Vlog #1: Critical Play by Jessica Rajko

The following vlog is in response to Jacque Wernimont's blog post about our presentation of Vibrant Lives' DataPLAY at FemTechNet's signal/noise conference, held in Ann Arbor, MI. After our session, I found myself curious about the various ways in which people, disciplines, and practices come to understand play. Coincidentally, this became a focal point of both Jacque's blog, and Alexandra Juhasz's response. This led me to contextualize the concept of critical play from the perspective of a dancer/movement practitioner. This vlog is more of a personal response grounded in practice, versus one grounded in theory. I do this in part to honor movement practices as a place of rigorous research and to (for myself) consider what it means to articulate purely from a place of practice-based understanding.

Starting Somewhere... by Jessica Rajko

For the past 1.5 years, I've been blazing forward as a newbie assistant professor at Arizona State University. This comes after two years as the Artist Services Coordinator at the Arizona Commission on the Arts and three years as an adjunct professor at various universities/colleges across Metro Phoenix. Jumping back into the academy after several years outside of this world has been…a bit of a culture shift. While my departmental home is in the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre (mainly dance), I find myself stretched between SoFDT, Arts, Media and Engineering (AME), and the Global Security Initiative (GSI). The array of departments and initiatives representing my academic home illustrates the strangely tangled web of my research. Dancing across different academic perspectives, I find myself both continuously surprised and a bit overwhelmed by what I’ve set as my research agenda. For the most part, I’ve been synthesizing this unwieldy body of work by overanalyzing almost everything out loud to my dear, loving, patient husband, Stjepan Rajko. While this oral analysis helps, I still find it difficulty to fully reflect on my work. To this end (and much to my own chagrin) I’m starting a blog. This blog. Here, I hope to informally suss out my big, sticky research questions, share small victories, and reflect upon the broader fields within which I work. I cannot guarantee that it will be useful, interesting, or entertaining to everyone, but I hope that those intersecting the areas of dance, HCI design, wearable tech, digital humanities, and/or social justice find this blog to be of some value. If not, that’s okay too. This is, in part, an exercise in written self-reflection. A practice my colleague and collaborator Jacque Wernimont has clearly mastered (Jacque, for all of my bad writing, I’m sorry.)

 So, with this in mind, I realize I have to start somewhere. Today’s somewhere begins with a short list of the big questions I can’t get off my mind. Some of these are deeply related to my research, while others are more tangential. Some of these may turn into future blogs, while others will stay right here. In no particular order: 

How to be an intersectional feminist in the area of dance/technology? This question has been haunting me for some time now. In returning to academia, I rigorously began to broaden the diversity of my research. This work has been exciting, gratifying, confusing and eye-opening. Thanks to the advice of many close colleagues including my dear friend Mary Stephens, I have been introduced to bodies of work I sadly, never knew existed - research that has changed and challenged my personal epistemology. I started writing about this here, and I quickly realized it warrants its own blog. This will become blog #2.

Can we imagine the future that doesn’t look like Neuromancer? The ways in which we visualize our future often look like a cyberpunk dream world, a dystopian apocalypse, or some mix of both. Yes, I believe it’s helpful to critique our current use of technology and visualize the path we may be on. We’ve done it. We’re still doing it. Chances are, we’ll keep doing it. Warnings are great, but only if we can imagine a way out. What are alternatives that don’t result in societal collapse? How can our technologies work with our bodies rather than against them? How can we honor the body through technology usage rather than exploit it? More importantly, whose voices are not currently being heard as we imagine our techno future? Voices that could fundamentally change the toxic relationships we’re creating between bodies and technology. (Hint, they likely won’t come from a white, highly educated, middle/upper class perspective). In a world that keeps warning me of the cyborgian future, I find it hard to imagine alternatives.

When and why do we really need to wear our technology? This question has been nagging at me ever since I started to explore the WT field. I love working with hardware technologies far more than software. As such, I find myself drawn to physical computing practices. Naturally, this led me to thinking critically about how and why we put technology on our body. While there have been a few interesting examples of wearable technologies that consciously try not to exploit the body, I am concerned by the tight coupling of WT with self-tracking. Thanks to the popularity of the Quantified Self (QS) movement and commercially available self-tracking devices like Fitbit, self-tracking is becoming synonymous with WT. Despite my own work in the field, I still find this whole area of research severely problematic, which begs the question…Do we really need to wear our technology? If so (outside of the areas of artmaking and critical design) when is it necessary?

How do we imagine data? As my research becomes more and more entangled with issues of data, I am curious, what do other people imagine when they think of data? Is it a matrix of 1’s and 0’s? Is it a social media profile? Is it banking records? Is it something other than alphanumeric? How do we imagine data and how does this affect the way we think about data within our lives? Can we have a critical conversation about data without first acknowledging what we imagine data to be? Can with think about data as being non-digital? Is everything becoming/already exist as data? Should we have more words to parse out what we mean by data?


As I have probably made clear, I have many more questions than answers. As I trudge forth, I plan to wrestle with these and other questions in more detail, citing other amazing practitioners, scholars, and community activists along the way. Here’s to starting.