Metaphors as meaning and method in networked life and digital culture – Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR, 2020)

AoIR 2020 feature image. Artist unknown. Visual description: Two humanoid hands reaching towards each other, almost touching index fingers. The hand on the left of the image is a green mossy hand. the hand on the right of the image is machinic/robotic.

Panel discussion with T.L. Cowan (University of Toronto), Jas Rault (University of Toronto), Tonia Sutherland (University of Hawai’i) and Amy Dobson (Curtin University) at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) 2020

When: Wednesday Oct. 28, 11pm-12am (Toronto time) | Wed. Oct. 28, 5-6pm (Honolulu time) | Thurs. Oct. 29, 11-12 (Perth time, Australia)

Where: Zoom 🙁

  • Please see below for Zoom link

Statement about commercial video conference platforms, censorship, and academic freedom

At the Digital Research Ethics Collaboratory we are following reports that the commercial web-conferencing platform Zoom cancelled multiple university-hosted webinars that were part of the National Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Speech, organized by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. Neither Zoom, nor any other large commercial platforms, should have the power to shut down/censor academic discussions — particularly those concerning justice for Palestine. With the organizers of the NYU event, “We Will Not Be Silenced: Against the Censorship and Criminalization of Academic Speech,” we wonder “Why are big tech platforms making decisions that violate academic freedom? Why is speech about Palestinian rights always the first to be censored, and how should academic communities respond?” You can watch the discussion of these questions here

We have researched alternative platforms on which to host this AoIR panel, but have not found a great solution at this point, given that the pandemic Zoom buy-in (from universities and other corporations) has afforded this platform capacities that others do not offer — such as joining a meeting without a subscription, joining from outside an organization, waiting rooms, password-entry, no obligation to link through other commercial services like Google, Microsoft, Canvas, etc.  

Although the webinar format offers the most security precautions for hosting an online event–and this is especially important for racialized, trans-feminist and queer scholars–we are opting to host our event on an already-paid-for Zoom subscription, and opting against further buy-in by choosing to not purchase a webinar subscription for this panel. 

We thank you in advance for your interest in our discussion, and welcome you! When you are admitted to the panel, we ask that you please introduce yourself via chat, including your name, where you are in the world and what brings you to this panel. As a safety precaution, the panel will be recorded, and we may opt to turn off audio and video for participants, without notice, at any time during the event.

Meeting ID: 898 3662 1660
Passcode: 8WPP6w

Panel Description: Metaphors as meaning and method in networked life and digital culture

Metaphor has the power to materialize and dematerialize. This panel brings together scholars thinking about what metaphor might kill and what it might create. How do metaphors of colonization and decolonization (Tuck & Yang) get mobilized in and by digital technocultural imaginations? While metaphors bring the power of one thing (an object, action, idea) to stand in for another thing, to suggest a likeness or analogy between them, this standing-in can work to steal from and conceal the distinct material histories and contexts that give a thing power and significance to begin with. Employing humanities and social sciences methods of discourse analysis, textual analysis and genealogical inquiry, the four papers in this panel take up the following vital metaphors and their impact on networked life, digital culture and Internet Studies: 1) digital hygiene, 2) machines and remains, 3) transparency, 4) cyborgs, goddesses and aliens. Panelists explore the ways that metaphors reflect changing ideas about the human and the living, and/or what the metaphors we choose have to say about the histories and lives with which we align ourselves. By amplifying the anti-racist, anti-colonial, trans- feminist and queer lenses through which digital technocultural metaphors are analyzed, the goal of this panel is to interrogate how metaphors work not only to conceal, but also to produce material realities, in ways both generative and damaging. These presentations link computational metaphors to earlier technological, mechanical and material bodies, as well as the contexts from which they emerged.


Ahmed, S. (2004). The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge.

Anderson, B. (2017). The politics of pests: Immigration and the invasive other. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 84(1), 7–28.

Balsamo, A. (2011). Designing culture: The technological imagination at work. Duke University Press.

Bridle, J. (2018). New dark age: Technology and the end of the future. London: Verso.

Hu, T.-H. (2015). A prehistory of the cloud. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

University of Minnesota Press.

Katzenbach, C. & Larsson, S. (2010, May 15) “Imagining the Digital Society – Metaphors from the Past and Present.” Retrieved December 16, 2019, from Digital Society Blog

Penley, C. & Ross, A. (1990). “Cyborgs at Large: Interview with Donna Haraway.” Social Text, 25-26, 8-23. 

Roy, D. (2018). Molecular Feminisms: Biology, Becomings, and Life in the Lab. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Education & Society, 1(1),  1–40