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The Intersectional Internet

Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online

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Edited By Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes

From race, sex, class, and culture, the multidisciplinary field of Internet studies needs theoretical and methodological approaches that allow us to question the organization of social relations that are embedded in digital technologies, and that foster a clearer understanding of how power relations are organized through technologies.
Representing a scholarly dialogue among established and emerging critical media and information studies scholars, this volume provides a means of foregrounding new questions, methods, and theories which can be applied to digital media, platforms, and infrastructures. These inquiries include, among others, how representation to hardware, software, computer code, and infrastructures might be implicated in global economic, political, and social systems of control.
Contributors argue that more research needs to explicitly trace the types of uneven power relations that exist in technological spaces. By looking at both the broader political and economic context and the many digital technology acculturation processes as they are differentiated intersectionally, a clearer picture emerges of how under-acknowledging culturally situated and gendered information technologies are impacting the possibility of participation with (or purposeful abstinence from) the Internet.
This book is ideal for undergraduate and graduate courses in Internet studies, library and information studies, communication, sociology, and psychology. It is also ideal for researchers with varying expertise and will help to advance theoretical and methodological approaches to Internet research.
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Chapter Twelve: The Intersectional Interface

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CHAPTER TWELVE

The Intersectional Interface

MIRIAM E. SWEENEY

 

THEORIZING THE INTERFACE

Interfaces are typically conceptualized as the point of interaction between two systems, organizations, subjects, or components. Though this interaction is usually described in social or haptic terms, the interface also serves as a cultural point of contact shaped by ideologies that are manifest in the design, use, and meaning of the technology. Selfe and Selfe (1994) echo this sentiment in their description of the computer interface as a “political and ideological boundary land” (p. 481) that may serve larger cultural systems of domination in much the same way that geopolitical borders do. Just as geopolitical borders prevent the circulation of some individuals for political purposes, computer interfaces act as “contact zones” where complicated power dynamics play out, privileging the movement of some users over others.

Pratt (1991) defines contact zones as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (p. 34). This is an important lens to apply to information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have historically been paradoxically positioned either as apolitical and neutral tools or as inherently democratic and liberating. Internet technologies in particular have been rhetorically ← 215 | 216 → described in terms of the networked potential for democratic interactions that...

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