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PUGS: Digital Underground

Tools for Radicals and Futurists

Apps and content, platforms and startups, industry and conventions: we hear a lot about the entrepreneurs, engineers, and companies that shape the digital landscape. But what about the communities who are working all the while to radicalize and transform the world, and to enact power-from-below using digital technology?

Date: Wednesdays, March 7, 14, 21, 28
Time: 6pm-8pm
Location: People's Co-Op || 3029 SE 21st Ave
$198, individual rate. $298, organization rate. Space is limited to 20 students.

In this course, we’ll redirect focus from the giants of tech and instead explore subcultures that are emerging from the underground of the global digital ecosystem—from hackers of color, to feminist electronica composers, to African video artists. Everywhere, as we will discover, radical and marginalized users and makers are engineering new ways to live and be online.

We will also interrogate the “digital divide”—an imaginary line that makes equipment hard to come by, formal training nonexistent, and startup money inaccessible. Together, we will examine the New Left’s idea of the “Global Village,”  which shaped the contemporary digital world, but which also needs to account for the uneven distribution of technology across that landscape. More than anything, we will celebrate the ways global and minoritized makers and users overcome these obstacles through critical thinking and innovation.

This course draws from the work of Stuart Hall and other theorists of popular culture, media, Black studies, and feminist studies to understand how marginalized communities breathe creative and political life into the digital world. By recognizing and resourcing these digital makers, we can hope for cultural transformation, and for a better global future.

With a series of guest speakers and artists from Portland’s tech and creative scene, we will examine:

  • The question of digital globalization and the emergence of tech in Africa, Latin America, and in indigenous communities
  • What it means to be an engineer: How do gender, race, and place affect who is recognized as such, and who is not?
  • The relationship of Black aesthetics, girl culture, and the global arts to the digital world, which draws heavily from this creativity in form and content
  • Ways to advocate for distributing digital resources to marginalized groups in the Portland area and beyond

Students will have the opportunity to integrate new/digital media into their course project, which will profile a particular cultural movement as it moves from its local, hidden, radical, or otherwise “different” space into an ever-changing global mainstream

We are inviting a series of Portland-based representatives of digital undergrounds to visit with us as we work through the following topic. Students with expertise in these areas are encouraged to share their wisdom.

Week One: Who Are the Undergrounds. Representatives of local hacker, creative, and grassroots cultures will join us for a conversation about the ways subcultures use digital technologies in new and important ways.

Week Two: Global Users, Makers, Hackers. We will examine a series of case studies in “outsider engineering”—finding ways to repurpose existing platforms, hardware, and technology to suit the purposes of marginalized users.

Week Three: Radicals and Revolutionaries. Here, we focus on the politics of the web—not just the “Big P” politics of electoral processes and national parties, but the “little p” politics of asserting non-mainstream cultural values online/via tech.

Week Four: Digital Futures. As we imagine the possibility of a truly diverse digital future, we discuss projects in advocacy: activism, training programs, nonprofits, and other ways of organizing resources to empower digital subcultures. Guests from local Portland digital inclusion nonprofits will visit with us.

Ali Colleen Neff, Ph.D. is a digital anthropologist, UX researcher, and the founder of CultureEncode, a center for advocacy and consulting for digital diversity. She comes to PUGS after 12 years of university teaching and research in Black/feminist media studies, and has published books, articles, and films on underground hip-hop production, African Digital culture, and tween girls online. She DJs funk, hip-hop, and boogie records under the handle DoctorDakar.

Earlier Event: March 14
People's Year 'Round Farmers' Market
Later Event: March 15
Member-Owner Yoga