SP Seminar Series

Friday, October 20th,
Virginia Eubanks, Department of Women's Studies, University at Albany, SUNY
"Technologies of Citizenship: Surveillance and Political Learning in the Welfare System".
Location: Mackintosh Corry Hall, Room D528
Time: 11:30 am - 1:00 pm


Surveillance of low-income women in the United States is nothing new. From techniques of reproductive sterilization to methods of industrial psychology, the canaries in the coal mine of technological "progress" have routinely been the poor and oppressed. So what is new about surveillance technologies in the welfare office? In this paper, I offer evidence that women receiving public benefits in a small city in upstate New York perceive significant, troubling, and ongoing changes. Over three years of participatory research with women living in transitional housing, I learned that welfare administration technologies play a considerable role in reproducing power assymetries and constructing manageable subjects for neoliberal governance regimes. These "technologies of citizenship," in addition to providing new forms of discipline and control, offer sites of political learning to low-income women, teaching lessons about their comparative social worth, competence, and opportunities. Rather than being "information" or "technology poor," as much public policy argues, most low-income women have in fact had too much interaction and too intimate a relationship with information technologies. In this paper, I explore some of those intimate interactions, their impacts on welfare recipients' understandings of their citizenship, and suggest a kind of education for critical technological citizenship—Popular Technology—that turn these experiences into resources for—rather than barriers to—learning and engagement.


Virginia Eubanks joined the Department of Women's Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY in 2004 after completing her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Eubanks came to her research - "high-tech" development and women's urban poverty in the United States - through a history of activism in community media and technology center movements, and is currently working on a book project entitled "Popular Technology: Citizenship and Inequality in the Information Economy." Eubanks also co-founded the "Popular Technology Summer Workshops," a popular education and technology series held annually at the YWCA of Troy-Cohoes. The workshop is a place for ordinary people to come together in order to define a high-tech equity agenda, and is grounded in the idea that ordinary people have the ability and the right to create their own tools to promote economic, political, social and cultural democracy. More information is available at http://www.populartechnology.org/.