls "knowing capitalism," the increasingly big business of studying and modulating the everyday (2005). …

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