"Researching on the Intersectional Internet: Slow Coding as Humanistic Recovery" (article)

Article for Special Conversation Cluster on internet research ethics in Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition.

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In this piece, I outline a framework for researching online communities via what I term slow coding, a research practice comprising critical perspectives from Black Feminist Technology Studies (Noble, 2016), digital cultural rhetorics (Haas, 2018), and computers and writing studies (Gelms & Edwards, 2019) that attends to digital expressions of life as communicative acts performed online but with embodied complications. As presented in the piece, slow coding advances intersectional theory (Collins, 2000) to push against the notion of anonymized data (defined as textual data points that are void of those meaning-rich cultural cultural flows that circulate amongst communities of color). Technofeminist criticism has highlighted that “the mere presence of technologies does not account for or eliminate difference in terms of access, embodiment, intersectional identities, or lived experience” (Bates, Macarthy, Warren-Riley, 2019, “Future”). Likewise, in advancing a technofeminist rhetorical framework for observing human and non-human life amid today’s platformed milieu, Gelms and Edwards (2019, “Introduction”) noted that researchers need to think about “how the lived experiences and emotional labor of [our lives] has bearing on the research process.” As such, I advance slow coding as a methodological lattice that springboards off what Tynes, Schuschke, and Noble (2016) termed the intersectional internet, a mutinous theoretical framework for complicating preconceived notions about how Black and other people of color live, play, and organize online around, with, and against algorithmic forces.

In the piece, I outline how the human user has been wrought from project of anti-Blackness and Indigenous extermination core to how so-called modern-day technologies were derived (Benjamin, 2019). These humanistic configurations likewise inflect a typical internet-based research project, including what the site can be, who the participants are, and what the data comprise (Gallagher, 2019). I then forward slow coding as a research practice grounded in the intersectional internet, allowing researchers to ethically work in the ebbs and flows of oppression, allowing for meaningful engagement with marginalized communities. I conclude by fully articulating this framework attendant to the deep care required of working with marginalized communities, starting with respectful observation, moving toward ethical engagement and gathering, and then culminating in antiracist analytic strategies that allow the data to story itself and tying online life to the offline oppressions. 

In this way, I offer suggestions for each step of the multilayer process that stacks into a research project: who the participants are, where the research site is, what the rhetorical-relational data comprise, and the other ingredient strands that mesh into such a project. This framework resonates with Sano-Franchini’s (2015) call for more research on online spaces that focus on the everyday rhetorical-relational work of building community in relation to marginalizing forces. Slow coding also attends to Haas’ (2018) call that researchers “recognize and make explicit the plurality of embodied, technological, and rhetorical negotiations within specific cultural contexts and asymmetrical power relations” (p. 412).