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Reviews (Feminist Hackerspaces: The Synthesis of Feminist and Hacker Cultures) image

Review A

Reviewer: Nana Adousei Poku

The article „A Hackerspace of One’s Own“ is of high relevance given the discourses that it brings together namely Feminism and hacker-maker-geek initiatives. I have to admit that I have learned a lot about contemporary North American Hacker Culture and its frictions, which I highly appreciate as it is an enriching debate for a Queer Feminist debate.

The treatment of the subject matter is intellectually interesting although there is an underlying tendency of not sufficiently introducing some of the core theoretical concepts throughout the text. I.e. the clarification of the term intersectional is to late introduced for readers who’s expertise is not in Gender Studies. For those who are familiar with Gender Studies a great problem arises, if Intersectionality is not introduced in depth, despite the mention of Kimberly Crenshaw, who coined the term, it appears rather vague to continue with a citation of Chantal Mouffe’s theoretical position towards identity. Particularly since the French Philosopher Mouffe is neither a self-proclaimed intersectional theorist nor Queer Feminist. Nevertheless can Mouffe be useful in this article, when it comes to the notion of practice and a focus on unified political bias (Laclau and Mouffe on Antagonisms i.e.)

It is not entirely clear in which way the author differentiates between intersectionality, relational as well as inter-dependence ( the latter is not mentioned in the text- but part of the Feminist debate since Black Feminist Writers such as bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins or Lola Young have critiqued WLM for their exclusive definition of the category Women).

This vagueness in concern of application of terms equally arises when it comes to the term Queer. It is not clear from the text wether the author refers to Queer as an identity or as a political and theoretical practice. I therefore highly recommend to add a section in which there will be clarification of the term. Theorists such as Roderick Ferguson, Jose Esteban Munoz and Sarah Ahmed have to be part of this debate and can strengthen the focus on intersectionality and relationality. Additionally is it important when the author writes about the safe spaces to include Donna Harraway’s notion of situated knowledge as it would strengthen the authors argument.

It would be highly beneficial to learn more about the ways in which the different categories, which the author addresses are played out within the Feminist hacker-maker-geek initiatives. Particularly if there is a privileging of the category Women, which contradicts queer practices that consider identity as well as its categories as unfixed. It could be helpful to operate with the unfixed identity category „polymorph“ as introduced by the Queer
Feminist Author Antke Engel.

(For this debate see: Haschemi Yekani, Elahe, Beatrice Michaelis, und Gabriele Dietze. 2011. „‚Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.‘ Queer Interdependencies as Corrective Methodologies“. In Theorizing Intersectionality and Sexuality, Ed. Yvette Taylor, Sally Hines, und Mark E. Casey. Genders and Sexualities in the Social Sciences. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.)

I would therefore appreciate a stronger emphasis on the theoretical debate, which Feminist hacker-maker-geek initiatives attempt to put into practice in order also to create a more inclusive hacker culture also a greater potential of their practices as DYI and DIT.

The article is well written and easily accessible, despite from a few editing mistakes and misspellings I would suggest to shift some parts of the clarification of terminology ( Feminism and intersectionality in particular) to the beginning of the text. Another critique that I have is that due to the theoretical tradition of Queer Feminism and Queer of Color Critique, I am surprised about the invisibility of the author in the text. It would be good to know more about the situatedness of the author instead of reading a reproduction of the omnipotent objective gaze in science, that has been at the centre of Queer Feminist criticism. (I.e. in Segdwick’s writing)

I think that the article can gain depth through the part in which Hacking becomes a different notion ascribed. ( See: „Additionally, what these spaces are attempting to do is to (re)open the meaning of technology to include what has been too often pejoratively referred to as feminine technologies and hence discredited (such as looming, (guerilla) knitting, clothes hacking, etc.) while also attempting to reshape the meaning of “hacking” as a way to hack life in all its forms as to (re)gain autonomy.“)This part should be expanded, what is the changed meaning of technology through these spaces? And how can hacking ( in theory and practice) be transformed through a Queer Feminist approach?

I would be delighted to see these questions stressed and tackled in the text.

Review B

Reviewer: Anita Chan

This paper describes the emergence of intersectional feminist, queer and trans inclusive hackerspace in the US and puts this emergence in the context of and contrasts it with the history of hackerspaces in general. It concludes that these intersectional feminist hackerspaces are a synthesis between the feminist and the hacker tradition.

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

The subject matter is relevant.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

The treatment of the subject matter is interesting and clear. There are a few parts that could be expanded to illustrate some arguments in more detail (see below).

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

The article is presenting good arguments but beyond presenting what they found the authors make little comparative analysis and draw no real conclusions:

– Apparently the models of the three spaces analysed for this study differ. Does this result in differences with regard to the cirtique on white male hackerspaces? Does it result in differences regarding the categories developed in the paper (separatism, openness)?

– What does the emergence of intersectional feminist hackerspaces mean for existing (white male dominant) hackerspaces? What does it signify for the overall hackerspaces community and/or the “maker movement”?

4. Is the article well written?

The article is generally well written (there are a few spelling issues).

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The article would warrant a more elaborate summary of the feminist and post-colonial critique of hackerspaces to strengthen the point why intersectional hackerspaces are needed. A section on such critique would best be placed after the “Brief History of Hackerspaces” section.
Particularly the critique of “meritocracy” and the hostility of hackerspaces would best be introduced earlier.
As said above, the conclusion(s) should be expanded.


A well written and relevant paper that would merit some expansion.

Review C

Reviewer: maxigas

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

The paper deals with the diversification of one type of SMS (hackerspaces) along fault lines of gender related exclusion. This is highly relevant for four reasons. Firstly, it analyses the gender dynamics in the scene which is a relevant and important topic in its own right, and have not been adequately addressed in relation to SMSs so far. Secondly, after the diversification of SMSs to hackerspaces, makerspaces, Fab Labs, etc., the further fragmentation of the hackerspaces scene itself is an interesting historical development. Thirdly, both aspects are interesting for the dual audience of JoPP: academia and practitioners. Fourthly, the article is a good example of the “history of the contemporary” – e.g. it captures a transformation that is very recent and therefore relevant, and captures it in a “long view” which inspires reflection.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

Yes, the article is written in an engaging style and the voices of the interviewees comes through clearly. I find the conclusion (which is backed up by the rest of the article) especially well thought out, fruitful and constructive in theoretical and political terms. The decision to contextualise the phenomena in historical terms and at the same time characterise the differences between each space results in an approach which is broad and deep at the same time, treating its subject matter with the seriousness it deserves.

In general it would improve the article to add references to “primary sources”, for example blog posts, threads in mailing list archives, etc. to sentences like the following: “The reasons for this are multiple and generate a lot of discussions on mailing lists, IRC or at conferences.” Books like “Hackerspaces: The Beginning” ( or blog posts like “Respect the Past, Examine the Present, Build the Future” by Nick Farr are scattered but valuable traces for readers who would like to dig deeper. I am not aware of any bodies of secondary literature which would add substantially to the contribution of the paper.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

The article concentrates on the experience of the people who founded the new spaces, which is methodologically correct. However, the thread of the argument throughout the paper is a bit hard to follow for me. In particular, there are many instances of insistence on the mere fact that IF hackerspaces exist. Although I find the historical material on the foundation of these spaces very strong and valuable, the analysis could be improved by building up the argument around a single aspect (which may have to be “singled out” from the possible other relevant aspects treated in the paper).

One option would be to focus on the developing tension between the concepts of “open” and “safe”. These concepts go very far because on the one hand they are rooted in liberal and leftist ideologies (respectively), and on the other hand they find their expression in materially very concrete observable everyday practices (for instance “social nights” and “women only nights”, respectively). While such themes surface throughout the article and in the conclusion, they are not articulated as a coherent line of argument.

4. Is the article well written?

The article is generally well written although some sentences (which I pointed out to the author) are a bit obscure and could be clarified. The order and hierarchy of the sections needs to be rethought. For instance, while in the final analysis the contents do cling together, it is still confusing that key concepts are introduced only in the middle of the article.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The amalgamation of intersectional feminism and “hacker-maker and geek” culture happens too easily in the narrative. I would be interested to know how each of the two are transformed in this alchemical process. How an intersectional feminism articulated through hacker culture differs from previous manifestations of intersectional feminism? What new (or old) elements they bring to each other? I don’t think these are two things you can simply stick together like two bricks.

Of course personally I am most interested in frictions, conflict and developments which stem from the differences between the “apolitical” liberalism of the mainstream hacker scene (or mainstream liberalism of the “apolitical” hacker scene) and the political sensitivities of feminisms. How politics is construed in feminisms and hackerspaces is very different (as this article attests), so the construction of politics is one of the points where the amalgamation of the two must have transformative effects at least for one of the two cultures.

I find the genealogical history of feminisms intriguing, but I wonder if there is enough (conceptual and physical) space in the article to do justice to all these steps. This section should be either more nuanced, relying more intensively on relevant literature. Or alternatively it could be collated to a brief overview of the impulses in the history of feminisms which inform these new types of hackerspaces.