On Refusal. Labor Tech Research Network, 2021.

Full transcript to be published in REFUSE: A Journal of Iconoclasms. Forthcoming, 2022.

“This panel was built in parallel with the building of the Labor Tech Research Network as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. So congratulations to all of us! And congratulations to Winnie Poster for her hard work! As we began imagining, and manifesting this infrastructure of support for a group that really does represent some of the more radical forms that research around labor and technology can inhabit in and outside of academia, in part represented by this panel today and also by this amazing audience, we had to hold many meetings where the driving question really is: what is the utopian ideal of Labor Tech for us? How can we get there? What do we need? And, to be quite honest, I often find myself without the language to describe what I want and need, as I sit, as we all do, in these times of coinciding crises of police and pandemic and propaganda and patriarchy, and politics and pollution and everything else. And instead, I find myself very much focused on what I don’t want, what I refuse, what I know I’m not and what I won’t perpetuate to the people around me. And these times, they really illuminate the slippery ethics of refusal, as people move in and out of industry, take or deny their monies, cancel, callout, defund, quit. In one conversation, I heard of one of our members joining a harmful multinational that they had spent years criticizing and in the same conversation about another member of our group who refused unrestricted Google funding on the terms of ethics. We never truly know what choices we would make until we have to make them. As we build the Labor Tech Research Network, and as each one of us here works on ourselves and our communities more broadly, it felt imperative to draw us together in a conversation, to communicate about where we are and about what is pressing upon our ethics, to reassess and reinvest in our commitments, to refuse that which does not serve us and to identify what is needed, what we all collectively need and how those needs coincide and conflict across all of our diverse, beautiful, committed parts. 

What practices serve us? What platforms hold our ideals in place and what platforms demolish them? How do we work with and around structures to always navigate forward? What accountability forums are necessary to hold ourselves to? And in what form should we hold accountable the people and platforms around us? 

Today’s panel, was very influenced by the “Feminist Data ManifestNo” as authored by two of today’s guests: Anna Lauren Hoffman and Pat Garcia, who illuminate and draw together Latinx, queer, black, trans, and indigenous feminist thinkers who refuse the inheritance of harm brought about by normative flows, traditions and systemic patterns, and not only imagined things otherwise, but manifest them. The ManifestNo is provocatively written as both refusals and commitments. These juxtapositions echo the transformative justice activist and author adrienne maree brown’s recent book Will Not Cancel Us, which gently encourages us to forego the binaries of good and bad, fair and unfair, canceled and accountable, and considers trajectories that facilitate growth and community. And in particular, I want to think today about her assertion that “refusal gives way to a more ‘Authentic Yes.’” And it is my hope that through this conversation today, and through the development of the Labor Tech Research Network, through our own individual work in this community that we all inhabit together, that we will identify new commitments for ourselves in these changing times and forge some new opportunities that manifest the worlds we need and want. 

And so today is an attempt to have a conversation and, to help in that, our panelists are: 

Anna Lauren Hoffman, Assistant Professor with the information school at the University of Washington, senior fellow with the Center for Applied Transgender Studies and affiliate faculty with the University of Washington iSchool’s Data Lab. Candidly, her very prolific work is one of the most helpful tools I can imagine for thinking through these times. She shared today with us Terms of Inclusion, and a piece called “Even When You Are a Solution You Are a Problem,” which was an incredible read and new to me, which I imagine we will hear more of today. 

Pat Garcia is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. She conducts qualitative research on the complex relationship between race, gender, technology and justice. And her work developing a computational justice program model with libraries to support girls of color is groundbreaking in its pragmatic and significant detangling of the promises of programs to support diversity, and then designing an intersectional and decolonial approach for the gaps where those promises aren’t realized. 

mariam asad is a leading sociotechnical scholar and practitioner who explores alternative sociopolitical frameworks in and without design, and has introduced prefiguration to the field of Human Computer Interaction, and develops prefigurative design or how we can use social relationships, material resources and counterinstitutions to help create the worlds we need. 

Natalia Smirnov is an artist and editor of refuse or refuse, however you would like to say it, A Journal of Iconoclasms, which provokes a destruction of tradition, saviors, the dominant, the default and the disciplinary by exploring the refusal turn through multiple writings and artworks.

Stefanie Dunning is author of the incredible book Black to Nature. She is an Associate Professor of English, Black World Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Miami University, which is in Ohio, around the corner from here. Her work complicates refusal in a way that feels very helpful. As not just an act of anger, but emphasizes the joyful aspects of refusal, speaking to anti-assimilation, queer and trans politics of resistance and mutual aid, and other forms of radical work that build more supportive spaces and affirmative futures. 

The drive of today is to have a conversation seeded by these incredible thinkers, premised on the broad provocation:

  • How does refusal come up in your work in practice? 
  • Or, what does refusal mean for you?

Banner image description: Zoom screenshot including 11 headshots of 5 speakers and some attendees. Stephanie Jordan is situated in the top right corner.