Agential Realism and Gender Expansiveness: Exploring Digital Mediation and the Shaping of Gender
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The world is silently shaped and mediated by digital technologies, algorithms, and databased categorisations in what legal scholar Frank Pasquale terms a ‘black box society’, while the constraints of binary gender categorisation unravel as increasing numbers of genderqueer and nonbinary people step forwards. Considering digital technologies as an inextricably intertwined element of daily life, equally shaping gender and upholding binary-categorisation models rooted in colonial human categorisation techniques, this research examines how binary-discourse is programmed into digital systems shaping contemporary society, and if non-binary people can congruently exist with their gender in digitally mediated societies. Embracing approaches through the eyes of Karen Barad’s theory of Agential Realism as a core concept to analyse genders mutual constitution with multiplicities of inter- and intra-acting digital systems and networks, the work considers the constraints this has upon digital gender identity, examining the boundaries and roles of digital platforms and profiles, and highlighting occurrences of programmatic discriminations and data violences. Secondly, digital and data neocolonialism are explored, offering a historical contextualisation of how gender has been realised within and across databases and digital systems, and further solidified through platform- and surveillance-capitalist logic that is managed by big tech’s sovereign control of the global data landscape. The last section discusses inclusive-design methodologies and data- and design-justice theories. Exploring if and how such approaches could viably work in different settings, the approach of inclusivity versus structural systemic change is questioned, while calling for an intervention in how data is conceptualised and understood to account for the in-flux nature of queer lives. The princaple aim of this work is to offer a theoretical intervention and basis for exploring the research topic in greater detail and develop departure points for future research centring gender-inclusive system design practises.
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