A Transversal Network of Feminist Servers
10 Feb 2022
In a series of interviews we portray our Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees. The grantee featured here successfully applied to round 4: Culture of Solidarity in times of an infodemic.
In pursuit of an intersectional, feminist, and ecological impetus, ‘A Transversal Network of Feminist Servers’ (ATNOFS) is a collaborative project that aims to explore alternative engagements with digital tools and platforms. ATNOFS seeks to develop new and inventive interactions between communities across our continent, bringing together existing efforts in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Romania and Greece to create a network of solidarity addressing local contingencies through collective ventures. A travelling ‘feminist server’ will equip 2-day live events that will be taking place at each respective node, and will function as a tool and a witness to the activities. The events will culminate in a printed publication.
Rotterdam-based initiative Varia will develop the travelling feminist server ‘Rosa’ and will coordinate ANTOFS with the help of partner organisation Constant. On behalf of ATNOFS, Constant, HYPHA, Feminist Hack Meetings, esc, LURK, ooooo, Marloes de Valk and Varia have collaboratively shared their answers to our questions regarding the project.
What has inspired you to create ATNOFS, and what urgencies are you responding to?
In the past couple of years, many organisations in our network and beyond have been forced to transition their activity entirely online, all the while receiving no external support in this process. This has led to a growing reliance on centralised, proprietary, commercial infrastructure providers which brings to the forefront several issues such as lack of privacy and agency, monopoly, misinformation. A Traversal Network of Feminist Servers (ATNOFS) is a project that aims to bring visibility of counter-efforts and provide them with a framework to consolidate their projects, help structure their cooperation, and inspire others to create similar or join such initiatives.
Our priority is to create a public debate around the following questions: how to engage with digital tools that we may not have tried before (file sharing, forums, web hosting, federated social media and collaborative note taking); how to potentially develop new tools that could emerge from the series of exchanges, including community related resources for self-organising, decision making, trust building, knowledge exchange; how to strengthen existing bonds and create new ones. All while keeping in mind the different local urgencies and needs of each partner: the lack of self-hosted and self-organised infrastructures in certain regions; the lack of physical spaces and the lack of long-term support for administering feminist servers; the need for safe online spaces; the need to configure and maintain a mutually supportive network, from sharing hosted services such as cloud and encrypted file-sharing, online surveys, code distribution and version control systems, to server mirroring as backup mechanisms between the mentioned organisations and beyond.
What is a feminist server? What does a community around such a server look like?
By server we mean a computer that can be connected to the Internet, run a website and provide file storage. It will be passed from one partner to another, as both a tool and collective storage to document the traces of our activities. Our feminist travelling server will therefore capture what emerges from a series of events related to the urgencies we described. We believe that such an approach to documentation will enable reflections, as well as making public the diversity of generated material.
The work is especially inspired by the tenets of the Feminist Server Manifesto. A feminist server “is a situated technology” and “is autonomous in the sense that she decides for her own dependencies”. It “treats network technology as part of a social reality” and “radically questions the conditions for serving and service”. Such a server is a safe social space of learning, speculating and exchanging knowledge that questions technology and its dependencies within the systems it is embedded in. The community around it weaves together different practices of system administration, care and maintenance which are shaped in relation to feminist principles.
Can you tell us more about the events? Who will be attending them, and what is the nature of activities that will take place?
Each partner will create a series of two days of live events that will be documented in a chapter of the publication.
Feminist Hack Meetings (FHM) (GR) will focus on free/open-source software development and online privacy. In the first day, they will discuss about alternative social media as a response to the use of Facebook by feminist collectives in the Greek context. In the second day, they will be working on a feminist server, by providing a hands-on system administration essentials workshop based on a manual by the Systerserver, and a discussion on governance and feminist collectives.
HYPHA (RO) aims to coagulate the local community of activists around self-managed technologies and open-source alternatives to corporate surveilance. The first day will consist of theoretical discussions regarding the needs and issues of the local community and the second day will focus on a series of technical hands-on workshops.
Constant (BE) will research and question how technological tools and initiatives developed as a counter response to the authoritative and capitalist logic widely present in the computer tech sector can align with colonial and patriarchal frameworks. They will be looking at two main threads of research. The first one is etherbox, a local server, tweaked to specific needs of being able to document locally. For the second, they want to look at the way Yunohost works, an operating system aimed to facilitate administration, and how this structures a system.
LURK (FR/NL/PT) currently provides online services and access to alternative social media. During the event, LURK will offer a two days workshop/sprint about the fediverse (Mastodon particularly). While on the first day the workshop will focus on the installation process, it will be followed by a discussion on customisation and member onboarding on the second day. The workshop will go in depth into this subject, while bootstrapping respective communities to use these instances.
Varia‘s (NL) contribution to the traveling server will be focused around feminist federated publishing. In the first session hosted in Varia, a new intersectional feminist server will be installed that will provide the publishing infrastructure for the rest of the partners. The server will document its own process of installation as well as the session itself. It will then travel to other locations, where it can inform the development of other servers.
Esc (AU) will use their expertise as a media art laboratory which facilitates encounters between artists, scientists, theoreticians and programmers from the most varied disciplines. In a core team of 5 people, they will develop a travelling feminist server swarm, that shall consist of a mixture of real functioning hardware based on raspberry pi and imaginative and speculative parts and ingredients that suggest a fiction of interrelated channels of exchange.
What might such a network of solidarity look like in the long-term?
The collaboration of a set of existing cultural, feminist and self-hosted servers located in Europe and ran by the partners will try to extend their allies and participants towards places and countries where open source and decentralised media platforms and services are not yet supported nor accessible. Such platforms and tools are absolutely necessary to establish cultural agency outside of the current media oligopolies. They are needed to enable and democratise cultural and political expression outside of obscure ranking algorithms, incoherent content filters, and advertising monetisation.
Our goal is to achieve a long-term collaboration framework within a growing network of federated self-hosters which follow feminist, intersectional principles. The network can subsequently grow after the completion of the project, supported by the shared resources and infrastructure that will be established throughout it. Through the Culture of Solidarity fund we also met many initiatives, which show a similar attention to infrastructural politics and with whom we would like to find ways to collaborate.
What is the outreach of the project? Who is the audience you wish to engage?
The results of the project will be documented in real time on the server itself and in a publication. Each node will promote the events and the publication using different channels to their desired audience within a local and international reach. The audience from our partners are highly specialised and therefore hold the position of multipliers which will be useful for the circulation of these ideas to a broader audience.
The different partners aim to reach local LGBTQ+ activists and artists (FHM), local and international audiences interested in the intersection of artistic research, media and technology (Constant), self-organised artist/activist collectives (Varia), artists, scientists, theoreticians and programmers who intersect disciplines (esc), EU cultural institutions, artists, scholars, and art and design educators and their students (LURK), local organisations, among which groups of independent artists, housing activists, intersectional feminists, students, queer and Roma people (HYPHA).
The organisations partnering in this project already have practises addressed at increasing inclusivity in technological processes and work to support marginalised and underrepresented groups in their respective contexts. For example the Feminist Hack Meetings, which respond to the traditional underrepresentation of people who identify as women/queer/nonbinary in male-dominated hacker spheres.
What is the interplay between the local and the pan-European in your project?
Due to limited access to funding, and no formal structure or organisational network, the question of autonomy and sovereignty in relation to network services, data storage, and digital infrastructures is difficult to engage with at a European level. In practice, it rarely goes beyond the scope of local hacker and maker spaces, DIY and self-hosted websites, isolated media and cultural associations, and online communities. However, it is not for a lack of knowledge and willingness. There is an urgent need to develop interrelational connections across Europe, making use of existing small scale infrastructures, knowledge and skills.
ATNOFS is responding to the need for continuity, interrelation and support for existing efforts in The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and to the lack of self-hosted and self-organised infrastructures in Romania and Greece, from lack of physical spaces to the lack of long-term support for administering their existing structures. ATNOFS will connect several partners from these countries around collective practises of developing, hosting and implementing tools and methods that reflect their needs, interests and cultural environment. By collectivising these, the different partners in the network wish to give and receive support within it and subsequently share it further within each partner’s respective community and local cultural network.
Granted: 39970 euros