Author: Magdalena O!szanowski

PhD, instructor, artist, activist // Concordia University, Montreal // _@o<

On Borders by Lauren Elkin

I’ve just written a short piece on passports, citizenship, and border control, as part of Granta’s special feature on the refugee crisis. You can read the full contributions here.

My passport is thick with the extra pages I added a few years ago, when I ran out of room for the stamps I was accruing. An American living in France, with a partner from the UK, I frequently cross over the invisible borders between those countries that are inscribed, respectively, in the Eurostar terminals at the Gare du Nord and St Pancras. Every crossing has to be marked. I gain entrance to Britain with some difficulty, which is usually resolved upon the basis of my answers to questions like: what are you doing in our country? where do you live? where do you work? I envy my husband his sober maroon passport, which slides him across the border from one EU country to another.

On recent trips to London I’ve encountered another kind of resistance. As we hurtle unimpeded through the Pas-de-Calais region en route to London, something’s creating drag on the tracks. It’s the knowledge that somewhere out there, just to our left, or just to our right, there are three thousand people in a camp with thirty toilets, caught in administrative limbo, desperate to get to Britain. At night they try to jump onto the tops of trucks, or slip into the tunnel and try to run across, only to be caught at the British border and sent back. All of us on the train, we who have one way or another passed the test at the checkpoint in Gare du Nord, with our various passports, we speed through this place where so many others have stopped, caught.

Passports were invented at the onset of the First World War to keep track of people, slow down their movement. Sure there were safe conduct papers before that, issued by the king, or whoever, but passports as we know them came about as a result of the British Nationality and Status Aliens Act 1914, which redefined who could be considered a British subject. It took effect on 1 January 1915, and stated:

(1) The following persons shall be deemed to be natural-born British subjects, namely:

(a) Any person born within His Majesty’s dominions and allegiance; and

(b) Any person born out of His Majesty’s dominions whose father was, at the time of that person’s birth, a British subject, and who fulfils any of the following conditions, that is to say, if either—

Et cetera. My husband goes back and forth, a subject of the kingdom. I occasionally drop in, natural and adopted child of revolution, a citizen of the republic. I treasure my ability to cross. I grow angry when it’s under threat. The European Union was created to override passports, to facilitate the free circulation of people and goods between countries that decades before were eviscerating each other on the battlefield, and in the cities. In a zone without passports, it seems craven to distinguish between those who have a right to circulate freely (citizens, subjects) and those whose passports are the wrong color, or who have no papers at all. But Britain holds itself at a distance from this passport-free zone, and cracks open its doorway only to those who know the password.

On the train, seated comfortably in my second-class seat, I look out at the world streaming by, long grass, cement buildings, chain link fences, and think of the sign on the back façade of a church in Queens that I see when I’m at home, riding the Long Island Rail Road to the city: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ (Lamentations 1:12).

It is not nothing to those of us who pass by, our passports growing heavy with administrative ink and paper. It is not nothing to those of us who travel with lighter passports, as I will soon, now that my French citizenship has been approved and I will be issued my own slim maroon passport, the kind the customs agents look at and slide back to you, without the official pounding of the stamp.

It is not nothing to those of us moving quickly through the French countryside that there are so many waiting out there, whose daily lives, we hope, will be improved thanks to the fundraising campaigns we’re giving to, and the petitions we’re signing, and the generosity of the people who pack up their trucks full of supplies and drive to the camps, instead of past them. We would like to help any way we can, but the ultimate decisions about who goes where don’t lie with us. The people in the camps (I imagine, I read interviews, I try to understand) are waiting for more than a better quality of life in limbo. They’re waiting to be let out, to move on, and then to put their bags down somewhere, for their answers to the border questions – what are you doing in our country? where do you live? where do you work? – to be no different from those of the passengers speeding by on the endless, endless Eurostars.

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Call for Editors

Soliloquies

Soliloquies Anthology is currently seeking applicants for our 2015-2016 Editorial Committee. We are Concordia’s undergraduate literary journal that publishes both in print and online, giving students the opportunity to gain valuable publishing and editorial experience.

We are hiring for the following positions:

  • Managing Editor
  • Social Media Editor
  • Web Content Editor
  • Poetry Editors
  • Fiction Editors

Next year will be the 20th volume of Soliloquies Anthology—a journal which has since become an established part of Concordia and Montreal’s literary community. If you have a strong interest in publishing and feel you have something to contribute to our Editorial Committee, contact soliloquies.concordia@gmail.com for an application.

The application deadline is April 30th at 11:59pm.
Please see the further information on the available positions below.

The Managing Editor works closely with the Editor-in-Chief on the organizational aspects of the journal. The Managing Editor has the opportunity to contribute to various aspects of the daily operations…

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#OccupationUQAM

In "Crowd, Power and Post-Democracy in the 21st Century”, Zizek (2008) argues that when the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In other words, when there is a crisis.

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After our class yesterday there was a l’UQAM  occupation. It ended late into the night with an unnecessarily large police presence in riot gear, endless tear gas burning throats, and violent dispersion strategies. The night occupation was an immediate reaction to the events of earlier that day at UQAM.

Today, on the campus of the Université du Québec à Montréal, facing a court order demanding that classes be held and the threat of expulsion issued by their administration, hundreds of students turned up to disrupt classes and enforce their democratically voted strike mandate.

In response, the university administration called in the Montreal police, who arrived in full riot gear with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons at the ready. Paradoxically enough, their stated role there was to ensure that classes could occur as scheduled.

The students were shortly boxed in. The bulk of the reported 22 arrests happened as riot police swept onto campus. Students then set up barricades, and police formed a line and prepared to move in.

The occupation was also a response to the larger institutional issues of the different forms of violence against students (physical, economic, etc) and the austerity myth. The violence of those in power is much more insidious and invisible than the violence of destroying university property, which creates an unbalanced imaginary in this political struggle.

When we see images in the media and read the discourse of others which try to decontextualize a serious and complicated issue, and only focus on ‘violent protestors doing damage to property’ we must remember history, context, and the nuanced ways that bodies are excluded from spaces. What are the modes of recourse against the systemic and systematic violence we are faced with? Yes, all of us! Whether we recognize it or not. Although, some of us are affected by institutional violence more than others, which is where our friend intersectionality comes in. And even then, we must self-reflect what subject position we are coming from in the ways in which we orient towards events like the occupation last night. Why do we have x or y opinion on protests/protestors? What has shaped that perspective?

We must also remember the ways in which regulatory powers favor property over human bodies. When are riot gear, teargas and rubber bullets, etc. appropriate modes of policing bodies? (remember the Jason Farman example about increased security cameras pointing to computer labs and not for the safety of students on campus.)

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Photos courtesy of Caroline Ramirez.

FINAL CLASS

Hello !

Today we have our final class. We will have snacks. If you have any snacks to bring for yourself or for other students please do so!

Final project: Remember that it is due today for feedback with comments, and due Friday without comments. Do this by email, unless it is a physical project, in which case you are to drop it off to Joyce in the 3rd floor Communication Studies Office and she will put it in my box. Look over the rubric posted in the “Final Project” Section for a detailed explanation of marks. For today: if have anything like a powerpoint or video, etc. please send it to me so I can cue it up as we have a lot to get through. Remember it is 3-5 minutes and needs to be exciting, punchy and succinct.

The order is as follows:2015-04-08 09.55.45

 

Week 12 — Notes

“Our Bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception.” (Haraway, 1991, 180)

For today’s class we watched Ana Voog’s video she made for us, and two readings that represent  a fairly wide range of re-thinking our contemporary embodied lived experience. They offered us new understandings of city life, of embodiment, and of the production of space and bodies in that life. Elizabeth Wilson says “we need a radically new approach to the city” and Donna Haraway also argues for a radically new approach to bodies and identity.

This is how I wish to end the course — in thinking what is at stake for the future and what sorts of alternatives there are to get our problematic of “which bodies? which spaces?”

Hyperstition is a “neologism that combines the words ‘hyper’ and ‘superstition’ to describe the action of successful ideas in the arena of culture.”

Both readings operate in the spirit of “l’ecriture feminine”, feminine writing, a concept that rejects masculinist histories and instead demands that women “write the truth of their bodies”. Two main proponents of this are French feminists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous who by using non-linear, performative and autobiographical language to describe the truth of a new kind of body: that of the cyborg/ the sphinx.

Wilson’s chapter uses many forms of scholarship to make a collage type work — fiction, essays, film, and art, as well as history and sociology, to look at London and  Paris. Wilson wanted to do that to emulate the ways in which she argues we experience and live the city, in a fragmented way with many layers of meaning reacting against the rational masculinist logic. She says there is nothing natural about the city, but we have believed this image. Haraway also undoes ideas about what is ‘natural.’ We will see that explicitly in the concept of the cyborg. 

The course has followed a similar ethos, in which I had you read poetry, epistolary exchanges, articles, and videos and maps to get a more comprehensive way to analyze the environment.

Wilson’s city also contradicts the ways in which the city is supposed to be built to showcase the rational mastery of human on environment, with buildings, towers and neatly circumscribed roads for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians and us to enact it through our spatial practice. But we know that the city is not static object, but rather a constantly changing environment. Wilson argues: “the city is in a constant process of change” so the quest is for you (yes, you!) to try to re-experience a city you know, and re-imagine it!

The city “as experience, environment, concept” which is, in other words, what we have been arguing all along. And by seeing it in this way, we can then frame a phenomenological reading of the city!

In Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway offers us not only a response to the regulatory normative system, but also a response to the gender, body and identity essentialism.

We did not have time to watch Sun Ra’s Space is the Place but it is well worth watching! Afrofuturism is a compelling analysis of the environment and one answer to the question “which bodies? which spaces?”

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Questions to Consider

  • What is the cyborg and why is it useful for thinking about bodies and spaces?
  • Haraway argues that the cyborg suggests “a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” How so?
  • Haraway  presents a chart of the differences between “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” (p.161) which appear “natural” since they are so ingrained in our Western cultural imaginary, and the “scary new networks”(p.161) which came post-WWII. Name one pair from the chart and explain how the binaries are false and how the ‘natural’ category is false.
  • Why is sexuality such a threat to the social order of spaces and cities? Think with Wilson, Gira Grant, Knopp and Razack.

The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

This weekend I was presenting at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference as part of a panel arranged by Prof. Fenwick McKelvey. Sarah T Roberts was part of the two-art panel and shared with us an eye-opening presentation on commercial content moderators (CCMs) -- the people that do the labour of approving or removing objectionable content when it is flagged. They are the ones who experience the reality of the internet to keep up the internet mythology we believe in. Below is the only available article on the issue, an article that took years to put together and relied a lot on Roberts's ethnographic research.

by Adrien Chen, 23 October 2014.

THE CAMPUSES OF the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town 13 miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by workers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.

Past the guard, in a large room packed with workers manning PCs on long tables, I meet Michael Baybayan, an enthusiastic 21-year-old with a jaunty pouf of reddish-brown hair. If the space does not resemble a typical startup’s office, the image on Baybayan’s screen does not resemble typical startup work: It appears to show a super-close-up photo of a two-pronged dildo wedged in a vagina. I say appearsbecause I can barely begin to make sense of the image, a baseball-card-sized abstraction of flesh and translucent pink plastic, before he disappears it with a casual flick of his mouse.

Baybayan is part of a massive labor force that handles “content moderation”—the removal of offensive material—for US social-networking sites. As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been confronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s panoply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multibillion-dollar industry, and its lasting mainstream appeal, has depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content—to ensure that Grandma never has to see images like the one Baybayan just nuked.

“EVERYBODY HITS THE WALL. YOU JUST THINK, ‘HOLY SHIT, WHAT AM I SPENDING MY DAY DOING?’”

So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards.

Here in the former elementary school, Baybayan and his coworkers are screening content for Whisper, an LA-based mobile startup—recently valued at $200 million by its VCs—that lets users post photos and share secrets anonymously. They work for a US-based outsourcing firm called TaskUs. It’s something of a surprise that Whisper would let a reporter in to see this process. When I asked Microsoft, Google, and Facebook for information about how they moderate their services, they offered vague statements about protecting users but declined to discuss specifics. Many tech companies make their moderators sign strict nondisclosure agreements, barring them from talking even to other employees of the same outsourcing firm about their work.

“I think if there’s not an explicit campaign to hide it, there’s certainly a tacit one,” says Sarah Roberts, a media studies scholar at the University of Western Ontario and one of the few academics who study commercial content moderation. Companies would prefer not to acknowledge the hands-on effort required to curate our social media experiences, Roberts says. “It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human.”

Read more »»»

Blog Post 3 – space & bodies online

(400-600 words – due 8pm 31 march)

Please follow Blog Instructions. Don’t forget to place in proper category or else I will not see it. Commenting on posts by your colleagues is encouraged! This blog post was chosen because of the overwhelming interest by you in thinking about the internet and spaces and bodies. Worth 4% of your grade.

Context: How are ‘bodies’ and ‘space’ produced online and how do they enact the various themes of our course (whiteness, gender/identity performance, habit, phenomenology, orientation, queer phenomenology, ideology, surveillance/co-surveillance, mapping, locative art, conceptual art, augmented reality, sousveillance, race, colonialism, disability, digital dualism, authenticity, micro-celebrity, embodiment, sensory-inscribed body, sex work, Lefebvre’s three pronged approach to space, public/private, heterotopia, differential space, detournement, dérive, cyborg, etc.)

Prompt: Although they recently lifted their ban on exposed nipples in breastfeeding photos, Facebook continues to ban photos of nipples in general. Recently, a photo of fully-clothed artist, Rupi Kaur, displaying menstrual blood on her pants was removed and restored on Instagram. Using these examples as prompts, ones already posted on the blog or find your own, discuss how “space” exists online* through the following frames: conditions under which an image is taken; what sort of body is in the image, ways in which the image is described for viewers; Terms of Service contracts on providers/platforms where images are displayed; laws governing obscene/inappropriate material in various countries where images are stored, posted, viewed, and forwarded, and anything else you might think of.

Further questions to help you: Think about the space where this image is being stored, displayed, and/or currently being circulated. In the spirit of Lefebvre, who has designed these spaces? Who are the users? What are the current social practices of these spaces? Use theories we discussed in the course.

Please include one or two well-thought out questions in regards to what you wish to explore more, want to have a discussion about, or are trying to figure out.

*look at a specific social network or platform —Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, MySpace, Livejournal, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube, etc.