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Friday, May 13 • 10:30am - 10:45am
Crowdsourced Geo-Data Meets Sexual Violence: Activism, Design, and the Ethical Life of Technologies

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Bangladesh’s birth is grafted on the memory of widespread sexual violence; the 1971 Independence War witnessed the weaponized rape of 200,000 Bengali women. Once ‘liberated’, survivors lost ownership over their experience of trauma as the narrative became symbolically and materially re-constituted by the state. Scholars such Yasmin Saikia have pressed against this legacy, retrieving suppressed voices and speaking to their “rich,” “varied,” and “polyversal” nature.

The recent surge in gender-based and sexual violence, as indicated by the even depressed official figures, has drawn attention to the plight of Bengali women yet again. In November 2014, VICE News ran an expose on Bangladesh’s “rape epidemic,” one rooted in traditionalist values “intent on the subjugation of women.”

Similar accounts by media, human interest reports, and scholarship reveal an increased effort to circumvent the social and institutional conditions silencing rape survivors in Bangladesh, intervening by “giving voice” – whether through the circulation of curated narratives, turning the lens onto subaltern spaces, or the proliferation of ‘technologies of testimony.’

‘Technologies of testimony’ are created with the intent to capture, process, represent and intervene on sexual violence – Bijoya’ and ‘Protibadi are just two of a growing number of initiatives attempting to do so through the adoption of crowdmapping software that produces a “geospatial visualization of testimony.”

Existing literature, both by the designers of these projects and those critical of their externalities, has failed to provide an account of the complex, socially situated design processes from which these technologies arise – the way in which moments of ‘closure’ affix certain forms of knowledge politics to the material constitution and social practices of activist cybercartography.

This paper begins by refusing an account of digital technology as merely a prosthetic for human capacities. Unpacking the technological affordances of cybercartography and tracking the ways in which these analog to digital conversions inflect upon a projects like ‘Bijoya’, I argue that participatory crowdmapping of sexual violence in Bangladesh subordinates social justice to a fetish of data and technocratic rationality.


Friday May 13, 2016 10:30am - 10:45am MST
COOR L1-18 975 S Myrtle Ave Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 85281
  Culture and Ethics, Long Paper
  • Session Location COOR L1-18