The Mode Is The Message - The Code Is The Collective

By Old Boys Network, 28 September 2006

In the age of difference how can consensus politics be avoided without lapsing into esoteric impotence? In the age of difference how do we talk about feminism whilst avoiding essentialist categories like ‘the female’? In the age of cyberfeminsim, how can women use the technosphere to preserve difference, together? In the age of digital technology how can cyberfeminsim use technology to think itself differently? The Old Boys Network is a loose collective of ‘women’ who, gathered at the Next Cyberfeminist International, gamed with the rules to play with difference. The game was replayed at N5M3. What is the regulatory structure of OBN? What are the special operational conditions which make this transitory group work the way it does?” We shall try to answer these questions through a critical reflection on our rules, discussion-habits, decision-making processes and work in general.1. Every member of the OLD BOYS NETWORK is required to call herself a woman (without consideration of the biological base of this intelligent life-form). 2. The functions of organisation, execution and responsibility for the work are shared – there is no chief. This is what we call the principle of the ‘missing chief’, aka ‘open stage’.

3. Decisions are made by consensus of the core group of OBN (ca. 5-9 members) of which every member is personally named on the official website []

4. Every member has agreed to find a personal position in response to the question: ‘what is Cyberfeminism’, based on her scientific or artistic work. And each has agreed to share and support the efforts of working out the potential of this term on an international level.

5. A plurality of communication-channels is used, from personal email, chats, hours of regional and international phone calls, ‘in the flesh’ meetings to an official mailing-list.

6. Every core group member can leave any time, and new members can join the group, if there is a consensus.

7. With regard to its contents – the elaborations of ‘cyberfeminisms’ – our aim is the principle of disagreement!

8. There is an outer circle of associated women who actively participate in a more transitory way (c. 60-70 women).

9. The general public, including those who do not call themselves women, is kept informed by television, radio-reports, personal interviews, articles in electronic and printed media, the website, presentations in the scientific and art-communities, the Cyberfeminist International Conferences etc. Personal statements from OBN members

 “The OLD BOYS NETWORK is a collective experiment which seeks to develop non-hierarchical structures on the organisational as well as the textual plane. Such a structure is determined by the grammatically inclusive power of a ‘non-’; it includes in its conception the commitment to base its work on controversial and diverse personal styles and goals, i.e. on conflicts and debates.

This mode of production is oriented around one primary question: “What is Cyberfeminism?”. It asks for the reinvention of feminist procedures in theory, art and politics under the contemporary conditions of a digital reinvention of every aspect of human existence.

The different approaches and interests of the NETWORK lead to a complex structure of contradictory answers, thus questioning the mainstream prejudices about CYBERFEMINISM. By virtue of its structure the NETWORK questions the irresponsible and inappropriate business of the well known ideologues who, with every thought they put out, contribute to the ruling omniscient stupidities. To counter this widespread understanding of ‘different’ feminine theory, the OLD BOYS NETWORK instead performs the concept of “difference” operating as its fuse – with one or some predictable explosions – hopefully targeting and hitting the context of dominant representational structures.

My way of dealing with the open structure of the NETWORK is to understand the formula “CYBERFEMINISM IS A MISUNDERSTANDING” as a broad and embracing one. The art of mis -understanding, -chief, -behaviour, -use, -fit etc. indicates a delicate but effective mode of production. It emphasises the drive towards collective interaction, the encounter with otherness and the radical search for ‘different’ approaches towards the idle motion of old cultural techniques that have been caused by the digital medium.” –Claudia Reiche

“The Old Boys Network is a group of women doing research on Cyberfeminism, while providing an open and experimental platform for diverse discussions and strategies by Cyberfeminists.

The word ‘Cyberfeminism’ is inconsistent in its meaning. It ranges from dealing with feminist issues in connection with the digital media to a trendy movement. After theories of the end of history and the posthuman, Cyberfeminism offers hope for a new start, a sort of next wave. But this time one which makes it possible for us to focus in a much more precise and radical way.

The stupid hype around digital media helps Cyberfeminism a lot. It is a mixture of utopian dreams, avant-garde ideas (leading a movement etc.) and the urgent desire for a new and easy sensibility in a difficult world. Cyberfeminism will use it as long as it lasts. “ –Helene von Oldenburg

“For me new Cyberfeminist politics involve examining the connections between historical and contemporary sites of feminist theory, analysis, contestation, struggle, and resistance, and the new technological developments which are having a profound impact on these sites. It is now necessary to become aware of how we deal with differences in our most intimate spheres. At the same time we need to strengthen our presence in the greatly contested digital domain as technology has been an integral part of the construction and positioning of identities. In the current state of technologically facilitated global capitalism it becomes imperative to find new ways of interacting in and out of cyberspace.

In the 90s we have seen increasing erosion of many feminist gains, and new problems are arising for women: global capitalism, and the spread of technologised work and life to even the remotest parts of the world are having far-reaching effects on all populations of women. Ironically, the global pancapitalist network has closely interlinked the fates of people from different cultures, backgrounds, races, classes, and economic levels everywhere into complex chains of interdependency which need to be much more closely examined and understood. Changes of identities and subjectivity are taking place rapidly bringing with them new problems of representation of difference in the face of global homogenisation. New medical and biotechnologies, as well as new reproductive technologies are posing entirely new questions about women’s health, embodiment, sexuality, and gender identification. These are all important issues for new Cyberfeminist investigation and action.” –Faith Wilding

“In the beginning it was very important for me to participate in a feminist group with similar ideas and hopes of releasing new aesthetics or symbolic-political issues in the age of new technologies and digital media.

Now, after OBN’s organisation of the second Cyberfeminist conference, I think it’s more important to develop these issues and define them more carefully so as to better connect internationally with other women concerned with similar questions, especially those working with digital media. The biggest problem, or rather my starting point for the future, is that Cyberfeminism - or even the New Cyberfeminism as we practice it - does not differentiate itself clearly enough from other Feminisms, many of which are closely linked to Western theorists.

Cyberfeminists believe that technologies shape our body and subjectivity, and they want to enjoy that. Therefore, we cyberfeminists of OBN have to extend our network into technological fields; try to engage women with this idea and to insist on it, especially if others don’t find it important or want to bash women.

Now the question arises if we should act more as a pressure group or an open and global network alliance which becomes a competitor with the powers that be and is much more than a small group of people doing an art project. For most of us, direct political intervention or activist strategies in the body of the group were not necessary until now. We relied much more on being resistant, provocative or extensive in our own individual work which we dealt with politically. The operational field of OBN has been based on symbolic and not activist engagements. All of us work in the fields of art, literature and science. Personally, I believe in the importance of art and art criticism as places for cultural, political and social reflection – the main issue in my life and work is to invest in the (more or less) political independence and openness of that space.

Obviously, symbolic-political, aesthetic and theoretical strategies have to be developed. Acting as a group might be more efficient than working alone. Herein lie OBN’s next common concerns:

1. Do we want to be a group with common issues and concrete political aims? 2. What is our message? 3. Who are our enemies/friends? 4. What could our strategies look like? 5. What do we like to do? 6. With whom do we want to make further alliances?” –Yvonne Volkart “OBN is not explicitly an art project, but a hybrid which evolves at the interfaces of art, science, philosophy and politics. As OBN deals with power-structures and questions of representation, a political self-understanding suggests itself whereas OBN’s methods as much as the outcomes of its work indicate an artistic one.

OBN understands politics as working with confusion, disappointment, annoyance, impatience and excitement. The new spaces for thinking and acting which OBN opens ultimately remain hollow. OBN does not formulate theories, nor theses; it does not give any instructions nor does it offer answers to the pressing questions of our times. OBN tries to escape the imperatives of a traditional understanding of politics.

At the same time, by focusing on the issues of Cyberfeminism, OBN approaches a classical political debate: feminism. Although categories like class, race and gender and their related restrictions can no longer offer a basis for political action, OBN still refers mainly to one of these categories – namely gender – and attempts to deal with it in an expanded sense. But Cyberfeminisms are individual, and so Cyberfeminist strategies continue to be partial, on-going and even to contradict each other.

OBN’s understanding of politics seems paradoxical. It is about forming alliances, about defining common issues, about creating a discourse; it is pragmatic and dreams of meaningful action. But it also rejects common goals and strategies, and plays with the different notions of politics, i.e. intentional, ideological or playful and anarchic. This is an understanding of politics which refuses to be political but is, at the same time, politically effective. Such an understanding of politics approaches art.” –Cornelia Sollfrank         

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