The final speaker in this first AoIR 2013 plenary is Christina Dunbar-Hester, whose focus is on activist technical projects - such as micropower radio stations or community wifi networks. The activists describe such activities with the Amish term of barnraising, highlighting the community empowerment and self-sufficiency aspects of such initiatives. The hope is to demystify technology and generate political engagement through further hands-on knowledge sharing.
There is a big difference in this in how technical expertise is seen as empowering (through sharing) rather than disempowering (through the emergence of knowledge elites). But there remains a strong white middle-class basis to this - such sharing continues to speak largely to a male white addressee, and the involvement of women or minorities in these initiatives remains rare.
This is recognised by the activists themselves - since 2000, a number of initiatives have sought to directly address especially the low participation rates of women in these projects, focussing initially especially on the open source movements. Activists openly acknowledge inequalities in their communities, and the problems which result from this - though not all members of such communities agree with that assessment.
What issues would better diversity solve? One answer to this is market-driven: activists believe that greater diversity would enable them to develop better products. Another is more ideological: independent of its products, the movement would be a better community if it's membership were more diverse. Yet more fundamentally, another answer flags that there is a much broader societal issue with gender equality (and other forms of equality), too.
But the simplifications which such answers entail - especially with a focus in the first place simply on increasing the number of women participants - also bypass some more complicated problems. Is simple participation enough, or does the quality of participation also need to be considered more closely (the ability of participants to influence decisions or lead the community, for example)? Is the only answer to change the dominant culture, or could women and other groups also develop their own spaces?
More fundamentally, who should everyone want to participate in these projects; are they really inherently emancipatory, and if so, how?