Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation
Episode 13: Interview with Jaime Yard
Transcript by Jennifer Jill Fellows
Jennifer Jill Fellows: The 1990s in North America saw the growth of a feminist movements that celebrated female rage, especially young female rage. Known as the Riot Grrl movement, it spread from the west coast across the continent through two mediums: punk music and zines. Zines are DIY publications made using scissors, glue sticks, pens, markers, and liberal use of photocopiers for mass distributions. And in the 1990s, they were a fascinating use of DIY material technology to sustain as spread the Riot Grrl movement. But I gotta confess, I’ve never been particularly crafty. So even though Zines have now been joined by their digital counterpart, Ezines, I’m probably not the best person to talk about this DIY material technology. Good thing I’ve invited a guest.
Jill: Hello everybody and welcome to Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Fellows, and today I’m joined by Dr. Jaime Yard. Dr. Jaime Yard has been a full-time faculty in the department of anthropology and sociology at Douglas College since 2013, which means that she is also a colleague of mine. She received her MA and PhD in social anthropology from York University in Toronto, and her BA in cultural anthropology from SFU. Her doctoral dissertation Working Natures and Ethnography of Love, Labor, and Accumulation on the British Colombian Coast received both the Canadian Studies Network dissertation prize and the York University Barbara Goddard Dissertation Prize in 2013. In 2019, she was honored with the Douglas College faculty wide Humanities and Social Sciences Teaching Award. Jaime is a Social and Cultural anthropologist specializing in political ecology and environmental anthropology. She is also very interested in anthropocene feminisms, the anthropology of work and performance studies. She has published in the journals Topia, Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies and Emotion Space and Society. And she’s here today to talk to me about Zines, Ezines and DIY holistic technology. Hi Jaime, welcome to the show.
Jaime Yard: Thank you for having me. That’s very exciting.
Jill: So, before we begin, I just wanted to take a moment and acknowledge that though Jaime and I are meeting in digital space today, digital space fundamentally rests and relies on physical space. The servers and cables that connect us occupy physical space. And a lot of that physical space, at least in North America, exists on stolen land. So today I acknowledge that I am recording Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish People of the QiqéytNation. And Dr. Jaime Yard has prepared her own land acknowledgment, which I am going to play for you now.
Jaime: I’m joining this interview today from New Westminster, the traditional and unceded territory of the Qiqéyt FirstNation, to the best of my knowledge, the only registered First Nation and Canada without a land base. I grew up on the Coast Salish territories of the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish directly across the Burrard Inlet from the heart of Tsleil-Waututh territory. My childhood home is directly adjacent to the entrance of the absurdly named Parkland Refinery, the Canadian terminus of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. I am very interested in talking to locals from this area about evictions from, and the resettlement of this landscape. I acknowledge Tsleil-Waututh jurisdiction over the Burrard Inlet and support their efforts to stop sevenfold increase of tanker traffic into this vital and vulnerable ecosystem.
Jill: So, Jaime, can you tell me a bit about your academic journey? Like did you always want to be an anthropologist?
Jaime: I think when I started post-secondary, I didn’t really even know what an anthropologist was. So I took a pretty circuitous academic journey to finding my passion. Yes, when I started in university, I was taking everything: I was in Theater and English and Geography, and I loved it all. And then I decided I wasn’t ready for post-secondary yet. And so I ended up on an exchange working and living in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, if you can imagine that.
Jaime: And then in a little town called Mayday Jamaica. And this was all part of a Canada World Youth or Jeunesse Canada Monde, Exchange Program for those who have heard about and that experience really opened up a lot of questions for me that when I returned to school after that, it was my anthropology class that seemed to actually have answers that made sense. And so I was hooked and as sort of one of the anthropologists I admire the most in the world Anna Tsing says it’s like you come to an anthropology class and it’s, it’s everything! There’s economics, there’s politics, there’s literature, there’s religion, and there’s everything. So it was, it suited my disposition, let’s say.
Jill: That’s really cool and yeah, I can see what you’re saying that like if you’re going to look at particularly Social and Cultural anthropology, you’re doing just like a huge amount of stuff covered in the other social sciences. But then if you flip and do like primatology or physical anthropology, there’s a lot of opportunity there.
Jaime: Very specialized. Yeah.
Jill: Yeah. So I mean, the discipline of anthropology is very wide yet, right? Like your scope of investigation is amazing.
Jaime: Yes. And that’s intimidating at times. And I think the whole sort of four-field or five-field ambition is sort of that. It’s something we all strive for, but it’s certainly not necessarily an everyday reality, but that idea that I have to explain my ideas to somebody who is a biological anthropologist or linguistic anthropologist, I think it’s productive, right? To, to, to think of translating something across both within your discipline and then beyond, for sure.
Jill: Do you think this makes anthropologists perhaps more primed to be interdisciplinary?
Jaime: Well, I mean, I think, I mean, this would be totally anecdotal and based on the anthropologists that I know and love the best, but I do think there’s something about people who have a lot of interests and who enjoy social inquiry because of course, most of social cultural anthropology, you’re spending a lot of time with people learning about their lives, participating in everyday processes. So I think it suits folks that aren’t necessarily that person who’s going to be able to squirrel away in a corner of the library and work on one question for six years that we want to be open to the contingencies and the surprises, what other people introduce to our questions. So, yeah, I think it’s a, it’s a great discipline to try out if you maybe have trouble staying in your seat for too long.
Jill: So let’s talk a little bit about the research interests that you had specifically in your chapter for this book. Can you tell us what a zine is as a bit of background before we dive into anthropological work on zines.
Jaime: Right? Now, what is a zine? I think it’s probably one of those things that, you know one when you see one. But it’s hard to give you a hard and fast definition, right? But, for myself, when I think of zines, I think of do-it-yourself publications with a point of view that tend to be anti-authoritarian and I like Todd Honma’s phrase for this, that they are a vehicle for emerging political consciousness. So a zine is a sort of opportunity to share where you’re at in your learning process or something that’s really a bee you’ve gotten your bonnet with a broader world. And I think it fits well with feminist pedagogy, right? Because feminism of course, is not really a philosophy. It’s, it’s a practice. And so we get through the zine something that you can take an idea and translate it into something for a broader public of your choice. It’s a creative practice. So it’s maybe a little bit more fun than writing a standard academic paper,
Jill: Right. We don’t have a hard and fast definition, but what we definitely have is some perhaps very pervasive characteristics of zines, if that’s perhaps fair. So it’s a publication?
Jill: That’s meant for some kind of distribution?
Jill: We maybe we’ll come back to that. But it’s very, it sounds like it’s very contextualized, right? So, there is a specific point of view that is presented and owned. So, we’re not trying to speak like from a view from nowhere or contrast this with like typical news articles, for example,
Jaime: Yup. Absolutely.
Jill: And that there’s a very specific voice, right? So, you don’t have to speak in this kind of academic or journalistic voice. You can kind of have a personality?
Jaime: Absolutely, and it, it doesn’t have to be dispassionate. It is very much in keeping with the idea of sort of standpoint epistemology and that every view is a view from somewhere. So, you might as well, you know, sort of own it, blood and guts at all, you know, in, in the way that you’re going to express it. It’s more of an invitation to a conversation, I think that and then the sort of final polished last word on something, maybe.
Jill: Okay. So in terms of what can be included in zines, I think you’ve spoken about this before, but I assume things like poetry, creative nonfiction. What else? Do you have other examples of that might be there?
Jaime: I really . . . okay. . . . So from all of the zines that I examine and I just I really don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. Like if you put it out yourself and you decide it’s a zines and, and, and it’s sort of a little bit like any definitions. You need others to sort of ratify. “Yeah, That’s a zine.” You know, if somebody else is like okay, that fits that fits within my conception of what this is too, then it’s a go, right? I’ve seen everything from very personal or per-zines where people are telling a very specific personal story to them within; you also will see zines that are straight up kind of knowledge translations that somebody say reads really complex article and then decides to take snippets of it and present it in a novel or creative way to get those ideas to a broader public; you’ll see things where it’s more artistically led and not very language heavy at all. One of our research assistants on the project, Natasha Gauthier, she’s made a zine that’s mainly sort of pictures and meditation on sort of meanings and perceptions of breasts. And one of our other research assistants on the project, Natalie Begg, has done a fabulous zine engaging with embodied experiences of cartography. So, it’s really whatever you are passionate and interested in that you want to translate into something creative to share with others, I’ll call it a zine, I might get called to task by other people in the broader community, but I think it’s, it’s meant to be inclusive.
Jill: So, what we’re seeing now I think is a move that we still have these kind of more traditional tangible zines, like paper zines. We also have this move digitally to create ezines or zines online. Can we back up and talk about kind of the history, where zines came from, how they originated? Just to kind of know our background before we dive into talking about ezines.
Jaime: Sure, I’m an anthropologist. I love talking about origin stories. They’re mythologies always of a sort, right?
Jill: Let’s do it.
Jaime: It’s interesting because in all the literature that I’ve consulted, you get very different stories told, in many ways you can compare a zine to, or you can compare some zines to pamphlets, right? And pamphlets have been with us as long as people have been willing to copy something out by hand or by press a bunch of different times and give it to people and so on, right? But I think that zines as a culture tend to be sort of dated to the 1970s and sort of punk zines and fan zines organized around music scenes. And certainly within sort of feminist sub-culture, you get a real push in the 1990s, in the sort of female performers, musicians are sort of Riot Grrrl movement and a lot of zines that make broad circulation from that time for sure. And it’s an interesting history, of course, because sometimes it gets associated with sort of relatively privileged people who have the money to go to music festivals, and engage in all this sort of subcultural activity, and so on. But I think there’s always been—and increasingly in recent times, there have been—a lot more as zines produced within other subcultures and representing a whole variety of voices. And I think it’s a part of zines and zine production are, are sort of a part of broader do-it-yourself, culture and movements. So people who just want to put some ideas into the public sphere, who want to collaborate with others and do something in a sort of grassroots way to disrupt some of those more mainstream messages that are out there.
Jill: So we’ve kind of got not a definition exactly, but a working understanding which I think is probably what we want. It sounds like we don’t really want strict borders and strict definitions that that would actually work against kind of the ethos of zinester practice.
Jaime: Yeah, there’s no prescriptive template for a zine.
Jill: Yeah, for sure. So now I’d like to know how you as an anthropologist became interested in zines and in zinesters and this kind of practice.
Jaime: I think that for me it really was something that was led by a need that I had in my teaching for different kinds of assignments that took the learning that was happening in the classroom, beyond that classroom. Like many people who teach in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, there’s this experience at the end of term where you receive all these amazing final papers and projects. And to me, there’s always this sort of sadness that all this effort has been put into something that maybe I’m the only person that sees.
Jaime: And what I get to do we said is tragic: I get to assign it a grade!
Jill: And then that’s it!
Jaime: That’s it! And then and then we’re done that that just wasn’t satisfactory to me. Especially not in sort of intro Gender, Sexualities and Women’s Studies classes where we’re looking at a range of contemporary political issues that I’m supposed to grade people on it at the end of the day? It just didn’t make sense. So it was really that sort of I need to do something different. I need to do something different. And I really, I like paper crafts. And so, it’s sort of, it was just one of these things one day where I was like, “Hey, what if I just said to my students, okay, you’re writing assignments for me, but if you’re willing, why don’t we also assemble some of them together and put together a little publication?” In the first instance, our plan was to just to sort of get our scissors and our photocopier and our glue sticks out: make something.
Jill: I love this.
Jaime: And then distribute it in those little libraries, you know, those little like . . .
Jill: the little free libraries?
Jaime: . . . shelters that people build in their communities. That’s what we were gonna do. We were just going to magazine and put it out there so that it had a little bit of a life beyond the classroom. And for me too, it seemed like a way that people in the communities surrounding Douglas College could have a sense of what might be going on and some of those classrooms. So that was the idea and the birth of it. I’m sure in the longer course of this conversation, how the pandemic sort of messed with that plan will come out, right? But, but that really how I came into it. I had never really made a zine. I’ve done a lot of paper crafts, like I said, but I just: it sounded like a fun thing to do.
Jill: I think that’s awesome. Come to university. Bring your scissors and glue stick.
Jaime: Exactly. Yes.
Jill: Pencil crayons.
Jaime: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s such a sad thing in education like think about all through elementary school, even high school, you get to do these amazing projects where you get to use multimedia, visual this and that. And then they get to post-secondary and we’re like, “no, you must use Microsoft Word of that is all you could use to demonstrate your knowledge and . . .”
Jill: Write this essay.
Jaime: Yes, write this essay in this template. Yeah, it just, it, you can see some of their soul just dying in front of you. That’s not something that they’re into, even if they’re into all of the ideas you’re presenting in class. So, more options were necessary.
Jill: Okay, so you already kind of raised what is maybe becoming the elephant in my podcast room: the pandemic.
Jaime: oh boy!
Jill: And from what I know from other conversations with you and from the article that you wrote, there was a shift in this plan from doing zines to fairly abruptly shifting to ezines. And I’m, I’m kind of interested in this because you point to this idea that zines and ezines are kind of on the one hand part of the same culture, part of the same kind of DIY, feminist. . . well, when they’re feminist, because we knows zines can be on a number of different topics, but when they are feminists, part of the same kind of DIY feminist engagement.
Jaime: Yeah, yeah.
Jill: But on the other hand, you point to this idea that there’s kind of a tension between zines and ezines. So, I wonder if you can talk about this a little bit, perhaps even if you want with your own experience on having to pivot from the glue stick to something else, but also, just kind of what is this tension in this cultural setting?
Jaime: Right. Well, okay. So, I think that one of the things that a lot of so-called zinesters. . . I’m not sure, I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who’s like, “I’m a zinester,” but this term gets used. So, we might as well employ it.
Jill: I like it.
Jaime: I like it too. I think there’s this wonderful thing that really appeals to me as an anthropologist who does a lot of thinking about gift theory and gift economies and things like this, that you produce something, you’ve spent your time, your labor, and you’ve made the beautiful thing. The way that, that beautiful thing gets to somebody else tends to be, with a paper zine, sort of hand-to-hand process, or a miraculous discovery of somebody who is filed something in a public library where it’s not supposed to be, but you get to be the person who finds it on the shelf, you know? And so,
Jill: Oh, that’s cool.
Jaime: Yeah, there is this very tactile sense of circuits, of circulation between people that actually are a mechanism for drawing communities together. And a lot of the places that people would share their do-it-yourself publications and wares like sort of the fairs that happen in Vancouver here at Heritage Hall or Short Bus in Seattle, are these real Do-It-Yourself, culture kind of gatherings. Some of the real value in that is those hand-to-hand personal connections and the ways in which it’s sort of calls communities together physically. And, uh, so there is the tension when you start playing with ezines because of course, they’re de-anchored from any particular place and time and encounter…and that you may not have any sense of who’s picking up your work from the, you know, like the merry-world-of-the-Internet where everything is sort of variously available in that kind of thing. So I think in a lot of the literature that I consulted, there are people like “Uh an ezine is not really a zine.” But that said, I think a lot of those articles were maybe 10, 15 years old, right? And it’s a different generation of students who are much, or people, sorry, I should say different generation of people.
Jaime: Yeah, of zinesters, who are maybe a lot more tech savvy. And then you, you press that against the pandemic. And we had sort of, in a way, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to say, “I will engage with these questions of whether an ezine is as valuable as a zine later because right now this is the only way I can proceed with this project, right?” Then it introduced questions about how do we try to replicate some of those really valuable parts of the textual, hand-to-hand zine culture. Is there way, are there ways online of cultivating that? Right? And the answer is “yes and no.” I think it becomes a different thing, right? In the trans-mediation process of taking something from one form of media output to a different form of media output: of course, it’s going to call different networks into being in new ways!
Jill: Yes, So it strikes me that one of the things that changes is that we don’t have this physical object anymore. And you talk about how zines would get passed alone until they fall apart. So, it’s like the physical object itself carries the memory of all the people that have handled it.
Jill: That if you get something that’s fresh off the press, so to speak, fresh from the glue stick, it will look different, it will look different than something that’s been through a number of hands by the time it reaches you.
Jill: Whereas that’s not going to happen in a digital format, which seems like it might have both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it doesn’t fall apart. So, we can return to this context many months, many years later and still look through the ezine that was made in this specific context with this specific voice. And that could be a very powerful record. But on the other hand, we are missing this tangible tactile sense that the thing I am holding has been held by so many other people in the past. Do you know what I mean?
Jill: And so, I’m especially interested in this discussion you had about there being, that when we transition to ezines, it’s not necessarily that one is better or worse, but that things are lost and gained and changed and transformed. And I found that really interesting, particularly as the tools that you use to make these are also very, very different.
Jaime: Mmm Hmm. Well, papers fall apart, links go dead, right?
Jill: Oh. Yeah.
Jaime: There’s this sort of parallel that we assume we’re just making this endless like mine of lovely information on the Internet. But anybody who’s ever used a link to show a video and then found that they, like, things disappear all the time on the web too, and in some ways the ezine, it replicates the paper zine experience in that you’re probably going to find it if somebody tells you to go and find it, you’re not, you might happenstance across someone’s ezine, but it’s more likely that you’re going to go to it because you’ve learned of it from somebody who was a part of it or somebody else who enjoyed it. So there is a sort of replication online of that whole scene.
Jill: So it sounds like you’re saying that the ezine is not something that is—and I think this is something you actually said in your chapter—not something necessarily that’s meant to go viral. That it’s not necessarily just supposed to be out there for anyone to find in kind of a high-profile way.
Jill: And it strikes me as you’re talking about it now that that’s kind of another way of replicating this building of community where it’s not a hand-to-hand delivery of a physical thing, but like, I only know about the zines you’ve made because you told me! So, it strengthens this relationship right, between me and you and by proxy between me and your students as a reader of your zines.
Jaime: Yeah. That’s, that’s kind of that’s in a nutshell too, right? Like, and I think it’s interesting to think about the ways that virtual space, virtual spaces, they’re very different than physical places and yet some of the same dynamics are replicated, right? There are subcultures within the Internet. I always love the University of Western Ontario, there’s an anthropologist, Andrew Walsh, and he always says, “The Internet is a great place for information if you know what you’re looking for”.
Jaime: But as many of us know from students who don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for when they go to the Internet and they take the first couple hits that they get from Google or Bing, or whatever. We could take that as a metaphor for sort of mainstream culture. That’s what’s being pushed in your face. And then you can, but if you have better keywords, if you dig a couple of pages deep, you’re probably getting better information and information that’s more reflective of what you were looking for, right? So, I think there’s, there’s a lot to be said of, of subcultures of the Internet. Yeah.
Jill: You made the claim that zines and ezines are both holistic technology and you differentiated between holistic and prescriptive technologies. Can you talk a little bit about this difference and about how we can think of zines and ezines as holistic tech?
Jaime: When I first was thinking about writing the piece for the sex and tech volume, the first-person I thought I really need to reread Ursula Franklin, right? I hadn’t read “The Question Concerning Technology” since my undergrad when it had first been introduced to me by my professor at SFU, Melanie Conn, who is an amazing woman who works in Vancouver, assisting cooperatives in developing and assessing themselves and so on. And, and this came up as a concept in her class. This, this, you know, what is an appropriate technology? Like we think about technol-technology tends to be framed in this dialogue of progress, right? What’s the latest, greatest, newest bestest thing, right? But then the whole marketing of technology, there’s all this planned obsolescence built into it. And then we’ve all had the experience of having a technology that works perfectly well, but it gets displaced anyway. Like, so, obviously, when we’re thinking about question concerning technology, there is, as Franklin suggests to us, a need to pause and ask, “what do we actually want these things do for us? And are they doing the things that we think they’re doing for us?” And so, she makes a distinction between holistic and prescriptive technology. And she essentially says, both are necessary for the functioning of societies, right? We need both. But a holistic technology we would think about as being really concerned with both sort of process and product. It’s engaged in a kind of holistic crafting of something. Whereas I think prescriptive technologies in the ways that Franklin lays them out, have a sort of end goal structured into the thing itself. So, what you’re building with a prescriptive technology or what you’re making, when you choose that particular tool, it’s already been circumscribed to a great degree, what you’re going to achieve with that tool. Which is of course really useful if you want a particular end. But if you want to engage in creative process of knowledge translation, well, we could think here, say of PowerPoint is a prescriptive technology, right? It’s a tool I use every day in my classes. It’s wonderful for making splashy visuals with a few points on a slide. But it has limits in the parameters of what I can produce with it, right? So it has a particular end goal in mind, which I feel that my glue sticks and scissors and paper have a little bit more creative room to play with, if that helps to illustrate the difference. I could say, like I used in the article, I talk a lot about teaching because in many ways that’s my, that’s just where, that’s how I spend my majority of my time these days. I think there’s an analogy to be made here too, between the classroom as an empty space as a holistic technology. Where within the space of those four walls with those desks, with those seats, you could be building knowledge of biology or philosophy or anthropology or whatever within that space. There’s give-and-take. There’s interaction. And there’s not a lot that’s deterministic in terms of what’s going to happen in that space. Whereas I think a lot of us as instructors maybe experienced the rapid shift to online and working with so many more prescriptive technologies in order to convey information to students that there were more constraints on what we could do and what we could build. And, and the, the sort of tendency with these prescriptive technologies for online learning, there was a lot more just straight up sort of “knowledge transfer banking model” kind of stuff going on where we make “deposits” into the students’ heads, rather than this sense of a creative and transformative space in which unpredictable things might occur. Like the unpredictable things happening in the Zoom classroom tend to be that someone’s microphone on mute or that there’s not always it’s not the same kinds of interruptions to the flow of what you thought you were going to do that day that you get in dynamic active physical classroom space.
Jill: That’s really helpful. So, when we’re thinking about this as applied to zines and ezines, I think I can see for zines because you’re using glue, sticks and scissors, pencil crayons, maybe a word processor for parts of it to print off like something you wrote, or maybe you’re writing it by hand or however you want to do it,
Jill: It seems that, yeah, the technology of zine is quite wide open in terms of what you can pull in?
Jill: How does that change when you’re talking about making an ezine or does it?
Jaime: Oh boy. Yeah, no. I mean, it depends on how you try how you decide to do it, but you are forced with an ezine into, paywalls or corporately controlled technologies, right? So, there are a lot of free publishing softwares out there on the Internet, Canva and others that will allow you to do things, to a point, and then you hit a paywall. So, we were really lucky in the production of our ezine that the college has sort of Adobe Creative Cloud that I have had access to as a faculty member. So, I used Adobe Illustrator for the ezines. But I’m not a particularly tech savvy person. And so how this changes… I really enjoy paper crafts, like I love cutting Christmas snowflakes, I do not love watching YouTube videos on how to do something within Adobe Illustrator. I mean, the Internet is a wonderful thing. If you put an, any question, “How do I do this in this program?” you will find both official and crowd sourced answers and with a little bit of patience, you know, a lot of coffee or tea, you can push it through. But I really think I would have been having a much fun-er time sitting around with my students with those scissors and that paper, gluing it together, that having the satisfaction of the prints coming out of the photocopier or whatnot. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would, once I got to a certain level of competency, playing with layouts. And it was really satisfying to—with the student editors that we had. . . so we had a whole team of student editors in the two classes that I have produced zines with and it was so satisfying to work with them on the layout and then to send contributions to our zines back to the people who wrote them, who saw them looking like they were some sort of semi-professional magazine layout, right? And I think that the students and really enjoyed that experience, so steep learning curve on the software, introduces some constraints, different positive things at the end of the day. But yeah, I think the biggest part is I had access to software through the college. Not everybody has access to the same functions and they’d be out of pocket for it or fighting the paywall. So,
Jill: So there’s a privilege here perhaps when it comes to doing ezines.
Jaime: Oh, for sure.
Jill: But maybe not so apparent when we’re talking about zines.
Jaime: Absolutely. I mean, part of the fun stuff when you get into looking at like people will tell the stories of how they made their paper zines. A lot of them are like, you know, they have a friend, back-in-the-day who worked at Kinko’s who was willing to like spot them 30 copies or something like that. There’s, there’s really something kind of fun and sneaky about the production of some of those that you just can’t do with an ezine and you need somebody to software license. It’s different thing. . . or somebody with a backdoor route to the software license who, hmm.
Jill: Maybe we can be a bit sneaky? But we’re not advocating that everyone.
Jaime: Not at all. No.
Jill: So, given that there are some constraints in terms of the technology you use when you produce ezines, some prescriptions, some rules, paywalls: are ezines still holistic technology? What, what is this relationship between holistic and prescriptive? Do you think? Where’s your intuition at the moment?
Jaime: Like any concept, the sort of prescriptive holistic technology thing, it’s good to think with. They’re probably elements in the ezine process of both the holistic and the prescriptive, right? So, I think that the process students and myself went through in terms of writing the pieces, picking art, in some cases, contributed art in this kind of thing: still a very holistic process. When we got into the sort of layout within particular software, questions of how are we going to distribute this on the web? Who’s going to host it? Are they’re going to be costs associated with that? Then we’re much more on a prescriptive realm, right? So, and that’s probably true of a lot of processes that you need a little bit of both to get to the get where you want to go.
Jill: So, in talking about ezines and their occupation of digital space, in your chapter, you contrast them with other websites. And I’m going to quote from you. You said the following. “Anyone who has ever hunted in vain for an author of a webpage to cite, to hold accountable for questionable information or even to contact with a question, has likely experienced the uncanny feeling that there is more to the story than what appears. The omission of the human aspect of knowledge production from the web presents a dangerous veneer of an NPOV [that is, no point of view] that is also readily accepted in the name of efficiency.” So, you’ve already talked a little bit about the contextualization of ezines. But how has your experience of making and distributing ezines or studying ezines differentiated from this narrative of kind of no point of view on the web.
Jaime: One of the things that I decided really early on with the zine project to offer to students was this opportunity to publish with a pen name. Now this is going to seem like a kind of oblique way of coming out your question, but I promise you that it’s related. So, I think zines are charting emergent political consciousness and that I think that it’s a productive thing to share developing ideas with a broader group of people to flesh them out, to maybe consider some of the things that might be questionable within them. And somebody could say, “Well, publishing on the web under a pen name, how is that? You know, how? That’s kind of anonymizing and unaccountable and the same kind of way that you’re talking about, no point of view.” But, I would, I would actually refute that. And I would say that the person writing under a chosen pen name to express something that is indicative of how they’re thinking about a topic at a particular time and place, you get a sense of the fleshliness of the person who wrote that thing. That there’s a personality. You would know that there’s a location, New Westminster, Douglas College, that was affiliated with this. There was a particular class with it, and so on and so forth. So, it comes from some place that’s embedded in a community. And it’s also sort of putting out ideas to a broader public. When I think about no point of view on the internet, I think about those webpages you encounter that present themselves as if they are irrefutable, and, and totally objective information, because they’re written in a neutral tone, because there’s no link to the person who wrote it in the first place, and so, and I think that this can be really disingenuous. Like a lot of the stuff that you encounter is obviously positioned and partisan and biased and has a perspective, but there’s no author listed there! There’s no history of production as in it used to be that you, like and I’m sure you still can if you’re more tech savvy than me, but like we’re talking about the average person. Can I go to a website and figure out where? When? Who? And so on? It seems like I need this should be a course in universities, maybe if we want to fight plagiarism, “how to find information on the internet that you need for non-tech savvy folks, 101.” And then we can all sort of know how to go into the HTML coding to check the last update date of the thing and assure ourselves that a human being actually created this thing. But I think that the Internet is, is actually moving in precisely the other direction, right? I had a former student who came to me and told me they’d been hired into a job to generate web pages for Kindle, for non-profit organizations. So, they’re getting paid by the word to make Internet content with that no point of view, voice.
Jaime: And so that’s the kind of thing, that I think this is really sort of resisting and against. That even if you can’t get to the precise person that produce the ezine content, you know where it was produced, you know it was produced by a person and that it has a kind of a moment in historical time that it is emergent from, rather than trying to present itself as sort of objective transhistorical view from nowhere.
Jill: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting, that whether the author is using a pseudonym or not, there’s a whole bunch of other ways we can contextualize the piece, right? So, there’s the voice that the author uses. The other contributors to the ezine or zine where it’s housed and hosted and how it got into my possession.
Jill: Right. How did I find out about it? And I think that brings me to my next question, which is, can you expand a little bit on what third-space is and how holistic technologies, and perhaps ezines in particular, can create or cultivate or support this kind of third-space?
Jaime: So, the idea of third-space is not my own. It comes from Adele Licona, who’s a professor of English at the University of Arizona or at least was last I checked. I’ve never met them. I would like to. They wrote an amazing book, “Zines in Third-space: Radical Cooperation and Borderland Rhetoric” and in that, we’re in this idea of third-space, which I think is usefully contextualized with reference to queer theory. And a lot of people don’t know what that is, so I have to back up another step. But my understanding and the way that I sort of think about queer theory as this interdisciplinary body of theory that’s developed between sociology, anthropology, literary studies, geography, many different disciplines coming together, trying to come up with ways of studying the non-normative, right? So, a way of opening up possibilities and gaps and overlaps and moments where those sort of mainstream binary definitions of things aren’t doing the work that we need them to do. So, for Licona, as I understand it, this idea of third-space is really about turning our attention to political processes and identities that are always-already there. And they’re developing productive dialogue and, but they’re not being adequately attended to or amplified in either academic space or in the mass media, right?
Jill: Let me see if I’m getting this right. So, the idea is, there’s mainstream discourse and mainstream culture. And we know that as good gender, sexuality and women’s studies scholars, mainstream culture tends to be very patriarchal. It tends to be very heteronormative, very cis-normative. And so, one thing that I think that queer theory or queer method pushes us to do is to center marginalized perspectives.
Jill: And look at the mainstream from the marginalized because too often what happens is that the marginalized is looked at from the mainstream. Yes. So it’s kind of a way of trying to flip the script. Am I getting that right?
Jaime: I think the flipping of the script is definitely a huge part of it. I think it’s also saying there’s enough attention happening over there. Let’s just be over here. You know? One thing that we get stuck in so much of the time is that in trying to, many of our efforts to be inclusive, sort of have a default or a residual normativity to them. So, we may not be attempting to be actively patriarchal in any kind of way, but that residual patriarchy is still there, right? And so, you know, it’s the difference between saying, here we have a course and let’s do our week on women and our week on this, that we all kinda went through it, our undergrads. And instead saying, “Hey, what if instead of doing sort of a week on indigenous people and a week on women at the end of the course, we centered feminist theory and praxis, and we centered indigenous knowledge and we showed how so many of those things that are normative actually appropriated things from those margins? And let that be the footnote at the end of the syllabus that instead of the other way around.” So yes, it’s flipping the script, but I think it’s more than flipping the script because it’s not embedded in this dialectic that’s just trying to sort of flip oppressor/oppressed on its head or something like that. It’s really trying to open up a space where the conversation can be had in a different kind of way, right? And I really like what you were, what you were saying there in terms of these default assumptions, in terms of patriarchal, the cis-normative, the heteronormative, and so on. What would it mean to engage with one another without having any default assumptions about who that other person is? And I always loved Eve Sedgwick’s foundational piece, she has a piece called “Axiomatic” that this is sort of foundational piece and queer studies where she just says, “we can understand difference in another because we’re not always the same ourselves from one day to the next,” right? So it’s like, how do we, how do we start from this place of foregrounding difference not as a self/other thing, but as a both/and thing I, you know, it’s not, you know, this and that or us and them. It’s we are, we are all different from one another, but we can recognize this and know this because we also know that we are different ourselves across time and space.
Jill: Let’s try and bring that back to the discussion of zines and ezines then. How does this holistic DIY technology, or mostly holistic, depending on our digital tools, and the creation of third-space, how does that work together and how does that support kind of community building?
Jaime: That’s a chewy question and I like it! A lot of the time I think that the kinds of reflections, experiences and so on that my, many of my students most want to read have not been published, necessarily by academic publishers. And if they have, they haven’t been published in a form that is readily accessible to the first-year student; especially not the first-year student who may have English as their third or fourth language, which is a normal experience for our student population at Douglas College. So, I try really hard when I’m in a classroom to give material that I think is going to speak to the students or that they can relate to. And as I mentioned earlier, I would get all of these amazing assignments in and be the privileged audience that got to read these very particular assignments. But that was the end of it, and I wanted something different than that. Well, when you notice over multiple semesters that you have people who are not in that mainstream, not in that normative mainstream that we’re talking about, that come up with, not the same, but similar engagements with those offerings you’re putting before them as an instructor and so on, you think, “Wow, what if we can get those assignments outside of the classroom into a broader discussion, right? If we can get that one student who’s had that really key insight, get it in the zine, somebody else picks it up, reads it, and gets a new impression, hopefully, of what we might be doing in a feminist classroom.” When, before they didn’t think that it was going to speak to them. They might have thought before it was going to be just a sort of strictly white liberal feminist space. But then they see the zine there “Oh, okay, that’s not what’s happening in that space. Maybe that’s a space for me.” Or maybe previously, they’ve experienced some trans-exclusion within feminist spaces on a college campus or a university campus, but they see in the zine, “Oh Wow. You know, people who are a part of my community are there and so on.” So, I think it’s, I think it can be an invitation to a broader conversation. And it can be accessible translations and processing of academic works.
Jill: It also sounds like maybe we can remove some of the gatekeeping that happens in academic publishing, and academic discourse which is often also laden with biases and prejudices and reinforcing oppressions exists in wider society.
Jaime: Absolutely. Yeah, and I mean, you want to be wary of anybody who thinks their primary goal as an educator is to be a gatekeeper. You know, I definitely want my doctor to have passed exams to know the difference between my heart and my spleen. But I don’t think necessarily in an anthropology or sociology or philosophy classroom, that the test is the best tool to say that learning has taken place in this space, and so on. I guess the thing that this has me thinking about, that, that sort of third-space discussion theorizing and so on, it really is a sort of engagement without guarantees, right? “Without guarantees discussion” that we get a lot in postcolonial theory and cultural studies theory that says, we know we’re on a good path, because as a holistic technology, the zine seems to be really enlivening something about us-uh-within us about creative process, or whatever. And so, we just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other and we’ll see what comes. Because you’d all the studies of social capital and so on, they say, you can’t prescriptively build it—and this is going to your piece about community building—it has to sort of organically happen as a byproduct of processes that people want to be engaged with for a whole variety of reasons. So that’s the attempt, but I don’t have control over whether the end . . . there is no end to be reached, but whether it’s actually doing what, what, I think? Fits and starts! You know, we’ve had successes and we’ve had challenges in, in trying to create “zine community” during a pandemic. But I would say that most of our efforts have been really well received and actually have created pretty meaningful connections between all the students who participated.
Jill: I think that’s really cool. I’m really going to take away this idea that like you can’t prescribe community building.
Jill: It has to be holistic. I really, really like that. I just wanted to emphasize that by repeating it. Because I liked it.
Jill: So we’ve been talking about third-space and community building, and we’ve brought in queer theory. And so, it feels like we can move to kind of talking about another feminist theory or feminist tool that might be quite helpful when thinking about zines and ezines. So, what does intersectionality mean to you, Jaime?
Jaime: I think it means that there is no “us” and “them.” There are a whole bunch of possible ways in which we might overlap or diverge from one another in our life experiences, in our sort of political realities by virtue of where we were born, and who to, and with what citizenship rights, and so on. So, I think while intersectionality of course comes out of legal theorizing and this sort of push to get the compound impacts of multiple oppressions recognized in legal systems that aren’t particularly well set up to do that; I think in praxis, in the sort of feminist classroom or in trying to live a feminist life, it means making space (third or otherwise), for the fact that the person and people that you’re interacting with at any given moment are much, much more complex than you could ever know from just a surface impression of who that person is; and to be mindful of that when engaging in any kind of academic or activist efforts. And I also, I think intersectionality does a really good job of foregrounding, as feminist theory does, experience as a valid source of knowledge.
Jill: That emphasis on experience may come up in the next question I’m going to ask you. If we use the theory of intersectionality, what do you think we can see about zine and ezines?
Jaime: I think we can see particular moments of encounter between a person in the process of becoming, and ideas and communities that they come into contact with. And again, I keep coming back to Todd Honma, this idea of this sort of nascent political development being documented. I really think there needs to be more space made for, “to the best of my knowledge, here’s where I’m at” kind of engagement with others. Because I think academia can be so intimidating and alienating for a lot of students who get the impression from, wherever, that it has to be perfect or it has to be expert, or that they’re not good enough to have an opinion yet, or whatever it is. And “No! This is your life! Get started, have an opinion!” You know, it might be wrong! Learn how to back pedal from when you didn’t have enough information yet! So, I think the intersectional experience with zines and ezines is just how do we tell rich and credible stories and share those with people, with other people in a way that is productive and that makes more space as opposed to reifying the normative.
Jill: I also really liked what you said there about making space for the process and not just the final product. Right? So, I think academia has a, and many other places, I think we see this also in like to talk about the no point of view websites and things like that, that we have this kind of emphasis on having a polished final product rather than perhaps allowing for space for growth and change and to document the process. “This is where I am now, this is what I’m thinking now.” And I think that’s really cool.
Jaime: Well I think it’s really important because it’s always already a part of what we’re doing anyway. We had this professor at York, Penny van Esterik who would always say “your master’s degree is the worst thing that you’ll ever write. And for the rest of your life it will feel like you’re dirty underwear on display.” You know, it’s like everything that we write and that is published and is out there, is a document of a particular time and place, right? I think zines allow us to more sort of forcibly note that, let’s say.
Jill: And to maybe own the changing nature of our thinking in the evolution and growth and change of ourselves?
Jill: In a way, perhaps my master’s thesis does not!
Jaime: Mine neither.
Jill: Okay, so you’ve already talked a little bit about what started out as the process of making zines, and then because of the pandemic, became making ezines, in your class with your students. I believe the series is called Little Feminist EZine?
Jaime: Little Feminist Zine, which was after the little fem—no, sorry the, with the little neighborhood libraries. So they call them Little Libraries around here. So it took on it diminutive flavor after the time, so then we started calling it like LFZ and people would have to know the backstory. The name was not meant to be diminishing of our efforts, but to be a shout-out. There’s a, there’s a theory that says that libraries are real utopias. You know, because wow, you can get any book for free. And if they don’t have it, you can tell them to buy it and they will. And then you get to borrow it.
Jill: Or you can get them to order it from another library.
Jaime: Oh my goodness! Right? so I really wanted to honor those free literature repositories that I think are pretty cool thing in communities, and especially during the pandemic when people didn’t have access to some of the things that they…yeah.
Jill: So, you’ve made ezines, well, you started out making zines and then with the pandemic transitioned to making ezines in your class with your students. And you’ve talked about this a little bit already in answer to some of my other questions. But I was wondering if you can talk about the process of making what you called the Little Feminist Ezine a little bit with us.
Jaime: So, whenever I do a sort of creative assignment with any of my classes, there’s always this huge moment of doubt. Like, oh, I’m doing something that I haven’t done before. At first it strikes me as a wonderful idea. Then once it starts, I tend to have a bit of a panic. This isn’t going to work. The students aren’t going to buy in—and I hate that metaphor, but it’s what we’ve got—and I’m going to end up having to sort of like live with the anxiety of grades that I don’t know what they’re based on and all of this sort of thing. And so we had planned for the paper zine. All of a sudden, classes are canceled, everything’s ordered online. I had already three students who had stepped forward to edit the first issue of the zine, Kassia DeSouza, uh, Madeleine Mei-Ling, and Akshayaa Ravindrababu. And we set up a meeting in that first week to say, can we still do this? Are you guys going to now write a more traditional course paper or whatever, what are we going to do? And I think it was really the students who push it forward and made it happen. And special shout-out is definitely necessary to Kassia De Souza because she was the real driving force in the first issue and finding, you know, sort of free software that was good enough that we could keep on keepin’ on. And Madeleine Mei-Ling did an amazing job of coordinating this sort of body stories we included in that issue with other students. And Akshayaa Ravindrababu, they, they really were, they wanted to do it. They wanted to keep up. So, we set up a series of Zoom meetings. We figured out the software, we parceled out what we needed to do and just decided to try it. Now I will say it took a lot longer than what we had originally planned because, as I mentioned earlier, all of a sudden I’m trying to figure out how to use Adobe Illustrator. My good friend, Dr. Bill Angelbeck was really helpful in that. He’s like, “No, you can do, can do this. I used to edit this archaeological magazine, The Midden, it’s not a problem!” And so I had a lot of really positive encouragement from the students and from people around me that said “no, we can, we can keep this going.” And the other person that was a real driving force there, was, then was Sarah McCarthy. Now they were a former student who had gone on from Douglass to SFU and had been a part of a student publication there. And they really served in a mentorship role to us in how do you do this? So, it was an interesting process. And it was happening right in the midst of that first wave of panic as everyone was trying to learn how to use like a dozen new software thing-a-ma-bobbies to keep on, keepin’ on. Meanwhile, in a total panic about the state of the world or whatnot. I think for me at least I can’t speak for the students, but for me it became something I could fixate on and was a creative thing that we could put out in the world. And in some ways the pandemic context lent some urgency to it. Because now there was some sort of crucial information that we wanted to get out there about inequities that people were going to face during the pandemic. And it was a way of sort of connecting our class and staying a little bit in touch with everybody. So, I think that’s, that’s sort of how it evolved to the ezine form that first run.
I think the second issue was a little bit different because it was planned as an ezine from the start. And for that particular issue, it was Lovepreet Smagh, and Samiksha Chand who stepped forward to be the editors there. And I think that we were facing at that time a little bit more, sort of, screen fatigue than with the first issue. So, I just, I have nothing but praise for these amazing women and the fact that they persisted with me, because one of the things that I would want any instructor who thinks of taking this on is to, to know is that for both of our issues, they did mean that these students were working two and three weeks past the end of the semester to make sure the issue got out. And I did warn students in advance that this was something that they should be prepared for and that kind of thing. But what’s interesting about this is, I heard from Madeleine who worked on the first issue and they actually went on to do some non-profit sector publication work and this kind of thing. So it was just it was this like little toe in the pool that says, “Oh, this actually isn’t so hard and I can figure this out and I can do a little bit of that.” So, at the end, what, what was this wall of “can’t,” of new technology in this particular experience actually was quite empowering. If your patient, and if you Google, “how do I?” at every step, you too can use Adobe Illustrator! It’s not actually rocket science. Yes.
Jill: It also sounds like the creation, so we’ve talked about how the distribution of a zine and ezine can provide the opportunity for building community. But it sounds like the creation can build community as well.
Jaime: Absolutely. The other piece, is, we were trying to figure out your earlier question about the distribution of ezines. That was a really hard piece for us because it is like okay, so “we’ve made this, we’ve emailed it to everybody in the class. We’ve emailed it to other Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies instructors at the college. What now? Where do we put it?” And it was really through Lisa Smith who thought, “oh, you should actually reach out to Gretchen Goertz at the library at Douglas College” who manages our, it’s called DOOR, it’s like an online archive of student and faculty work and so on. And Gretchen was awesome. And it was actually through reaching out to Gretchen then that I realized that she was actually the person who started the library zine collection at Douglas College many years ago, like ten years prior. And I ended up just falling in love. Gretchen was such a champion of the project from the start and we’ve gone on to write applications for grants to work together. And now Gretchen and I are working together both augmenting the library collection of zines and developing pedagogical supports with some research assistance for instructors who want to use zines in the classroom. So …
Jill: That’s so cool.
Jaime: There’s a really sort of organic process there. But the neat part of what Gretchen helped us to do was with hosting our zines on DOOR, which is this open access repository at Douglas, that left in our hands the creative control that we can update the version of the zine we wanted to have publicly on display at any time; any contributor might in the future say, “Hey, I know that I wrote that piece with the pseudonym “Harry Toenail,” but I don’t want it out there anymore. Can you take it down?” And that would sort of remain within our control. Of course, somebody might have copied it, put it somewhere else. We’re not like a 100-percent in control in the same way that that paper zine still might be out there somewhere. But it gave us a lot more power to control the access to our pieces once they were done, which is really exciting.
Jill: Are there any last thoughts about DIY holistic technologies in general or zines and ezines in particular that you’d like to leave our listeners with.
Jaime: Well, I guess since we’ve been sort of dabbling in reflections on the pandemic, I might go there, here. I mean, I think a lot of us have learned during this time what’s really what we want to prioritize that a lot of folks have realized that, oh, baking bread, making something, is super satisfying, especially in times where you can feel very disempowered and out-of-control. And so: do-it-yourself! Create something! It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just play! I think that we, we’re so serious, all the time, Jilll. We’re just so, so over serious all the time and what the world really needs is a lot more play.
Jill: I love that.
Jill: This episode of Gender, Sex and Tech continued a conversation that began in Chapter 13 of the book Gender, Sex and Tech: An Intersectional Feminist Guide. The chapter is titled, “Zines and ezines as holistic technology: DIY feminism in the transnational classroom,” and it was written by Dr. Jaime Yard. I want to thank Jaime for joining me today for this fun and interesting conversation. And thank you listener for joining me for another episode of Gender, Sex and Tech: Continuing the Conversation. If you want to continue this conversation further, please do reach out on Twitter, @tech_gender. Or you might consider creating your own essay or a podcast or video or other media format to continue the conversation in your voice. Music for this episode was provided by Epidemic Sound. This episode is created by me, Jennifer Jill Fellows, with support from Douglas College in New Westminster, BC and support from the Marc Sanders Foundation for public philosophy. And lastly, today, I’d like to end with a small message from one of Dr. Yard’s students regarding the Little Feminist Zine project. So, stay tuned to learn more about the little feminist zine from Natalie Begg
Natalie Begg: Have you written a zine that you think should be in our collection or do you have a collection of zines that you’d be willing to donate. Learn more about our zine collection, what we’re looking for, and how to donate at guides.douglascollege.ca/zine.
Jill: Until next time everyone. Bye.