Assange: Geek God or Sexist Despoiler?

We’ve all been following the wikileaks story, so here’s an invitation to conversation. On the face of it, the issue should be at the heart of all that is Feminist Technoscience. A sexist geek helping data to live free?  Most of us are rolling our eyes and waiting for the world to catch up with the fact that data lives in networks that are always already public and private, that there have been long histories of sexist men with power-lust on all sides of geo-politics,  that technological tools have long been part of a democratization of power, embodying all the contradictions of democracy itself , and that Assange himself (neither Neo nor Caligula, just an everyday misogynist geek, ‘cept David Fincher hasn’t yet made a movie about him) is not astonishingly new.

There have been many good reasons for us to withhold comment: the odd incompleteness of media reportage (there are always pieces missing, but this one’s remarkable for being almost all gaps, despite the sheer abundance of data at the heart of the story); the silliness of the op-ed pieces both in support of Assange (“He’s Neo! We’re in The Matrix !”) and against (“He’s a hacker ! They have no respect for authority!”).

If rendering Assange heroic or evil is not interesting, most of what remains worth following in the media coverage is the historical context. Two interesting contexts are (1) the historical effects of leaking secret documents on the emergence of geo-political terrain-grabs, as in the examples here and (2) the historical effects of narratives of rape, as here and here .

But then, we’re not in the business of just observing historical context here, are we? Here’s the part that I think needs more feminist technoscientific comment: If he is a sexist (all evidence points to “yes”), or a rapist (much evidence points to a possibility), does that mean his intentions toward data are depraved?

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3 Responses
  1. Amelia says:

    Thanks for this. It echoes a lot of what’s been rolling around in my head these last few weeks.

    The source of the scandal is in documents, some that are classified, some that are just unseen/buried in bureaucracy, and a sort of megalomania to present them. Assange is given this narrative as this sort of global, stateless persona who speaks in part by subverting the archive. (This raises some questions about the labor of archiving- if it really is just replaced by rogue, ephemeral postings, or if this just obscures it.)

    Then you have the juxtaposition of rape charges, which are historically not supported by documents, and documented in a secondary sense that’s almost always problematic.

    That the leaked documents are referred to as “data” raises some questions as well. It tends to erase the infrastructural markers.

  2. I’d actually suggest that you propose a paper analyzing this for Arse Elektronika.

  3. Zinc says:

    A more recent feminist comment on this story: http://skycroeser.tumblr.com/post/25556239581/how-to-promote-events-in-support-of-assange-without

    And, related to feminism, technology, and sexist backlash, the Anita Sarkeesian story is instructive:
    http://www.feministfrequency.com/about/

    & some more resources on the continuing story:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0oZ8j3I2ac

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/16/julian-assange-wikileaks-refugee-protection?fb=optOut

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