Posted on 2015/10/05 by

Out of my mentions

What qualifies as “knowledge-making”? [1]  What are the determining factors?

Credentials? Context? Who can participate?

the intellectual

Only? And if only: who counts as an intellectual? Can activists be intellectuals? Do their blogging practices count as knowledge-making?

Do intellectuals tweet?

@bad_dominicana [+] [+] [+]
@apihtawikosisan [+] [+]
@BlackAmazon [+]
@FeministaJones [+]
@ChiefElk [+]

Activist twitter accounts use the application to collaborate amongst themselves and disseminate knowledge concerning marginalized and intersecting demographics. The immediacy of the format allows these bloggers and organizers (blogging organizers, really) to confront identified oppressors in a public forum while offering support to their communities[2]. Not your granpappy’s activism.

Their tweets engage a variety of topics, including:
abuser dynamics [+]
decolonization & settler colonialism
misogynoir [+] [+]
indigenous erasure
identity politics
respectability politics [+]

Tweets don’t cite essays or theorists, though they may link relevant articles or blog posts. They might curse. They might use emojis, gifs, or memes.

So does it count?


Let’s say it does, and let’s consider: if these activists practice knowledge-making (everyday!), and do so outside of academia, have they side-stepped the ethical issues of academics, who serve the institutions of society, recreating the power dynamics their studies aim to analyze, by virtue of the contextual and practical shift? Or, are they too influenced by the elite?

Rather than amass their writings out of public view as a means to prestige via publication (in journals read only by fellow academics), these bloggers use digital applications to create space for themselves, their causes, and their knowledge. Operating in the margins, their knowledge-making practices consist of tactics.

I call tactics the calculated action which is determined by the absence of power.

I would call tactics:
#OpThunderbird [+]
#MMIW [+] [+]
#BlackLivesMatter [+] [+]
#YouOkSis [+] [+]
#SayHerName [+]
#StopStealingOurKids [+]
#GiveYourMoneyToWomen [+] [+]


Do these hashtags function as both tactics and knowledge, or are they tactics which facilitate knowledge?

These hashtags depend on high accessibility and wide circulation to function with any efficacy, although it seems to be these same factors which render their tactical knowledge vulnerable in a way which academic knowledge is not. Is it an issue of venue? Is it because we see the tweet alone and not the years of organizing and fundraising? Is it because we haven’t witnessed the physical and emotional labour of so many unseen bodies, whose practices are not protected by the protocols of the elite?

Freely circulated, tactical knowledge is often vampirized by academic and journalistic writers, who may then accrue monetary and cultural capital from their “findings”. The bloggers, meanwhile, remain largely unseen—a painful irony in a discursive space which so centres visibility politics. Wherever a tidbit of tactical knowledge first originated it is in elite spaces that it becomes legitimate. It’s a real thing if CNN is talking about it; it’s important if you saw it on Feministing. It’s a sizeable issue, and not solely because the “findings” go uncited, apparently attributable to no one person.

But what is the status of Tweets? Are they intellectual property?


If yes: what are the consequences of mainstream society denying this status?

If no: what does it mean for these activists and their labour? [3]

In any case, twitter conversations between radical activists and academics/journalists[4] make it clear that the elite don’t believe themselves to be guilty of any wrongdoing. Rather, they often suggest that their writings help the cause in question—a misconception which both sanctions and perpetuates the power imbalance which makes these clashes possible in the first place.

What then, is the answer to this problem? Can tactical knowledge be written about without infringing on activist practices? I think so. When writing about tactically generated knowledge, context is definitely a determining factor, if only in part. The nature of it insists on a shift away from elite spaces. Consider that @FeministaJones and @BlackAmazon do not provide legal names in their online work. What does that mean for me, a follower desiring to share the perspectives they’ve shared?

The form has its consequences. I can’t share Zahira Kelly’s (@bad_dominicana) discourse of abuser dynamics in an academic paper without translation, and not without a crushing sense of futility. What happens to tactical knowledge once acquired by academia? Who benefits from relaying advice for the marginal to the elite? It’s 2015 and still so tempting to think of the internet as a level playing field, but ultimately we’re dealing with the url extensions of our irl spaces for cultural production and representation. Visibility, in concert with legitimacy, still requires access, capital, and (always) privilege. @apithawikosisan has and @FeministaJones has, but theirs are far from profitable websites, unlike like Jezebel, The Huffington Post, Feministing, etc.

So, finally: what of Is this a proper venue?

I’m a lightskin cis Black woman in academia (for the moment), so while I’m personally invested I’m still in a privileged position which allows me to write this at all. Amplab is a publicly accessible website but it still caters to an elite audience, likely the only audience that’s aware of it.[5] Can this academic knowledge-making practice be compatible with the tactical?

I don’t know, and I don’t mind admitting I feel uneasy about writing this. I didn’t contact or obtain consent from any of the activists I mentioned, and I’m not certain that’s okay. I wasn’t sure whether to name or link anyone. What’s the difference between this post and all those contentious writings I’m rambling about? [6]

Until I started working on my probe, I thought I knew pretty well the origins of #MMIW. I pretty well did not know much of anything.



1. Purple words not my own; see Hacking, de Certeau.
2. The network behind the actors, themselves built of actors, themselves of networks, themselves of actors.
3. Choose your own adventure!
4. Not mutually-exclusive categories, of course.
5. No shade.
6. Besides all the question marks.

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