A central focus of Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) scholarship has been on political values driving processes of collaboration. Politics of collaboration are interpreted and practiced differently in different communities. For example, a grassroots perspective highlights the role of collaboration and collective action toward questioning power and systemic oppression. Although grassroots groups (in the United States and beyond) use information communication technologies (ICTs), recent CSCW research suggest that these technologies are not always rooted in the grassroots analysis of systemic issues. Recent work in CSCW and broader Human- Computer Interaction (HCI) research point out similar disparities— between politics of technology and of its “users”—in communities beyond social movements.
In this workshop, we will incorporate grassroots practices to explore what it means to collectively examine sociotechnical systems for the politics they embody and promote. We welcome scholars, researchers, practitioners working broadly in the spirit of grassroots politics of collaboration to join us in this collective reflection of politics in our technologies.
We define grassroots politics of collaboration in what follows; for a more detailed description of the concept and related literature, see our conference submission.
ICTs and the Grassroots Politics of Collaboration
Grassroots social movements question systemic oppression—based on race, class, caste, gender, and other normative characteristics—by organizing from the margins of a society. A grassroots approach in the United States draws from many political theories, ideologies, and practices—notably, participatory democracy, black radical traditions, and intersectionality. At the crux of this approach is the belief that the people who are most oppressed by normative power structures have the most authentic analyses of power and oppression. Therefore, our social movements should be led by and centered around the situated knowledges of people with lived experiences of systemic injustices. Toward this, movement communities draw sustenance from collaboration among people in the front lines of political struggle.
ICTs play a critical role in the collaborative fabric of grassroots movements. They range from corporation-enabled centralized technologies like Facebook to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) platforms like riseup.net—technologies that are often our objects of analyses in the CSCW community. Unlike the movements, these ICTs are often not rooted in a grassroots politics of collaboration. While these technologies enable new modes of collective action among members of a movement, they also create new power relationships challenging grassroots politics.
These barriers are often related to systemic exclusion perpetuated by technology itself: those who have access to technology and identify as technologically adept end up having more power (in a community ) over those who have less or limited access. Often the people with more access are also the people who have more racial, gendered, and class privilege in these communities—excluding people who are at the frontlines of systemic oppression who would otherwise be at the center of a social movement.
One does not have to be embedded in grassroots groups to experience grassroots politics of collaboration. Issues of power and privilege around science and technology are relevant in other communities of practice beyond grassroots groups. Often these issues are reflective of the politics of the makers and marketers of these systems. We can better align with grassroots values by critically looking at technologies that are expected to work for the grassroots politics of collaboration. These include both technologies that we make within the CSCW community and popular centralized solutions (e.g., Slack, Facebook) that commonly pervade these spaces. The work of critical questioning entails asking complex questions such as: who are the ideal users for these systems? Whose values do these systems promote in practice? Who gets excluded by the choice of these technologies? In this workshop, we will collectively engage in this critical reflection of politics and technology.