She's been a swimsuit cover model and a human trafficking victim, but Barbie has never really been touted as a working professional. The latest affront to basic decency in gendered toy marketing comes from a Barbie book that tells girls they can't be game developers or programmers.
The book is bafflingly called Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. It was written by Susan Marenco and published by Random House. Despite its encouraging title, Marenco's book actually tells preteen girls that Barbie can only contribute to the design of the game she's building.
Geek girls remix that sexist Barbie book
This book, released last June, was paired with another career-minded book called Barbie: I Can Be an Actress. All five reviews for the two-book set on Amazon are from baffled parents wondering why a story called I Can Be a Computer Engineer is sending the opposite message. In fact, according to the site's only three-star review (the others each give one star), it might more accurately be called "I Can Manipulate Boys Into Programming While I Sit Back and Take Credit." Here's how the three-star reviewer, Roxanne M, describes it:
Basically what happens is she designs a game (but can't code it without her guy friends' help), infects her own and her sister's computers with a virus by accident (lolol), has her guy friends help her fix both of them, and then takes all the credit for the game and fixed computers in the end.
Oy. You'd think that, with a plot that hackneyed, Barbie would at least get a better title. After all, "I Can Be a Game Designer" is still a pretty cool title! But alas, as blogger and comedy writer Pamela Ribon quickly discovered when she picked up the book for the first time yesterday, it isn't intended to give girls even that much empowerment.
As Ribon describes in an increasingly cringe-inducing writeup about the book, Barbie is introduced as the designer of stereotypically "girly" games featuring cute little animals. Barbie's work resembles Pet Rescue or similar mobile games—you know, not the ones "real gamers" make.
That's OK, though, because Barbie is apparently perfectly happy with her second-class status. “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie tells Skipper. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” She's laughing when she says it, though, so we're assured that she's totally OK with her fate. Barbie appears to embrace her life as a pink-clad artist who gets waylaid by cute robot puppies and never makes a dent in the tech culture gender gap.
From there, the book unleashes a litany of sexist stereotypes, already all too familiar in the world of preteen girl marketing. Barbie signals her geek cred by wearing her flash drive in a giant pink heart-shaped necklace. Too bad that flash drive has a virus.
Barbie is also too dumb to notice that the virus exists before it crashes her computer. Maybe she doesn't have malware protection? She also can't restart her computer without her sister's help.
It just gets better (worse) from there: Barbie does indeed accidentally give Skipper a virus, and Skipper's reaction, as described by Ribon, makes her sound like an alien with no investment in her schoolwork or emotional attachment to her music collection:
“I forgot to back up my homework assignment!” cries Skipper. “And all my music files are lost, too!”
“I’m so sorry, Skipper,” says Barbie. “I have to run off to school now. But I promise to find a way to fix your laptop.”
“You better!” Skipper replies as she playfully hits Barbie with a pillow.
To recap the sophisticated narrative: Skipper has just lost her homework, all her music files, and her laptop, but the only thing she can think about now is a pillow fight.
Later, after receiving instructions from her female computer-science teacher, Barbie tries fixing her computer alone. That's when the aforementioned Steven and Brian arrive and tell her that things will "go faster" if she lets them help. Ribon points out that while the book portrays them as perfectly nice dudes, they represent the actual systemic marginalization that she and countless other women have experienced in the tech industry:
Steven and Brian don’t value design as much as code. Steven and Brian represent every time I was talked over and interrupted — every time I didn’t post a code solution in a forum because I didn’t want to spend the next 72 years defending it. Steven and Brian make more money than I do for doing the same thing. And at the same time, Steven and Brian are nice guys.
As if all that weren't enough, at the end of the book Barbie really does take all credit for the work that Steven and Brian do. She decides, without any actual coding experience, that "I guess I can be an engineer!"
Ribon notes that since the other story is juxtaposed and inverted against the engineering story, the book actually has one last passive-aggressive insult for girls reading it: "When you read Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, it appears that you are so fucking dumb, you’re reading Barbie: I Can Be an Actress upside down."
Sadly, toys for girls are often blatantly offensive in their use of gendered stereotypes, if they aren't ignored altogether in the rush to produce action figures for boys. In that context, this kind of stereotyping is to be expected from a no-name toy product. But Barbie has been running its "I can be..." campaign for several years, explicitly to help empower girls by telling them they can be everything from professional surfers to the President. Sure, it's just class president, but we'll cut her some slack—assuming she didn't bribe boys to vote for her by offering to let them undo her perky pink hair bow.
At some point, maybe Mattel should just quit fronting and abandon the pretense that Barbie—whose body proportions are so unrealistic that a woman reportedly removed two of her ribs just to try to match them—has anything empowering to offer young girls. Mattel has already featured Barbie on a Sports Illustrated cover. After that, no amount of career ambition can mask where her true cultural value lies. Sadly, it's not in her programming skills.
Jean Jennings (left) and Frances Bilas set up the ENIAC in 1946. Bilas is arranging the program settings on the Master Programmer.
Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania
If your image of a computer programmer is a young man, there's a good reason: It's true. Recently, many big tech companies revealed how few of their female employees worked in programming and technical jobs. Google had some of the highest rates: 17 percent of its technical staff is female.
It wasn't always this way. Decades ago, it was women who pioneered computer programming — but too often, that's a part of history that even the smartest people don't know.
I took a trip to ground zero for today's computer revolution, Stanford University, and randomly asked over a dozen students if they knew who were the first computer programmers. Almost none knew.
"I'm in computer science," says a slightly embarrassed Stephanie Pham. "This is so sad."
A few students, like Cheng Dao Fan, get close. "It's a woman, probably," she says searching her mind for a name. "It's not necessarily [an] electronic computer. I think it's more like a mechanic computer."
She's thinking of Ada Lovelace, also known as the Countess of Lovelace, born in 1815. Walter Isaacson begins his new book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, with her story.
Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. The computer language ADA was named after her in recognition of her pioneering work with Charles Babbage.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Ada Lovelace is Lord Byron's child, and her mother, Lady Byron, did not want her to turn out to be like her father, a romantic poet," says Isaacson. So Lady Byron "had her tutored almost exclusively in mathematics as if that were an antidote to being poetic."
Lovelace saw the poetry in math. At 17, she went to a London salon and met Charles Babbage. He showed her plans for a machine that he believed would be able to do complex mathematical calculations. He asked Lovelace to write about his work for a scholarly journal. In her article, Lovelace expresses a vision for his machine that goes beyond calculations.
She envisioned that "a computer can do anything that can be noted logically," explains Isaacson. "Words, pictures and music, not just numbers. She understands how you take an instruction set and load it into the machine, and she even does an example, which is programming Bernoulli numbers, an incredibly complicated sequence of numbers."
Babbage's machine was never built. But his designs and Lovelace's notes were read by people building the first computer a century later.
The women who would program one of the world's earliest electronic computers, however, knew nothing of Lovelace and Babbage.
As part of the oral history project of the Computer History Museum, Jean Jennings Bartik recalled how she got the job working on that computer. She was doing calculations on rocket and canon trajectories by hand in 1945. A job opened to work on a new machine.
"This announcement came around that they were looking for operators of a new machine they were building called the ENIAC," recalls Bartik. "Of course, I had no idea what it was, but I knew it wasn't doing hand calculation."
Bartik was one of six female mathematicians who created programs for one of the world's first fully electronic general-purpose computers. Isaacson says the men didn't think it was an important job.
"Men were interested in building, the hardware," says Isaacson, "doing the circuits, figuring out the machinery. And women were very good mathematicians back then."
Isaacson says in the 1930s female math majors were fairly common — though mostly they went off to teach. But during World War II, these skilled women signed up to help with the war effort.
Bartik told a live audience at the Computer History Museum in 2008 that the job lacked prestige. The ENIAC wasn't working the day before its first demo. Bartik's team worked late into the night and got it working.
"They all went out to dinner at the announcement," she says. "We weren't invited and there we were. People never recognized, they never acted as though we knew what we were doing. I mean, we were in a lot of pictures."
At the time, though, media outlets didn't name the women in the pictures. After the war, Bartik and her team went on to work on the UNIVAC, one of the first major commercial computers.
The women joined up with Grace Hopper, a tenured math professor who joined the Navy Reserve during the war. Walter Isaacson says Hopper had a breakthrough. She found a way to program computers using words rather than numbers — most notably a program language called COBOL.
"You would be using a programming language that would allow you almost to just give it instructions, almost in regular English, and it would compile it for whatever hardware it happened to be," explains Isaacson. "So that made programming more important than the hardware, 'cause you could use it on any piece of hardware."
Grace Hopper originated electronic computer automatic programming for the Remington Rand Division of Sperry Rand Corp.
Hopper retired from the Navy Reserve as a rear admiral. An act of Congress allowed her to stay past mandatory retirement age. She did become something of a public figure and even appeared on the David Letterman show in 1986. Letterman asks her, "You're known as the Queen of Software. Is that right?"
"More or less," says the 79-year-old Hopper.
But it was also just about this time that the number of women majoring in computer science began to drop, from close to 40 percent to around 17 percent now. There are a lot of theories about why this is so. It was around this time that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were appearing in the media; personal computers were taking off.
Computer science degrees got more popular, and boys who had been tinkering with computer hardware at home looked like better candidates to computer science departments than girls who liked math, says Janet Abbate, a professor at Virginia Tech who has studied this topic.
"It's kind of the classic thing," she says. "You pick people who look like what you think a computer person is, which is probably a teenage boy that was in the computer club in high school."
For decades the women who pioneered the computer revolution were often overlooked, but not in Isaacson's book about the history of the digital revolution.
"When they have been written out of the history, you don't have great role models," says Isaacson. "But when you learn about the women who programmed ENIAC or Grace Hopper or Ada Lovelace ... it happened to my daughter. She read about all these people when she was in high school, and she became a math and computer science geek."
Lovelace, the mathematician, died when she was 36. The women who worked on the ENIAC have all passed away, as has Grace Hopper. But every time you write on a computer, play a music file or add up a number with your phone's calculator, you are using tools that might not exist without the work of these women.
Isaacson's book reminds us of that fact. And perhaps knowing that history will show a new generation of women that programming is for girls.
Tactical Tech, in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), are organising a 7-day event for up to 50 women and trans people to learn tools and techniques for increasing their understanding and practice in digital security and privacy and to become digital security trainers and privacy advocates.
December 1-8, 2014.
Who is the event for?
This is for influential and vocal women and trans people, who are women's rights activists and/or net activists, and who would like to be trained as digital security trainers and advocates of privacy in order to strengthen their work and the local networks/organisations they are related to.
If you are interested in joining this event, at least four of the following criteria should describe you:
- You take an active lead in your communities and networks, know your way around the internet, and also know that security and privacy problems can threaten your advocacy and activism and needs to be addressed.
- You are comfortable with public speaking or training groups, and would like to expand your knowledge and skills, to be able to advise your communities and networks on issues around privacy and data protection.
- You have strong online and offline networks and support other organisations and individuals who could benefit from digital security and privacy advice.
- You are the kind of person who understands the tech, or are a techie/hacker, but don't necessarily know how to explain digital security and privacy issues so that others can understand and practice it.
- You understand and practise digital security and privacy but want to update and further strengthen your tech and training skills.
- You are a workshop facilitator or are training on closely related topics and consider yourself tech-savvy, and want to add digital security and privacy from a gender perspective to your skill-set.
What will happen there?
The main aim of the Pop-up Institute is to build a community of digital security trainers and privacy advocates, taking into account the gendered dimensions of privacy and security.
The Institute will provide you with tools, resources and techniques that you can use in your own workshops or trainings, and it will enable you to understand the issues and communicate more effectively.
The Institute will run for one week, with three days dedicated to digital security-technology training (catering to both new and more practised users of digital security), and three days dedicated to training of trainers (ToT) and advocacy tools and techniques.
In the latter half you will be able to develop your skills and knowledge so that you can conduct your own digital security training or convene formal and informal conversations about privacy, risks and vulnerabilities online and offline, and how to mitigate these. The group will split at times to accommodate different skill sets and learning outcomes.
Everyone will work together during this event to participate in co-designing curricula and resource materials with Tactical Tech and APC for use with other women and trans people, and movements around gender justice and freedom of information and expression.
What will happen after the event is over?
Participants attending the Institute are expected to take what they have learned and apply it to their work within their own communities or networks.
Depending on your focus during the event, this would include activities like 'flash trainings', advising on privacy issues, running your own digital security trainings, raising awareness through writing, online or offline campaigns and so on.
Participants are also expected to participate in the community of digital security trainers and privacy advocates that will emerge from this Institute by providing feedback and support to its members. This community will document its activities and share its processes to enable other women and trans people to engage with digital security and privacy issues and practices.
How will the participants for the Institute be selected?
All the applications will be reviewed by an advisory group comprised of APC, Tactical Tech and a few experts working in overlapping sectors of gender, technology and advocacy. They will select people based on the criteria listed above, their skill level and experience, the networks and communities they are professionally connected to, and will ensure group diversity.
How much will this cost me?
Tactical Tech and APC will support 45 people from emerging networks in Africa, post-Soviet states, the Arabic-speaking region, South & South-East Asia, Latin America and the Carribean to attend this event. We will cover travel and accommodation costs, and support you in obtaining a visa, if required. We are also inviting an additional 5-10 self- or organisation-funded individuals (from any region) to join us.
Will there be interpreters?
English will be the working language of the event and no interpreters/translators will be available. Therefore, before applying you should carefully consider whether you feel at ease listening to and speaking English in large group environments. The Gender and Technology Pop-up Institute will enable the development of new trainings on digital security and privacy in 2015 in specific regional locations depending on the demand. Watch this space! For updates, sign up to Tactical Tech's monthly magazine, In the Loop (sent by email and also available online).
Where can I sign up?
If you are interested in attending this week-long institute, please fill in the APPLICATION FORM
Any further questions
If you have any further questions, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
LelaCoders / HerStory
An animation about the HerStory of computer sciences
Samstag, 27. September 2014 - 14:30
27/09/2014 bis 28/11/2014
For decades, research on gender and technology has highlighted the under-representation of women in technology. Although sub-research on the field studying women contributing to free software and hackers cultures is very limited, it also points to women’s low participation rates. However, behind these figures and the discourses that accompany them, other, hidden situations may appear: on the one hand, the existence of some women who do participate and might have been invisible before, on the other the widespread assumption that women are not interested or have an innate inability to engage with technology on a deeper level.
Lelacoders is an activist and cyberfeminist research piloted by Donestech (CAT) questioning why women are underrepresented in computer sciences, studying which practices and initiatives have been successful in overcoming barriers, and also which analyzes the experiences and subjectivities of women programmers who have chosen to use free software for their techno-political practices.
Besides, the HerStory animation aims to actively oppose the prejudice that there are no significant women behind the development of sciences and technologies. This is the result of a systematic negation and invisibility of women in those specific histories. This drives to a lack of role models which perpetuate the women off-the-loop relation with ICT. Finding and making visible those stories is an important element to re-appropriate historical and collective memory and enable the emergence of new imaginaries which we hoped to be very much radical and feminists!
Se ha abierto un hilo de conversacion en la lista femtechnet acerca de cuando aparecio por primera vez la palabra Cyberfeminismo. Por ahora parece ser que seria en este texto escrito en los 80's (cuando exactamente?) por Nancy Paterson. Os lo copiamos .. que lo disfruten.
In her latest incarnation she is exceedingly voluptuous. The scalpel blades beneath her nails are discreetly retractable. The arm twisted up behind her back is, at first glance, barely noticeable. Meet Molly in William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, or Melanie Griffith in the film Cherry 2000 - sexy, tough, aloof, and ultimately a fantasy. (1)
The power which these women wield is evil, technological and, of course, seductive. Any influence or control which they exert is clearly misguided or accidental. The powerful woman, bitch/goddess, ice queen, android, is represented in popular culture as a 21st century Pandora. And the box which she hold this time is electronic and very definitely plugged in. Linking the erotic representation of women with the often terrible cultural impact of new electronic technologies is not a new concept.
Cinema addressed the desire to anthropomorphize machines and vilify women in the process as early as 1927 in Fritz Lang's cult classic Metropolis. Sex, danger, women and machines: the plot of virtually every futuristic, sci-fi movie in which women play any role at all. Cyberfemmes are everywhere, but cyberfeminists are few and far between. Ubiquitous and omniscient, the significance of new electronic technologies, their development, design, implementation and dissemination, cannot be ignored and must not be underestimated. Whether directly or indirectly, issues of economics, class, race, nationality, personality and gender, are driven and defined by new electronic technologies. Immersed as we are in the popular applications of these new technologies and media, their long-term and more profound impact become invisible.
In The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, Nicholas Negroponte is quoted as saying: 'Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road.' (2) Without celebrating the military-industrial complex responsible for the origin and development of these new technologies, what alternatives are left for women who are not satisfied with the roles which patriarchal culture has designated? Certainly not the association of the feminine with 'nature' advocated by eco-feminists and theorists such as Camille Paglia. It is no longer possible or desirable for women to capitulate and retreat to this position. The progress of new electronic technologies will leave them in the dust. Women are not alone in the need to understand how, why and by whom our criteria and confidence for understanding ourselves, each other and our relation to the world, has been stripped away. The dissolution of conventional concepts of time and space through new electronic media has contributed to the acceptance and success of PoMo punk nihilism, pluralism, diversity and the disappearance of dominant history. Simultaneously, we are witnessing a crisis of both individual and cultural identity as we are faced the interminable task of incorporating new electronic media into our lives without handing over control.
Cyberfeminism as a philosophy has the potential to create a poetic, passionate, political identity and unity without relying on a logic and language of exclusion or appropriation. It offers a route for reconstructing feminist politics through theory and practice with a focus on the implications feminist politics through theory and practice with a focus on the implications of new technology rather than on factors which are divisive. It rejects the trend toward carefully crafted descriptions of people which rely on more than a few adjectives. At issue is not whether a woman can be accurately described as a lesbian-separatist, pacifist, woman of colour, but rather, whether we can recognize and address the personal and political impact which new electronic technologies and media have on daily life. New electronic technologies are currently utilized to manipulate and define our experiences.
Cyberfeminism does not accept as inevitable current applications of new technologies which impose and maintain specific cultural, political and sexual stereotypes. Empowerment of women in the field of new electronic media can only result from the demystification of technology, and the appropriation of access to these tools. Cyberfeminism is essentially subversive. Vancouver-based author William Gibson is credited with having introduced the word 'cyberspace' into popular culture, in his novel Neuromancer, defining it as a 'consensual hallucination.' (3) In fact, this word may be used to describe electronic space in all of its manifestations, ranging from virtual reality to the telecommunications infrastructure or internet. As illustrated by the recent U.S. Clinton/Gore initiative to regulate the internet or Information Superhighway, governments are beginning to recognize in public policy the commercial potential of media which have been under development for several decades.
Predictably, the involvement of feminists and other marginalized groups in this process of development and design has not been solicited or encouraged, either in public or in private initiatives. In the very near future, lines of cultural influence will be drawn based on computer access and literacy. It is becoming the new political divide - those who have access to computers or are computer literate vs. those who are not. The North American Free Trade Agreement, workplace automation, and legislation regarding the 'Information Superhighway,' are generally supported by those individuals, organizations and corporations which have and promote access.
Those who have access and/or are computer literate but do not share enthusiasm for these types of policies and initiatives, are severely isolated as they have no one to unite with in their quest for well thought out socio-economic reforms. Those who do not have access, are not computer literate, and in fact, are often technophobic, are critical, but not necessarily constructive in their analysis of new electronic technologies. New electronic technologies represent a magic circle from which women have been traditionally excluded. It is true that there are definite barriers to our participation in the discourse shaping the tools and the applications of new electronic media.
Women are largely absent from the institutions, networks and structures which determine where and when new technological applications will be developed, and how the potential of these new media will be described. However, lack of initiative, aggression, or determination should no longer be utilized to justify our continued exclusion. One factor contributing to the discouragement of women in this field may be traced to the historical foundations of these media. The internet, a worldwide computer network, was originally a small military network of four computers known as ARPANET. This computer network was designed to research the feasibility of creating a decentralized system of communication which could survive a nuclear war. Similarly, VR (virtual reality) also had militaristic origins, having been initially envisioned as a tool for battlefield simulations. These origins are clearly acknowledged in every book and article describing current and potential applications of these systems.
However, this candor is deceptive, as no links are made between the origins of these media and the future towards which they are being driven. It is obvious that underlying assumptions are manifest in current popular applications of these media. The evidence is in the arcades, where video games such as the Sega Genesis 'Night Trap' challenges players to save scantily clad sorority sisters from a gang of hooded killers. Margaret Benston, a Canadian activist with a background in engineering and an interest in the social and political dimensions of science and technology, in a chapter of Chris Kramarae's book Technology & Women's Voices titled 'Women's Voices/Men's Voices: Technology as Language,' describes technology as a language for action and self expression. (4) Access to machinery and technology has been culturally sex-typed as masculine. In maintaining control over new technologies and by promoting and adhering to a technological world view, men have attempted to silence us.
Whether or not we agree whether this world view is appropriate, it is clear that women's' absence from this forum is a problem. Despite these obstacles, women are increasingly successful in breaking through and stepping inside the circle. Particularly in philosophy and cultural theory, an uneasy realization is dawning that mans' haphazard mastery of nature has not provided an adequate foundation for a vision worthy of leading us into the next century. Across this bleak and plundered landscape cyberfeminist theorists are emerging, speaking and gathering. A new chain of beings and being in the world is constructed; they reshape each other, they redefine themselves, and they reclaim new electronic technologies for women. Virtual reality and cyberspace - the technologies for living vicariously. Virtual reality describes a wide range of experiences, including the transformation of two-dimensional objects and spaces through media such as holography; installations which use multiple video monitors or projections to surround the viewer; and the 'Hollywood' definition with which we are becoming increasingly familiar - head mounted display, touch sensitive gloves and/or full body suit. Telepresencing and cyberspace, where telecommunications networks enable instantaneous interaction from remote locations, have also been commonly described as virtual spaces.
The proof of the impact of such technologies (which have stretched and twisted our understanding of time and space as well as the limitations of our vulnerable, physical, human bodies) may be measured by the paranoia which they have inspired. Cyberspace has become a fertile breeding ground for multiple personalities, flaming, electronic stalking and gender-bending at the very least. The body, in virtual space, is no mere user-interface; VR offers the chance to trade-in, remodel, or even leave behind the physical nature with which we are, in reality, burdened. Outside forces which act upon us, impose restrictions, are gone. Gravity, and the laws of physics, gone. Entropy and the passage of time become meaningless concepts. Women have always, by virtue or necessity, been adept at free fall, grounding themselves in personal physical experience.
This skill will serve well as we venture into other dimensions and back home again. However skilled we become at navigating these spaces and temporarily leaving our bodies behind, it is doubtful that we will ever achieve immortality. Virtuality is patriarchy's blind spot. Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingstone's film about gender, identity and style, documents what was surely (before the introduction of technology-based VR into pop culture), the ultimate virtual experience - walk down a runway, through Harlem, or down Wall Street for that matter, in drag. Transsexual and cross-dressing 'walkers,' competing in the categories of 'executive,' 'college boy,' and 'fashion model,' recognize that the successful embodiment or representation of stereotypes is measured by both appearance and attitude. 'Realness' has always been the unspoken criteria for 'passing,' and women (those who have avoided being institutionalized for not 'fitting in') have become experts at that. Through Virtual Reality, deconstruction of gender is entering the realm of pop culture, and this link with new electronic technology has implications for the philosophy of cyberfeminism. Technological convergence describes the unification of computers, television and communications technologies. However, convergence describes much more than the evolution towards an environment in which electronic technologies are pervasive. Convergence is happening on more than a technological level - it is happening on a metaphysical level as well. Cultural convergence may be described as the meeting or merging of art and technology.
Cyberfeminism is entering an arena in which much more than gender is up for grabs. Multimedia, interactive video, virtual reality; for women these new technologies present opportunities to break out of prescribed roles and away from scripted dialogues. A rabbit hole through which we may tumble. Our real experiences, when not denied, have been acknowledged only in their immediacy. Our individual histories and the attempt to isolate or remove ourselves from a patriarchal context, have always been undervalued and undermined. We have learned to live from hand to mouth. Transgressing order and linear organization of information, cyberfeminists recognize the opportunity to redefine 'reality,' on our terms and in our interest and realize that the electronic communications infrastructure or 'matrix' may be the ideal instrument for a new breed of feminists to pick up and play.
(1) Gibson, William. (1984). Neuromancer. New York, NY: Ace Books. p. 25
(2) Brand, Stewart (Ed.) (1987). The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT. New York, NY: Viking. p. 9
(3) Gibson, William. (1984). Neuromancer. New York, NY: Ace Books. p. 51
(4) Kramarae, C. (Ed.). Technology & Women's Voices. London, UK: Routledge. p. 15
In this second part of our genealogy, we move not forward in time, but look back to an encounter that took place between two foundational figures in logic and mathematics, in an attempt to identify the conflicting role of contradiction, misunderstanding, failure, and disagreement in the queer history of computation. While again these figures are well known, the encounter between them is often dismissed as a missed connection and a failed opportunity. As such, it is often relegated to an uninteresting footnote in the history of mathematics. By reengaging this encounter I hope to blur the lines between computing, philosophy, and mathematics, and to disrupt the narrative trajectory that would see Turing as the single foundational figure within this history.
In the spring of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein taught a course at the University of Cambridge on the foundations of mathematics, a topic that occupied much of his work from 1922 through to the end of the Second World War. That same semester Wittgenstein was finally elected chair of philosophy at the university, acquiring British citizenship soon thereafter. At fifty years old, he was an established figure in analytic philosophy, having published his groundbreaking Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus almost twenty years prior, and having written extensively on the work of Gödel, Russell, and Whitehead. While Wittgenstein is considered by many to be the most important philosopher of the 20th century, he published very little in his lifetime, and much of his thought and character can only be derived from what survives of his lectures, notes, and seminars. Still less is known of his sexuality, and until the 1980s it was a subject rarely discussed among colleagues or in the many biographies written about his life and work.[i] Even now that Wittgenstein's homosexuality has been largely acknowledged, most scholars are hesitant to imply a connection between his philosophy and his sexuality – that is, between his work and his inner state, emotions, or personality. If, however, in a contemporary light we understand queerness as a structuring mode of desiring, we might view Wittgenstein's thought not as emerging from his sexuality, but as structured by the way in which it shaped his mode of being in the world.
Wittgenstein with Francis Skinner in Cambridge ca. 1933
Wittgenstein is widely regarded to have fallen in love with three men; David Pinset[ii] in 1912, Francis Skinner in 1930, and Ben Richards in the late 1940s.[iii] While it is clear these were relationships of love and affection, the extent to which they were physical is often contested. What seems to make many Wittgenstein scholars uncomfortable in confronting his homosexuality is that it conflicts with the ascetic, almost priestly view of a man so revered by contemporary philosophy. As Bruce Duffy suggests in a 1988 New York Times article on the life of Wittgenstein, "In their effort to put forth a plain, unvarnished record of what Wittgenstein did and said, some of these memoirs have almost the feeling of gospels – hushed, reverential, proprietary."[iv] The philosopher – or indeed, the mathematician – as a carnal, sexual being produces a seemingly irresolvable contradiction. Even those accounts that do concede his affection for other men often suggest that those feelings were purely aesthetic or emotional, and were never acted upon. That said, in perhaps the most controversial section of his 1973 biography of Wittgenstein, W. W. Bartley suggests that the philosopher frequently engaged in a kind of anonymous cross-class sexual contact facilitated by public cruising spaces such as parks and high streets.
By walking for ten minutes to the east . . . he could quickly reach the parkland meadows of the Prater, where rough young men were ready to cater to him sexually. Once he had discovered this place, Wittgenstein found to his horror that he could scarcely keep away from it . . . Wittgenstein found he much preferred the sort of rough blunt homosexual youth that he could find strolling in the paths and alleys of the Prater to those ostensibly more refined young men who frequented the Sirk Ecke in the Kärntnerstrasse and the neighboring bars at the edge of the inner city.[v]
These kinds of exceptional spaces as sites for anonymous sexual encounters continue well into the 20th century, and are instrumental in the structure of being and interaction that the author Samuel Delany identifies as contact:
[C]ontact is also the intercourse—physical and conversational—that blooms in and as “casual sex” in public rest rooms, sex movies, public parks, singles bars, and sex clubs, on street corners with heavy hustling traffic, and in the adjoining motels or the apartments of one or another participant, from which nonsexual friendships and/or acquaintances lasting for decades or a lifetime may spring . . . a relation that, a decade later, has devolved into a smile or a nod, even when (to quote Swinburne) 'You have forgotten my kisses, / And I have forgotten your name.'[vi]
Bartley's sources have been called into question by many historians, but it is less the detail of his description than the acknowledgement of an embodied sexuality that is significant to this history; it is the difficulty we often have in finding the sexual in the everyday, in the lived work of a person beyond these exceptional moments of contact. While such effects may be invisible or to a degree, unknowable, that does not mean they aren't real and do not have a direct effect on the world.
The Prater park in Vienna
In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein defines truth as a tautology, that is, a result achieved through the mere repetition of the same meaning. While he insists that there exist religious or ethical truths, he argues that they cannot be put into words, that they are unknowable through language, and that claims to express ethical truths through philosophy must fail. Wittgenstein summarizes the Tractatus with the maxim: “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”[vii] What does it mean that for Wittgenstein truth is something that can be known but not discussed, that is indescribable? And how does he apply this critique to truths we understand to be beyond language – the truth of the body, or the truth of mathematics?
Back at Cambridge in 1939, another young scholar and philosopher was also beginning his research at the university. After two years working under Alonso Church at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Alan Turing took up a position as an untenured research fellow at Cambridge, having failed to acquire a full lectureship. Turing and Wittgenstein had been introduced the summer of 1937, but it was not until two years later in 1939 that they would have any meaningful interaction. That spring Turing was also teaching a course on the foundations of mathematics that shared the same name as Wittgenstein's lecture.[viii] Perhaps intrigued, Turing enrolled. Over the course of the semester, Turing engaged in a lengthy dialogue with Wittgenstein, challenging and outright refusing much of Wittgenstein's thoughts on logic and mathematics.[ix] Despite their disagreement, this seems a pivotal moment in the history of computing, in which two queer figures engage with the limits of knowledge and computability, questioning that which exists outside of or beyond.
As a young man, Wittgenstein had thought logic could provide a solid foundation for a philosophy of mathematics. Now in his fifties, he denied outright there were any mathematical facts to be discovered. For Wittgenstein, a proof in mathematics does not establish the truth of a conclusion, but rather fixes the meaning of certain signs. That is, the "inexorability" of mathematics does not consist of certain knowledge of mathematical truths, but in the fact that mathematical propositions are grammatical, a kind of language game through which meaning becomes fixed. One the first day of class, Wittgenstein begins by stating, "I shall try and try again to show that what is called a mathematical discovery had much better be called a mathematical invention."[x]
The Erkenntnis from the Königsberg Congress of 1930
Throughout the semester, Wittgenstein attempts to demonstrate that, if we may identify a single contradiction within a system such as mathematics, it ceases to function and loses all meaning. In one particularly memorable exchange, Wittgenstein puts forth one of his favorite contradictions – known as Epimenides' paradox, or the liar's paradox – in which I make the claim "I am lying," thereby creating a paradox in which if I am lying I am telling the truth, and if I am not lying I am telling a lie. Such an example may seem like nothing more than a silly logic puzzle, but it is significant that they produce a paradox that cannot be made meaningful to mathematics, and that these contradictions exist outside of any functional or productive applications. This, of course, is an affront to the very practice of mathematical logic. As Andrew Hodges notes, "Getting statements free from contradictions is the very essence of mathematics. Turing perhaps thought Wittgenstein did not take seriously enough the unobvious and difficult questions that had arisen in the attempt to formalize mathematics; Wittgenstein thought Turing did not take seriously the question of why one should want to formalize mathematics at all."[xi]
Wittgenstein uses Turing as a straw man of sorts, tasked with defending the philosophical validity of mathematics as a whole. Over the course of the two-term seminar, one can't help but get the sense that the two men are speaking past one another; that their concerns and interests diverge on a fundamental level. On the whole, Turing argues for a rather conservative approach to mathematics and its use in material applications. Surely, Turing argues, mathematics must be more than language games, as it enables us to build bridges that do not fall down, and to calculate with great precision measurable truths in the world. Yet despite his philosophical refusal, Turing's own work and research during the three years prior to the lectures touches on many of the same themes Wittgenstein was pursuing in his lectures, and addresses those invisible or unknowable truths that escape mathematical calculation through computation. While the two are clearly are at odds over their importance, both are nonetheless explicitly preoccupied with these externalities, these meaningless contradictions.
Turing's most famous work on this subject is On Computable Numbers, published in 1936, in which he establishes the definition of computable numbers as "the real numbers whose expressions as a decimal are calculable by finite means," stating that "a number is computable if its decimal can be written down by a machine." Turing expands his thesis, proving that his formalism was sufficiently general to encompass anything that a human being could do when carrying out a definite method. Importantly, Turing also established in this work the limits of computation, identifying the existence of uncomputable problems that cannot be solved through a definite method.[xii] The most famous such problem is the halting problem, in which an algorithm is built to calculate whether a given program will halt and produce a solution, or run forever. If such a program were to exist, we might in turn apply it back onto itself, asking it to find if it will ever halt, and in doing so creating a paradox not dissimilar to that of the liar.
More interesting to this project, however, is a supplementary paper published in 1939, titled Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals, in which Turing asks if it is possible to formalize those actions of the mind that do not follow a definite method — mental actions we might call creative or original in nature. There exist certain sets of uncomputable problems which are functionally solvable by human means, but for which there is no definite method for calculating an answer. Here Turing suggests the impossibility of accounting for this intuitive action through computation, stating:
Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the combination of two faculties, which we may call intuition and ingenuity. The activity of the intuition consists in making spontaneous judgments which are not the result of conscious trains of reasoning.[xiii]
It is unclear how such intuition functions, or how to understand and successfully implement it, but Turing's biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that "the evidence is that at this time [Turing] was open to the idea that in moments of 'intuition' the mind appears to do something outside the scope of the Turing machine." That is, outside of computation as Turing has defined it.[xiv]
How then to bring together these two moments of the founding and formalization of computing? In one we have the refusal of the truth mathematics would hope to claim and an investigation of those contradictions that exist within, but are beyond the scope of logical inquiry. In the other there is an investigation of those exceptional sites and the suggestion that there is a process that exists beyond computation that nonetheless allows us to make truthful claims about the world. Two views on the same problem, and a seemingly impassible philosophical divide.
For most historians of mathematics and technology, this encounter is viewed as a failure of recognition, and of the inability of Turing and Wittgenstein to reach across and make contact with one another on these fundamental questions. Much as it is unclear what one may have known about the other's sexuality, or if such similarities were even legible as a form of community or even commonality, there seems here to be a misrecognition, a failure to connect. And yet I would like to suggest that this is precisely the point, that this is precisely what makes this a queer encounter. It is the impossibility of narrativizing this encounter in legible terms, and the way in which this impossibility mirrors the indescribable, external truths that so preoccupied the minds of both men, that unites them. It is in these exceptional spaces outside of formally describable systems – binary code, language, mathematics – that we may identify a queerness at work.
In choosing this, perhaps the earliest moment at which such an inquiry is made possible, it seems meaningful that such questions are being posed by two queer men who met only briefly and, perhaps appropriately, were unable to come to an agreement, or to even understand the questions the other sought to answer. And yet each man's work seeks to investigate the limits of a particular system of knowledge that functions by delimiting the analog world through the construction of a hermetic system; one that rejects those externalities that might otherwise cause it to fail. If we consider queerness simply in terms of sexual preference or as an alternative formation within an established set of desiring modes, then describing any form of computing as "queer" may seem absurd. If instead we understand queerness as a process of self-shattering rather than self-fashioning, then we begin to align it with these exceptional objects and practices that exist beyond the limits of a system such as computation. While it is no doubt true that queerness is not the only means by which we might ask these questions of technology, or through which we might seek an alternative to the universalizing structures of computing technology, it is my suggestion that is an ideal lens through which to examine that which exists outside or beyond, and one that begins here in these earliest moments in the history of computation.
Next segment: Part 3
[i] W. W. Bartley III's Wittgenstein (1973) devotes 4-5 pages to the philosopher's sexuality, based on interviews conducted in the 1960s and translations of Wittgenstein's own encrypted journals – many of which were destroyed at his own insistence in 1950, a year before his death. Based on these passages the book was attacked vehemently and repeatedly by Wittgenstein's family and colleagues, in the pages of the New York Times Literary Supplement, and at the annual Wittgenstein Congress at the Wittgenstein Documentation Center in Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria. The book was called sensationalist and false despite the availability of multiple documents corroborating Wittgenstein conflicted feeling towards his sexuality.
[ii] David Hume Pinset was a descendent of the philosopher David Hume, and was a friend and colleague to Wittgenstein, collaborating on research and traveling on holidays with him to Iceland and Norway. In 1918 Pinset was killed in a military flying accident, and Wittgenstein would later dedicate his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) to his memory.
[iii] Monk, Ray. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. Free Press, 1990, pp. 583–586.
[iv] Duffy, Bruce. "The Do-it-Yourself Life of Ludwig Wittgenstein" The New York Times November 13, 1988. <http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/13/books/the-do-it-yourself-life-of-ludwig-wittgenstein.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm>.
[v] Bartley: Wittgenstein, p. 47.
[vi] Delany, Samuel. Times Square Red Times Square Blue. New York: NYU Press, 2001 p. 123-124.
[vii] Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Routledge, 1921-2001, p. 3.
[viii] Diamond, Cora (ed.) Wittgenstein's Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics: Cambridge, 1939 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
[ix] These encounters have been collected and recorded based on the notes of four students who attended the lecture, and were subsequently edited and published. As such they form an imperfect, but essential archive.
[x] Diamond, Ibid. 416.
[xi] Hodges, Andrew. "Alan Turing: One of the Great Philosophers" Web. <http://www.turing.org.uk/philosophy/ex4.html>.
[xii] Turing's work on uncomputability does not emerge from nowhere. It is informed by several decades of debate in the early history of mathematics – what is often referred to as the foundational crisis of mathematics, or Grundlagenkrise der Mathematik – over the question of whether mathematics had any foundation that could be stated within mathematics itself without suffering from irresolvable paradoxes. This led to competing schools of thought, the most important of which was Hilbert's program, named after the German mathematician David Hilbert. The program proposed to ground all existing theories to a finite, complete set of axioms, and provide a proof that these axioms were consistent. However, in 1931 Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorems showed that any consistent system with a computable set of axioms which is capable of expressing arithmetic can never be complete, that it is possible to prove a statement to be true that cannot be derived from the formal rules of the system. Turing would take Gödel's work further, applying this theorem to the concept of computability, defined as that which can be stated within a formal system and may therefore be executed by a machine with a procedural grasp of computational logic.
[xiii] This train of thought belongs to a field in the philosophy of mathematics known as "intuitionism."
[xiv] To be clear, these externalities and paradoxes are not simply language games, but can be applied to real world problems as well. One famous example is that of Zeno's paradoxes, formulated by the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea (ca. 490-430 BCE). In Zeno's dichotomy paradox, he states that "locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal" (Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b10). In other words, if any possible finite distance may be divided in half, then in order to reach a given goal, a moving object must first get halfway there. Before it can get halfway there, it must get a quarter of the way there, before traveling a quarter it must travel one-eighth, and so on. The resulting solution requires the object to complete an infinite number of tasks, which Zeno maintains is an impossibility – yet clearly in the observable world objects move from location to location and arrive at their destination despite this contradiction. The same limits exist for computation, and have led to a hypothetical computational models that allow for a countably infinite number of algorithmic steps to be completed in finite time. The resulting hypothetical computer is often referred to as a Zeno machine, and is an example of a super-Turing machine – that is, a computer that functions beyond universal Turing computation. It is interesting to note that Zeno, like many Greek men, participated in homosexual erastes-eromenos mentor relationships, and was loved and mentored by Parmenides of Elea, the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy.
This is the first post in a series on the queer history of computing, as traced through the lives of five foundational figures. It is both an attempt to make visible those parts of a history that are often neglected, erased, or forgotten, and an effort to question the assumption that the technical and the sexual are so easily divided.
Alan Turing, Letter to Dr. N. A. Routledge, AMT/D/14A Turing Archive
There are many ways of telling the history of universal computation, and many origins of the technologies we now consider computational machines. A longer history might begin with Gottfried Leibnitz and Isaac Newton's simultaneous development of modern calculus and the dream of a universal artificial mathematical language. Alternately, we might look to the history of calculating machines, beginning with Charles Babbage's Difference Engine or Herman Hollerith's Electric Sorting and Tabulating Machine.
Most every history would certainly include the contributions of Alan Turing, an English mathematician who is considered by many to be the father of computer science. In his relatively short career Turing formalized such concepts as "algorithm" and "computation," he helped crack the Nazi Enigma Machine during the Second World War, was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, and developed early research on such concepts as neural nets, morphogenesis, and mathematical biology. Turing was also an openly gay man who, in January of 1952 was convicted of Gross Indecency by the British government under the 1885 Labouchere Amendment, made to undergo chemical castration, and ultimately committed suicide in June of 1954.[i] The subject of numerous books, films, and works of art, Turing is perhaps the most widely recognized computer scientist in the field's short history. He is also the most recognizable queer figure in this history. As such, it is necessary to begin with Turing, not simply for the visibility of his difference, but for the fundamental role he played in defining the limits of computation, and the possibility to look beyond those limits in identifying a queer history of computing.
Homosexuality was by no means unheard of in England at the start of the 20th century, and by some accounts it seems to have been common practice among many college-aged students in elite universities such as Cambridge, which did not admit women until 1948.[ii] Still, homosexual activity had been explicitly illegal since the end of the 19th century, when it was famously used in a pair of legal cases against Oscar Wilde beginning in 1885, leading to his imprisonment and eventual exile in 1897.[iii] Given this legal status, what is most striking about Turing is how open he was with his sexuality, which seems to have been common knowledge among friends and colleagues. As Elizabeth Wilson notes in Affect and Artificial Intelligence, Turing's relationship to his sexuality seems to be less one of repression and shame, and more a kind of naïve amusement. If this attitude was not shared by others at the time, it was at the very least tolerated among Turing's friends and associates.
Donald Michie, one of Turing's wartime colleagues at Bletchley Park,[iv] recalls that "Bletchley had some flamboyant homosexuals,"[v] and that, despite the assumption that homosexuality would be considered a national security risk due to blackmail and other threats, it does not seem to have impeded Turing's work for the government, at least not during the war. For many in those days, homosexuality was an open secret, if it was kept secret at all.”[vi] But while Turing's sexuality is not in dispute, the effect it may have had on his life and work is much more speculative.
Alan Turing and Christopher Morcom, 1928
Turing's earliest and strongest romantic interest was with a young man he met at school named Christopher Morcom.[vii] Morcom, like Turing, was an aspiring scientist and mathematician, and Turing viewed him as both a peer and an inspiration, and as someone with whom he might share a budding enthusiasm for the technical world. While any romantic feelings Turing may have felt appear to have been unrequited, the two developed a powerful friendship. On February 7, 1930, two years after meeting Turing at University, Morcom fell ill with bovine tuberculosis, and passed away six days later on Feb 13. On the night of February 7, Turing recalls having a premonition of Morcom's death, at the very instant that he was taken ill and felt that this was something beyond what science could explain.[viii]
The death of Morcom would have a profound effect on Turing, particularly in shaping his views on religion, mortality, and the materiality of the soul. Turing had been a harsh critic of determinism, and with the death of Morcom he hoped to find a way to account for concepts such as free will and the spirit in a grounded, material way. It is this philosophical disjuncture that would lead Turing to theorize the limits of procedural knowledge, a concept that is central to his definition of computation in On Computable Numbers. To suggest that it was his unrequited love for a young man that inspired Turing to engage the questions that would establish a definition of computation would be facile, but to ignore the significance of these details parses what is technologically significant in such a way so as to exclude the personal, the emotional, and the sexual.
Surprisingly, there are few serious treatments of Turing as a queer figure,[ix] perhaps due to the difficulty in applying anachronistic language to historical figures such as Turing, or because in many ways Turing's work does not immediately lend itself to a radical queering. While we might argue that computers have come to play an important role in the formation, organization, and articulation of modern queer identity, this may have less to do with some aspect of computation that is inherently queer, and more to do with the broad indifference of these technologies toward such distinctions and the ease with which they facilitate contact and produce community.
Still, it is significant that one of the foundational figures in the modern history of computing was an openly gay man. We know more about the details of Turing's private life than any other figure in this history, due no doubt to his exceptional significance as both a scientist and a homosexual, categories that we cannot easily separate.
Turing's biography is no doubt familiar to many, particularly in the year following innumerable events celebrating the centenary of his birth, and a very public campaign for a posthumous apology for Turing's treatment by the British government following his arrest. Perhaps less familiar, though, is the genealogy of influence that radiates out from Turing, and which includes several foundational figures in the history of computing, all of whom were queer men.[x] These men were friends and acquaintances, mentors and colleagues, each driven by a passion for mathematics and the emerging field of computer science. As I will show, it is unclear what knowledge, if any, each had of the other's sexuality, or what effect such knowledge may have had on their relationships both professional and personal. Nonetheless, it is significant that such a connection exists, and in this connection lies the beginnings of a speculative history of queer computing, beginning at the very origins of computation itself.
Still, this connection is in part a fabrication, an attempt to make narrative that which largely escapes history. For most historians of technology, questions of sexuality are irrelevant to the technical achievements of an individual, and while queer historical work exists for significant literary and cultural figures, very little work has been done on queer figures in the history of technology. This may be due to the guarded lives these men led, and an almost total lack of personal biographical information available in existing historical accounts. Even the archives of these figures are in many cases lacking, as material relevant to the personal lives of these men is often excluded or withheld.
This division between the personal and technical is significant, and with few exceptions these men seem to have internalized this distinction, living lives that moved between worlds both public and private. These men lived in times radically different than our own, times in which the contexts and dispositions surrounding homosexuality were undergoing dramatic transformation. Just as computers evolve over the course of the twentieth century from simple tabulating machines to complex, interactive, expressive systems, homosexuality is also transformed and recoded, burdened with visibility and identity.
What then is the significance of the sexuality of these men? Why should we insist that they be remembered not only for their technical achievements, but as part of a broader queer genealogy? In part we may hope that, by incorporating them into the history of queer struggles for recognition and visibility, we recuperate and validate a part of their lives that was deliberately hidden. As historian Heather Love suggests, "by including queer figures from the past in a positive genealogy of gay identity, we make good on their suffering, transforming their shame into pride after the fact."[xi] Yet in doing so, Love argues, we erase the negative dimension that profoundly affects queer historical subjects. Theirs is not necessarily a history of pride and redemption; often it is a history of shame and even death. Rather than ignore this contradiction, my hope is to foreground it. It is in the disjunction between the professional and personal lives of these men, in the apparent incompatibility of sexuality and computation that I hope to develop a queer capacity within the history of computing.
Over the coming weeks I will be constructing a queer history as told through the figures of five men, each of whom is connected by a thread that runs from the early philosophy of mathematics, through the foundation of the Gay Liberation Front, and to contemporary debates over the life and legacy of Alan Turing. However the goal of this project is not biographical; it is not my hope to simply identify existing queer figures in the history of computing as an inclusive gesture, as a way of queering history by simply demonstrating that, as in all parts of life, queer people were there. Instead I hope to suggest that queerness is itself inherent within computational logic, and that this queerness becomes visible when we investigate those cleavages that partition the lives of these men into distinct technical and sexual spheres of existence. Ultimately I hope to show that there exists a structuring logic to computational systems that, while nearly totalizing, does not account for all forms of knowledge, and which excludes certain acts, behaviors, and modes of being. By situating this work historically, we can address computation from those early moments of experimentation and emergence before the field crystallizes into a discipline and an ideology. In doing so we discover a kind of liminal technical space of something not yet actualized. Finally it is my hope that through this history we can disturb the archive and begin to draw new connections between the personal and the technical. While it may not be possible to argue that the queerness of these men and of this history is what shapes present day computing technology, in establishing an existing queer history of computing we might critique the tendency to rend the one from the other.
Next segment: Part 2
[i] This is not to suggest that Turing's conviction was directly responsible for his suicide. In fact it is not entirely clear that his death was a suicide at all. While the hormone treatments he was made to undergo may seem horrific, Turing seemed to take a lighthearted approach to his predicament. While his death by cyanide poisoning – presumably from an apple found on his bedside table – was ruled a suicide, his mother insisted it was a simple mishandling of laboratory chemicals.
[ii] The homosocial environment of British University life is documented in numerous fictional texts of the time, several of which were written by authors of the Bloomsbury group such as E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. Perhaps most notable among these is E. M. Forster's Maurice, a love story of two men written between 1912-13 but published posthumously in 1971. Other more contemporary examples include Julian Mitchell's play Another Country (1983), later adapted into a feature length film (1984).
[iii] Sex between men had been illegal in England since as early as the Buggery Act of 1533, but the Labouchere Amendment made all forms of homosexual contact between men a punishable offense.
[iv] Bletchley Park was the estate that housed the National Codes Centre during World War II, and was the site at which the British broke the Nazi Enigma Code with the help of Turing.
[v] He continues, "The most flamboyant case was Angus Wilson – he later became a very successful novelist – and he had a boyfriend called Beverly. Angus was about that high [indicating small] with flowing yellow hair (l remember it went white later) and Beverly (I forget his second name) was very 'weed-like': very tall. They could be seen shambling along the horizon, a daily sight, as they look their walk around lawns alter lunch." Quoted in: Lee, John A. N. and Golde Holtzman, "50 Years After Breaking the Codes: interviews with Two of the Bletchley Park Scientists" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Spring 1995, Vol. 17 No. 1, p. 38.
[vi] It seems important to note that, as with much of British society at the time, there is a very particular class dynamic at work here, in which the upper class is often given more leeway with the law and among their peers. Of course this kind of homosexual behavior was not particular to the upper classes, and in fact homosexuality often facilitated a form of cross-class sexual contact.
[vii] Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigma. London: Random House Publishing (1992) p. 35.
[viii] Hodges. Ibid. p. 45.
[ix] This is not to suggest that Turing's sexuality is not widely acknowledged and discussed. Andrew Hodges – Turing's biographer, archivist, and a renowned mathematician himself – deals with Turing's sexuality explicitly in his writing, going so far as to speculate on the ways in which it may have motivated his personal and professional life. Elizabeth Wilson also deals with Turing's queerness in Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), though it is through the lens of affect theory and in regards to Turing's contributions to the field of AI. Turing is dealt with most explicitly as a queer subject in Jeremy Douglass' Machine Writing and the Turing Test which explores the implications of the Turing test in terms of gender "passing."
[x] Many queer women also make up the history of computing, though they are not connected directly to Turing through this particular genealogy. Lynn Conway is one such figure, who was an early pioneer in the American computing industry, studying at MIT in the 1950s and working for IBM in the 1960s. She would go on to make fundamental contributions to the revolution in Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) design in the 1980s, and in 1999 would become an activist for transgender rights and visibility.
[xi] Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2009) p. 32.
Menú RIZOMÁTICO 1.0 // RIZOMATIC Menu 1.0