An interview with SUPERRR - a feminist organization and network that operates in spaces where technology, policy and society intersect.
What was your motivation for starting SUPERRR?
SUPERRR is a feminist organization and network that operates in spaces where technology, policy and society intersect. SUPERRR Lab explores the potentials of new technologies for society and diversity through research and advocacy. Our partners are policy makers and artists, non-profit organizations and public institutions.
For us, SUPERRR fills an empty space in the field of civil society debate on technology, as SUPERRR is not focused primarily on questioning the status quo, but also on pointing out possibilities for more just futures and reimagining what those futures could look like. Especially in the technology sector, there is still a lot of room for organizations that think and work in an intersectional feminist way.
We believe that a feminist perspective on technology can help to build more just futures and pave the way for inclusive and truly democratic participation in society. Our work is driven by values such as equity, diversity, fairness and cooperation.
So tell us about your work. What current projects are you working on and what has been your social impact to date?
We work in all fields in which technology affects equity and diversity in society and changes the state of democracy, participation and representation, and we work with different mediums and forms.
Within our advocacy work we are currently developing a Feminist Tech Policy that will shed light on power structures, injustices and the environmental aspects of technology, and that can be used by policy makers, non-profits and other actors. It will question current innovation narratives and examines the value of maintenance, accessibility, openness and care for the digital societies of the future. As a first step, we have just created a set of Feminist Tech Principles and a Feminist Tech Card Deck together with activists, educators, writers, technologists and designers.
In the fall of 2021, we also began working with the Federal Ministry of Justice and a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss how digital public spaces should be designed in the future.
Through our fellowship programs like the New New and the Feminist Tech Fellowship we support individuals and explore future narratives of technology. In our research work we study the social implications of technology and share our findings in publications like Per Anhalter durch die digitale Zukunft (a brochure with demands and future visions by the German digital civil society), the COVID-19 Infrastructure Playbook, or DING magazine.
In your experience, how does technology + the web influence and/or perpetuate power dynamics?
Similar structures are reproduced in the digital world as they are offline, and of course no clear dividing line can be drawn between on- and offline, as digital technologies are interwoven with our everyday lives. At SUPERRR Lab, we aim to live a differentiated view of technologies. Companies and the pop culture often serve narratives that claim that all problems can be solved if only the right technology is developed. On the other hand, we also have surveillance, exploitation and various forms of discrimination through technologies, which must be viewed critically and communicated. But we must be careful not to portray technological "progress" as unstoppable and inevitable.
Sexism and patriarchal structures, racism, classism and other forms of discrimination exist in our society, and so are naturally reproduced in our technology development and in the technologies themselves. We are interested in how these power structures need to be broken down in order to make change possible in the first place.
What impact does this have on our daily lives?
The impact of technologies are multifaceted. Many socially marginalized people are better able to connect, exchange experiences, and join forces through technology. However, the hopes of democratization through the Internet have not been fulfilled as proclaimed at the beginning. The profit-oriented nature of social media fosters escalating emotions and hatred, with those who suffer the most being socially marginalized groups. The effects of other algorithmic systems, such as in recruiting, in the judicial system, or in asylum procedures, are much more under the radar. In many cases, individuals do not even know if, when and how they are impacted.
So what’s the solution, how can we shape a digital society that is just, inclusive and equitable?
There is, unfortunately, no easy solution for a just, inclusive and equitable digital society. To build just and inclusive digital futures it needs a holistic view of digitalization. A feminist approach helps to think and see beyond existing stories and structures. Fortunately, there are many people around the world working towards such futures.
At SUPERRR Lab, we push away from innovation and efficiency at all costs towards more care and taking time to think through the possible consequences of technologies. We want to question whether it really is always necessary to create something new. Instead of commercial interests and shareholder value, the needs of people, societies and the planet need to truly be at the center of all considerations.
Can you give us some examples of feminist tech principles?
Sure. Together with our collaborators, we outlined 12 Feminist Tech Principles. They are on very different levels – some are very meta and structural, some are very practical and tangible. Principle 1, for instance, describes describes how climate action, colonialist structures and social equity are interlinked, and how we have to question what tech solutions optimize for. Principle 10 is about designing for consent and is explaining what informed consent means and why it is important. You can find them all here: www.feministtech.org.
How can people get involved and support your work?
You can join the SUPERRR Community by sending us an email. It is a loose network of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people in the arts, in science, tech, journalism, activism and more. We are all learning from each other – people who challenge the status quo by the work they do – through starting new programs and organizations, running campaigns, creating community spaces or developing and building things that try to make the world a better place. We have an online space and we also meet from time to time in person in Berlin. And there is also a London chapter.
What advice would you give those who are in the tech industry and want to create an alternative digital future?
For this question we’d like to quote our long time friends and collaborators Hera Hussain and Michelle Thorne who spoke at our panel at re:publica conference in June. For Hera, a starting point for feminist practice is „to use your power, read, write, cite, listen, open your mind, vote correctly, volunteer, donate, have challening conversations and always be learning!” And Michelle herself wisely quoted Toni Cade Bambara when saying “bring it with joy, bring it with fun and light even in that seriousness, and make our revolution irresistible! Because that will give us momentum, purpose and beauty.”