CLEAR is a feminist and anti-colonial lab that specializes in environmental science and plastic pollution monnitoring.
This post by CLEAR Director Max Liboiron is based on a Twitter essay, which in turn is based on a talk for the ‘What is a Feminist Lab?’ symposium at the University of Boulder, Colorado. #feministlabs
Science labs have a tradition of masculinist values (individualist genius, mastery over nature) & assumed access to Indigenous Land for (“benevolent”) research, which means we end up using science against science to do feminist & anti-colonial work.
Our lab work is often “compromised,” meaning we reproduce some of the systems we are trying to change even as we change them. This isn’t a failure but the condition of doing feminist science in science.
For example, our university provides unisex lab coats. But they hang off of small, slight, feminine bodies and make it look like I’m playing dress-up in my own lab. To look professional, we bought Grey’s Anatomy cosplay coats. That’s right: to look like professional scientists, we bought sexy lady doctor costumes. Compromise is a key concept in activism because it’s about how to ethically maneuver complex terrains–there is no blank slate or terra nullius in lab work– the blank slate, free of Land relations and prior action, politics, obligations, or peoples is the colonizer’s dream.
The most useful skill I have in science is that I’m trained in facilitation. Every ~2 years, CLEAR has a facilitated conversation to articulate our shared core values. Two are equity and humility. We aim to reproduce them at every stage of science.
Equity & humility are core to how we decide the author order of our papers. We decide as an entire lab, by consensus. The process changes every time, but recently we started by asking everyone how they knew the project.
Then we decide who carries the story of the project (blue**), who put things into that story (blue*), and who supported from the sides (pink*). Blue = authors. Pink = acknowledgments in this case. Then we decide the order of each category.
If the value of labour two or more people put into the project are otherwise equal, we start talking about equity–what kind of ppl tend to fail up, and who tend to get pushed out of science? Who tend to be underrepresented in the literature? Underrepresented groups move up in our author order. This is the part I get hate male over [sic]. Yes, this is not fair. Fair means treating everyone the same, or equality. We don’t do equality. We do equity. It’s the harder problem to address.
For more on our author order protocol, see: Liboiron, M., Ammendolia, J., Winsor, K., Zahara, A., Bradshaw, H., Melvin, J., Mather, C., Dawe, N., Wells, E., Liboiron, F.and Fürst, B. (2017). “Equity in Author Order: A Feminist Laboratory’s Approach.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 3(2). Also, if you use this technique in your work, please site it. It is a method, after all.
There are many other examples of how we strive for equity and humility in our work- who we hire, how/where we sample, which metrics & stats we use. Some are in our lab book:
This essay was originally published on Twitter April 17, 2019.