Alternative Networks

2024-02-27
Padmini Ray Murray (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the founder of Design Beku.: a collective that emerged from a desire to explore how technology and design can be decolonial, local, and ethical.
More on Padmini Ray Murray

Contemporary imaginations and visions of the (digital) network are inevitably completely shaped by corporate technology giants with their mega storage facilities which reify their maximalist and extractive agendas. At Design Beku, a collective I founded in 2018, we work together with our collaborators to transform these imaginations that dominate our perceptions of what technology is and can be, by rethinking how contextual and local relevance, as well as an ethics of care can alter our notions of the digital.

Image taken from my interactive 3D essay Gathering Multitudes: A Bag of Stars

For around six years, we have been working with frontline health workers (called health navigators or HNs) in a town in Southern India, called Channapatna: where we have helped to set up a mesh network which hosts an archive of interviews with their patients, which they annotate and maintain. This data is hosted on a server co-maintained by us, and acts as an originating node for the intranet available through the mesh network, for the local community to learn from and access this archive. We aspire to use principles for feminist servers in its governance: involving everyone in what it hosts and how it is protected, and what sort of principles of privacy are used to safeguard this data. For the HNs, as a consequence, the network is an intimate place of sharing and knowledge creation: for us, it is a response to regimes which presumptuously assume that we need not have any agency nor ownership over the data we create and share in service of some remote (and frankly disingenuous) framing of data as a public good. The HNs are recording and creating documentary content of their learnings from their experiences in the field speaking to local families about their health concerns, as well as drawing on local generational knowledge to inform their advice to their clients. These are remedies gathered very literally from the field, plants and crops that can be found easily as part of the local ecology.

In Gathering Multitudes (2021, image above) I imagined what it meant to reimagine data governance along the lines of how a community might decide on how to store and distribute seeds. In defiance of the clean logic of the network, which privileges nodes over their edges, we conceive of consensus as defined by the systems that are run by human relationships where roles slip between Maintainer-Repairers, Translator-Weaver-Facilitators, Storyteller-Archiver-Guides [1]The descriptions of these roles are by Micah Alex and the Living Labs Network & Forum, another collective with whom we work closely. making them more akin to infrastructures. We often imagine our work as “infrastructuring as a meme” - our sites connected by the web of connections that emerge from a similar way of caring for and seeing the world. While the silk that binds us might be fragile, it resonates, emits and receives ideas that challenges how we see technology from spaces other than our own, and creates the possibilities to foster other visions that are more meaningful to our contexts and realities.

A photo taken by Ruchita Pania shows Jabeen Taj, assissted by her 13 year old son, video recording Anita who is singing a song about symptoms of Hyperthyroidism as Saraswathi, watches on, awaiting her turn to be recorded.
Ramakka checks the switches housed in the protective rain box, Jabeen Taj is checking the antenna beaming the internet to B D Colony, as Saraswathi peeks in. Part of a series of photos staged by Ramakka and Jabeen Taj, shot by Naveen Bagalkot.

Padmini Ray Murray was invited by Dhruv Jani to contribute to "Reframing a glossary". Find out more.

References

[1]

The descriptions of these roles are by Micah Alex and the Living Labs Network & Forum, another collective with whom we work closely.

Padmini Ray Murray (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the founder of Design Beku.: a collective that emerged from a desire to explore how technology and design can be decolonial, local, and ethical.
More on Padmini Ray Murray

Suggested Citation:

Murray, P. (2024) 'Alternative Networks', The Photographers’ Gallery: Unthinking Photography. Available at: https://unthinking.photography/articles/alternative-networks
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