Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies

From Duke University Press, available now

Read the introduction (PDF)

Teaching Guide (Video, Discussion Questions)

Cover of Information Activism Book: Design is a riff on an old spiral-bound notebook

For decades, lesbian feminists across the United States and Canada have created information to build movements and survive in a world that doesn’t want them. In Information Activism Cait McKinney traces how these women developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives that formed the foundation for their work. Often learning on the fly and using everything from index cards to computers, these activists brought people and their visions of justice together to organize, store, and provide access to information. Focusing on the transition from paper to digital-based archival techniques from the 1970s to the present, McKinney shows how media technologies animate the collective and unspectacular labor that sustains social movements, including their antiracist and trans-inclusive endeavors. By bringing sexuality studies to bear on media history, McKinney demonstrates how groups with precarious access to control over information create their own innovative and resourceful techniques for generating and sharing knowledge.

“In an age when technological innovation itself is often assumed to make the world a better place, Cait McKinney reminds us that, for the past fifty years, lesbian feminist activists have resourcefully patched together their own heterodox information infrastructures—composed of telephone hotlines and spiral-bound notebooks, index cards and digitization technologies, hacked tools and customized protocols—to serve clear social and ethical ends. Their information activism enabled them to create systems of connection and care that are responsive to human need, rather than, as is so common today, to advertisers and algorithms.” — Shannon Mattern, author of Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media

“Through what might seem like an unlikely mashup of lesbian feminism and information studies, Cait McKinney illuminates both in original and compelling ways. The novel concept of information activism is a valuable contribution to understandings of social movements and counterpublics. And McKinney sheds new light on often misunderstood or neglected histories of lesbian feminism by exploring amateur obsessions with circulating information, including digital media. Together, information and lesbian feminism become unexpectedly sexy, erotic, and affectively charged.” — Ann Cvetkovich, author of Depression: A Public Feeling