In this podcast we’re going to talk about women, technology, infrastructure and the electromagnetic spectrum, from a feminist perspective. First off, let’s understand technology as ways of being, living, loving, suffering, resisting, organising, cooking...all are ancestral forms of technology. We also have infrastructure - the elements that make technologies operate so powerfully.
Podcat by Bruna Zanolli
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Below is the translation of the podcast into English done by Erika Smita and Kira Figueroa Smith.
Sambando no Escuro (Bertazi Mash Up) - Elza Soares e Bjork
The first feminist infrastructure: the clitoris
Si Diosito – Liliana Felipe:
The first feminist infrastructure we access is our own body. And as women, in our bodies we’re lucky enough to have an exclusive pleasure device, our beloved clitoris (which in Spanish where words are masculine or feminine this word should be feminine, not masculine, right?) So here-in this podcast - we challenge you to hack your own body, so that you’re ready to be adventurous exploring other technologies: starting from the body, going to machines and all the way to the electromagnetic spectrum.
Let’s understand technology as ways of being, living, loving, suffering, resisting, organising, cooking...all are ancestral forms of technology.
De las machinas hasta el aire (From machines to air)
100% feminista – Mc Carol e Karol Conka:
We’re going to look at communications technologies; more precisely, those that use the electromagnetic spectrum such as radio, wifi and mobile telecommunications – also known as cellphones. All of these technologies use specific infrastructure to communicate. For example, radio
basically needs a transmitter and antenna, a bunch of cables and devices to mix and transmit sounds. And of course, you need something to be able to hear it – a receiver, your own radio, a car radio. For you to listen to this podcast right now means a lot of infrastructure is necessary: for starters, internet, a ton of submarine cables (called backbones) connected to servers (which are computers configured to store and process piles of information and data). That data travels through the internet provider of your choice (or, the only one you have access to in your region) connects to your modem/router which uses the electromagnetic spectrum – wifi – to connect to your computer.
For you to listen to this podcast right now means a lot of infrastructure is necessary: for starters, internet, a ton of submarine cables (called backbones) connected to servers (which are computers configured to store and process piles of information and data).
So, this is the more physical and logical part of the equation, but let’s not be naive, behind all this hardware and software there is all sorts of political maneuvering and management chuck full of protocols, treaties, concessions, laws and politicians, mostly white men from the economic upper crust. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that elite white men would even be interested or know anything about any reality that is not their own. So, if we want our technologies and infrastructures to have intersectional feminist principles we’ll have to seek out those interconnections ourselves.
Somos Sur – Anita Tijoux: (We’re the South)
When we talk about electromagnetic spectrum we’re talking about the interval of all possible electromagnetic radiation frequencies. Electromagnetic radiation is one of the many ways that energy travels through space. For example: the heat of fire, sunlight, medical x-rays, microwaves that heat food… Only a small part of this spectrum is visible to the human eye – light.
When solar rays pass through rain this acts like a prism and we can see a rainbow in the sky. Rainbows are the only time we can see spectrum. We can only see the colors because our eyes, acting as receivers, are able to perceive the electromagnetic waves that we call light, emitted by the sun. The sun also emits waves we can’t see, like ultraviolet radiation. But other animals are able to perceive ultraviolet and infrared radiation. We can feel infrared radiation, for example, because our skin has thermal sensors, but we can’t see it – nor can we see wifi or radio waves.
We can feel infrared radiation, for example, because our skin has thermal sensors, but we can’t see it – nor can we see wifi or radio waves.
Electromagnetic waves, through analogue or digital modulation and demodulation processes (each with its own specificity) enable us to send data such as images and sounds – which is why they are explored for telecommunications. With increased commercial interest in radioelectric spectrum… Hmm, I think that is a new word, let me explain it. Radio spectrum is part of the electromagnetic spectrum used for telecommunications, between 3hz 3000 Ghz, technically speaking. In this vast range of frequency space, we have aeronautical, maritime, government, radio, commercial television broadcasts and at least in some Latin American countries, community radios are allowed to use it. (In Brazil, legislation for community radio use is terrible and limited both in terms of recognised broadcasters and potency – in other words, geographic coverage.)
Radio spectrum is part of the electromagnetic spectrum used for telecommunications, between 3hz 3000 Ghz, technically speaking. In this vast range of frequency space, we have aeronautical, maritime, government, radio, commercial television broadcasts and at least in some Latin American countries, community radios are allowed to use it.
We also have frequencies for radiolovers and scientific use. There’s space for mobile digital technology such as 3G, 4G and now 5G. Radio spectrum is used in those countries where telecommunications have been digitalised too (although a digitalised signal does not directly translate into a change in the broadcast medium.) Short waves can have global communication and geo-stationed satellite reach and even have the capacity to connect to internet…. In sum, the radioelectric spectrum has extraordinary communications capacity.
Now, returning to regulatory issues, with the increase in commercial interest around the radioelectric spectrum, national regulatory policies regarding spectrum come into the picture. Governments manage spectrum through concessions and companies pay a lot of cash to be able to occupy a band of the radioelectric spectrum. And since the world is cluttered with corrupt bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians we have total chaos in spectrum regulation, with expired radio and television concessions that continue to operate - even after 10 years - politicians who are owners of media channels and auction off fraudulent frequencies. But there’s also a lot of good people making use of spectrum from a community and feminist perspective.
there’s also a lot of good people making use of spectrum from a community and feminist perspective.
Radioelectric spectrum as a feminist common good
Linn da Quebrada - blasFêmea | Mulher
Let’s look at some characteristics of the radioelectric spectrum: it can be used at the local or global level; since spectrum is about energy flow, it never runs out. It’s not finite and scarce, contrary to what the commercial-use strategy on spectrum would have us believe. It’s a common good that would not exist if not technologically-mediated.…. And if it depends on technology in order to be explored, then the use of one technology over another is crucial in determining it’s use. Under the current concessionary logic, each company or corporation is responsible for managing one or more bands of spectrum.
However, with digital radio technology it’s possible to have four times the number of broadcasts in the same band, because digital signal occupies less space than analogue signal. Furthermore, with technologies such as cognitive radio and software-defined radio, we can now re-think the entire band - broadcast dynamic, where it’s no longer necessary to have a fixed bandwidth for each broadcaster with management based on use. With digital radio we can broadcast data - like images and short texts - in a sliver of frequency that is much lower than internet but it’s an option for those places where internet access is geographically or politically difficult.
With digital radio we can broadcast data - like images and short texts - in a sliver of frequency that is much lower than internet but it’s an option for those places where internet access is geographically or politically difficult.
So, what we’re trying to point out is that ways to do smarter, shared radio spectrum management already exist, but what’s missing is political will.
Let’s look at the example of digital television. Why was there so much interest in digital television and why did the transition happen so quickly? (At least in Brazil.) Mobile telecommunications companies were interested in acquiring some of the spectrum that analogue television was occupying, and invested time and money so that the TV digitalisation process could happen. In contrast, digital radio options were not explored due to a lack of financial and political interest.
We can see how economic interests are always put before cultural interests, as well as communications and communications for human rights interests, deepening the social gap between those who have access to internet and the latest technology and those who don’t.
But if we shift from understanding of spectrum as a financial resource to seeing it as a common good – one we all have a right to access - a resource that by principle is a physical part of the world and fundamental to exercising our human right to communicate. We can think about the radioelectric spectrum in much the same way that forests, rivers, seas, culture and ways of life that are at risk of extinction are increasingly viewed – as a common good.
But what sort of commons do we want? Silvia Federici points out that capitalism and patriarchy will seek to capitalise on everything – even in this case on the concept of common good. An example are proposals to monetise parks and natural resources, to generate a budget to protect the commons. But the reality is these natural resources then become reserved for those who can afford access, and exclude a portion of the population from these commons. It’s vital to differentiate from this type of common good model.
But what sort of commons do we want? Silvia Federici points out that capitalism and patriarchy will seek to capitalise on everything – even in this case on the concept of common good.
This is where the broad range of disruptive debate on gender and sexuality gives incentive to think about new ways to manage spectrum as a common good, re-framing it as feminist commons- where feminist perspectives on inclusion that reject the belief that technology is neutral or that technology has had nothing to do with our world’s disparities and rather see technology as a force to reduce inequalities.
Re-framing spectrum as feminist commons- where feminist perspectives on inclusion that reject the belief that technology is neutral or that technology has had nothing to do with our world’s disparities and rather see technology as a force to reduce inequalities.
In Brazil, for example, we have a free spectrum project which seeks micro-level management of the spectrum, it makes it more accessible and less bureaucratic. We can have a broader variety of people building communications via the radio spectrum, with more participatory and optimised management of this common good. Rhizomatica’s experience in Mexico, for example, offers a possibility for indigenous communities to have autonomous access to mobile telephony and self-management that seeks sustainability with gender, race, and class considerations – in other words, an intersectional take on inclusion, with no dependency on corporations.
In the sphere of feminist activism in infrastructure we’re going to talk about two Latin American projects working in digital infrastructure from a feminist perspective, including an understanding of our bodies as infrastructure. As Kéfir says, it’s an autonomous digital ecosystem that provides services to collectives and individuals. Their website, kefir.red, describes the project: “Kéfir is a libre/free tech feminist co-op for activists, human right defenders, journalists, civil society organizations, collectives, artists... We need to create together digital neighborhoods where we can trust each other, express and operate/trigger without fear. (ง︡’- )‘︠ง”
Mail, calls, streaming, collaborative docs, websites and other fermentations are amongst the services Kéfir offers autonomously. Now let’s listen to a Kéfir and Vedeta manifesto.
Manifesto Vedetas/Kéfir #from steel to skin
Vedetas is a feminist server, established to support feminist groups in their online activities and to increase women’s security and autonomy on the internet. On our website you can learn more about our name, Vedetas: Vedeta refers to small cabins spread along the beach to protect the coastline. During the Bahia War of Independence at the beginning of the 19th century, a Black former slave named Maria Felipa defended Itaparica Island from Portuguese attack. For several weeks, her all-women troops stood guard from these cabins, sinking Portuguese ships. The women became known as Vedetas and are celebrated in Itaparica’s popular culture, as referenced in the capoiera song Maria Twelve Men which refers to Maria Felipa’s simultaneous defeat of twelve men.
• Fala Fer Shira (vedetas.org)
Special thanks to: rádio muda, kéfir, vedetas, Nadége, Nanda, Fer Shira, Lili Anaz, Fumiko,
Livia Tiede, Pilar Guimarães and all the marvelous artists that rocked us.
The women became known as Vedetas and are celebrated in Itaparica’s popular culture, as referenced in the capoiera song Maria Twelve Men which refers to Maria Felipa’s simultaneous defeat of twelve men.
CHECK OUT the rest of the edition on making a feminist internet here.