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Fall 2021 Class: Queer-Feminist-Antiracism & Design for the Future (MAS.S61)

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Wood & Eyer

Wood & Eyer

by Danielle Wood

Aug. 8, 2021

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Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future (Part I)

How can we work as Engineers, Scientists, Artists and Designers to create prototypes of a future that supports a liberatory experience for all?

Faculty Instructors: Professor Danielle Wood (MIT) and Professor J. Austin Eyer (University of Texas at Arlington)

MIT Subject Number: MAS.S61

Fall 2021 (Part of a Series from Fall 2021-Summer 2022)

Subject Website(s): Internal website links will be shared with participating students. 

Note on Subject Logistics: This subject is offered concurrently via virtual connection at MIT and the University of Texas at Arlington (UT-A) during Fall 2021. This subject is part of a Series called “Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future” offered during Fall 2021-Summer 2022. At MIT, the class meets in Building E14 Room 493.

Subject Meeting Times: Mondays, 2pm to 5pm ET/1pm to 4pm CT 

Office Hours: Professor Wood holds office hours weekly as a virtual gathering for group discussion. Subscribe to the email list for weekly announcements about office hours here: https://mailman.mit.edu:444/mailman/listinfo/wood_officehours. If you have follow up questions, email Prof Wood’s Assistant, Alessandra Davy-Falconi at space-enabledadmin@media.mit.edu.

Subject Prerequisite: Permission of the Instructor; No previous knowledge of critical social theories, Queer-Feminist-Antiracism, design or artistic practice is needed.  This class is open to undergraduates and graduate students at MIT and the University of Texas at Arlington. 

Subject Units (MIT Units 3-0-6):  At MIT, this is a 9-unit class in which the primary expectations are that students perform the following: come to class having read the required texts; submit brief reflections on the readings; participate in class discussions; present on a reading during class as assigned by the instructor; give presentations during class meetings on progress with the class project; for the class project assignment, submit a draft and final version of the final product and give a presentation on a topic that is agreed upon by the student and instructor.

Subject Description

This subject is offered at MIT within Media Arts & Sciences and at the University of Texas at Arlington within the Theatre Studies Program. The subject is called “Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future.” The class will introduce undergraduate & graduate students to three concepts: 1) Critical theories provides a tools to analyze the history of any field and find patterns of racism, misogyny, fear of queerness, & mistreatment of people on the basis of ability; these patterns are linked to capitalism and colonial thinking. 2) Contributions from scholars practicing Queer-Feminist-Antiracism provide a framework to design liberatory intervention within any field (such as engineering, science, art, design); 3) The class will practice designing Queer-Feminist-Antiracist prototypes based on the students’ experience in their professional or academic field. The class also introduces students to a Design Thinking Framework called Systems Architecture which encourages students to consider societal challenges as part of complex systems with environment, social and economic aspects that must be considered. During the fall semester class, students will work on individual or group projects that lay a foundation for a follow on art project pursued in the following spring and summer terms. The outcome of the work from the fall, spring and summer terms will be a production or exhibition that invites people to experience visions of practices and products built on Queer-Feminist-Antiracism in engineering, design, architecture, science & art.

This class is an offering of the "Antiracism, Design and Technology Initiative," which is being incubated by Prof Danielle Wood and Prof Ekene Ijeoma at the MIT Media. Lab. The mission of the Antiracism, Design and Technology Initiative is "Working towards an antiracist future in which design & technology are tools for liberating all racial groups." Once it is fully established, the Antiracism, Design and Technology Initiative will be a community of faculty, students, staff and affiliates who engage with the theory and embody the practice of working towards a Liberatory Future in which all racial groups thrive within a just society. The Initiative will offer classes such as this one, events, projects and community-building activities that increase the capabilities of the Media Lab in intersectional antiracism.

The concepts of race, gender and sexuality are human inventions often used to divide society into hierarchical groups, denigrate the lower groups on the hierarchy as inferior, and use their supposed inferiority as an excuse to give privilege to the higher racial groups of the hierarchy. Since the beginning of European colonization of the Americas, Africa and Asia (starting in the 15th Century and continuing today), an elite class that has been predominantly white, male and heterosexual, has been practicing an exploitative form of capitalism that relies on access to low-paid labor. The path to reversing the harm caused by the creation of racial hierarchies is to undo the patterns of oppression that have consistently transferred privilege from non-white to white Intersectional Racial Groups. In the face of such history, can we imagine a world in which the long-established systems of oppression that currently shape society are replaced by systems that respect self-determination and Liberatory design? What might such a Liberatory world look like? First, in such a world, when inequity is found, new designs and policies are adopted to correct inequity. Second, in a Liberatory world, work is ongoing to dismantle the foundations of ideas, stereotypes, policies and cultural practices that entrench privilege and autonomy in the hands of a few. Third, in a Liberatory world, people who have traditionally experienced oppression are working with consistent progress toward establishing their own self-determination at the local level and informing political and economic processes at global levels. Fourth, in a Liberatory world, there is solidarity among activists who work toward liberation via Emancipatory Internationalism. Finally, the outcome of Liberatory progress is the flourishing of individuals, families, communities and nations while pursuing sustainable practices that enhance social, economic and environmental justice.

Learning Objectives

After taking this subject, students should be able to:

·        Articulate arguments, perspectives and context for the authors assigned in class on the topics of Queer Studies, Intersectional Feminism, Antiracism and the role of Design and Art to influence the progression of culture

·        Define the role of capitalism, patriarchy, racism and heteronormative culture to oppress intersectional identity groups, especially in the context of the Americas, Europe and Africa, as defined by class readings and related readings

·        Define the liberatory movements, efforts toward resisting oppression, and efforts seeking self-determination that members of intersectional identity groups have pursued, as discussed by the class readings and related readings

·        Describe the impacts that the historical patterns driven by colonialism and racism have had on the global distribution of technology, wealth and development by identifying historical trends from the 16th through the 21st century

·        Define justice and a vision for a liberatory future in the context of each students’ research or academic field by building on the authors discussed in the class

·        Define a complex system and explain how systems thinking provides a method to pursue designs within any field that consider economic, social and environmental concerns.

·        Define design and the role of design to influence the behavior of a complex system

·        Write reflective responses that capture learning from the readings

·        Conceive and design a project that draws from the students’ research, academic field or professional experience that creates a prototype for a liberatory vision of the future

Structure of Class Meetings

The class participants will meet once per week for three-hour in-person sessions. Attendance in the class meetings is mandatory for those taking the class for credit; class participation is a vital aspect of class learning and participation. Listeners to the class are also welcome, and the instructors encourages listeners to read the texts for each class meeting as much as possible. A typical class session includes the following activities, although the class may include meetings held in field locations with advanced notice. Note that this may be adjusted as needed to meet the overall goals of the course:

  • Section 1 (approx. 1 hour) Opening activities and overview lecture led by instructors
  • Section 2 (approx. 1 hour): Students gives short presentation on assigned reading or class project
  • Section 3 (approx. 1 hour): Either a presentation/discussion by the instructor, guest speaker or working sessions on the class project

Overview of Assignments and Grading

All students taking the subject for credit produce several key outputs during the semester, including the following:

1)     Weekly reading reflections on assigned readings

2)     One or more short summary presentation(s) on a reading assigned by the instructor; the number of presentations depends on how many students take the subject for credit

3)     Progress reports presentations on the semester project

4)     A draft version of the final paper or design artifact for the semester project

5)     A revised, final version of the semester project output and presentation for the semester project

In order to complete these assignments, students must read the texts assigned in the calendar below. Students must also identify and complete additional readings that will support their  individual research project. The Instructor provides optional resources that provide background information for the methods used in the class project.

Summary of the semester project. Each student taking the class for credit will complete a semester-long design project, either in groups or individually. The students select a topic for the Individual Semester Project that relates to their interests, academic training, professional identity or future goals and the Learning Objectives of the subject. The student can select from two options for the semester project, as follows:

1)     Write a research paper that can be completed within one semester and that applies the scientific method to answer a research question related to the themes of the subject.

2)     Start a design project related to the thesis research or a practical project pursued by the student that also relates to the themes of the subject. In this case, the Instructor and student will negotiate together the set of deliverables that meet the subject learning objectives and supports the students’ goals.

If a student selects the research paper, here are the expectations for the project deliverables. The research paper is a formal, academic document written in the style of the scientific method that includes the following sections: discussion of the research question, motivation, literature review with an identification of literature gap and contribution, research design, data collection and analysis methods, results and interpretation, assessment of error or uncertainty in the results, discussion of findings and conclusions, and a reflection on the significance of research for the themes of the subject. The final version of the research proposal will be due at the end of class, but students will give interim presentations and submit a draft version of the final paper. The Instructor will give feedback on each of these interim deliverables during class or via email. The interim presentations will show progress by the student on the sections described above. The draft research paper should include all the sections required for the research paper listed above. Each of the interim presentations and the draft paper will be graded and points will be deducted for unexcused late submissions.

If the student design project they should submit to the instructor a one paragraph abstract describing the scope and objectives of the project, describing the design practices and disciplines in which the project is based and proposing the deliverables that they plan to submit. The Instructor will review this proposed project scope with the student and negotiate an acceptable scope that fits the learning objectives of the subject.

Regardless of the type of semester project a student selects, they are still responsible for completing the subject assignments of the weekly reading reflections, short presentations about assigned readings; progress report presentations on the project; a draft version of the semester project output and a final version of the semester project output.

Subject Readings

The following is the primary text for this course. The readings from this book will not be provided. Students are recommended to purchase this text or access a copy from the library.

Lorde, Audre. (2020). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Penguin Classics.

Additional readings are excerpts from longer texts and are outlined in the syllabus; the additional readings are providing to students via the Canvas Course Management System for MIT.

Preparation for the subject:

To prepare for the class, the Instructors recommend watching the following videos, reading from Sister Outsider, and joining for Prof Wood for an office hours session (see instructions above about signing up for office hours).

  • These videos highlight background information about the following book: Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the life of a slave girl: Written by herself.  1861: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q8R2Vs5qGohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26NPLHWthbM (optional video)
  • Interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfaNJ7ktIqA, "What We Can Learn From the Black Feminists of the Combahee River Collective"
  • Video on Octavia Butler by Prof Moya Bailey: https://www.ted.com/talks/ayana_jamieson_and_moya_bailey_why_should_you_read_sci_fi_superstar_octavia_e_butler?language=en
  • Watch the video of Ibram Kendi and Danielle Wood at ML Talk in 2018: https://www.media.mit.edu/videos/ml-talks-2018-05-04/?autoplay=true
  • Watch Robin Kelley speak on Racial Capitalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REo_gHIpvJc 
  • Watch interview with Prof Paul Ortiz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1JKpu16R_M 
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