Explanation of power structures, limits and lessons that can be drawn: Kamberidou, I. (2004). “Slavery of the Mind and “Mental Imprisonment” (1870) in the harem: the Bodiless Society, a de-gendered or gender-neutral emancipatory social space?. Opening presentation on the ‘Virtual Harem, the first Consultation Workshop on Gender and Technology, European Commission – Information Society DG, Brussels, 28 June 2004. [After the meeting it was decided to eliminate or no longer use the term harem to describe practices of digital despotism and virtual servitude] ..................................................................................................ABSTRACT: Many open issues concerning democratic operations and processes in social-state institutions and policies remind us of old and decayed institutions of the past. The ‘harem’ example (its intricate organizational structure) is used to draw a parallel between the servitude to the privileged elite that also can be seen to exist when excluded or marginalized groups in today’s society are powerless to take part in the rapidly expanding technological society. In Ottoman society, for instance, the fundamental elements of the slavery institution and by extention the polyethnic harem slavery institution were: social exclusion, exploitation, servitude, despotism, racism, oppression, alienation, corruption, persecution, conspiracy networks, terrorism, specific ‘sexual politics’, physical and mental castration, the violation of the personality and the body, ‘privileged rape’, restricted social mobility, etc. Similar characteristics observed in today’s Information Society, on a ‘virtual’ level, in the ‘Virtual Harem’, namely the problems associated with virtual exclusion include: the exclusion of specific social groups from technological participation and developments, electronic conspiracy networks, electronic terrorism, the violation of the electronic personality, explosion of pornography, the ‘slave-trafficking’ of women and children, castrated human subjects, and the domination of the imaginary (fantasy), namely due to the absence of the natural presence you interpret the other person from characteristics which may be false: the fantasy or the imagination as reference points. Consequently, despite its bottom-up (egalitarian) development, the Information Society seems to run the risk of bringing forth a new elite, a virtual elite with absolute control over technological research, design, development and its applications, and ‘digital despotism’ may in the end succeed in drawing the boundaries of exclusion for many social groups, and women in particular. Today we are witnessing the creation of a pan-European world of communication, a virtual world, and an Information Society (IS) that has not provided the conditions or prerequisites for securing the participation of the average citizen, who is forced to remain a spectator, unable many times to respond or participate. Namely, the so-called marginal social classes, non-mainstream groups and nations that are excluded from this virtual globalization or transformation in the socio-economic production processes of IS. The technological elite, including the social groups with the know-how, are in a position to determine the speed of developments, and as a result vulnerable social groups who are unable to keep up are threatened with social exclusion or ‘virtual servitude’. If measures are not taken to confront digital illiteracy and broaden the social inclusion of the gender subject into the information society, digital despotism may in the end succeed in drawing the boundaries of exclusion for many non-mainstream groups. The explosion of the rapidly advancing technological globalisation can be seen to have marginalized certain citizen groups and even whole countries outside the technological mainstream, which are not catered for in terms of possibilities to interact, influence and contribute to development and change. This in turn leads to an imbalance between the development of Information Society technologies and democratic achievement of the citizens of Europe. By ensuring that all social groups of European Society are included in the promotion, conception and development in the Information Society, a strengthened Europe will emerge. Technological advance may create further exclusion in the EU and may lead to a globalisation of new “virtual elites”.The exclusion of groups of people from the Information Society is not only a gender issue but should be dealt with as social discrimination. Some measures to be taken in order to reverse these inequalities are as follows: (1) Raise level of techno-competence through education by reforming technological education programmes and providing know how to as large as possible societal groups and ensuring a long term democratic operation of the educational system. The institutionalization of mandatory technological training/education in the public school system’s curriculum, beginning in kindergarten and elementary school. Only in this way can the process of exclusion be eradicated and, in the long run, inclusion or incorporation into Information Society achieved.
Virtual harem: women, technology, virtual servitude, digital despotism, gender neutral, de-gendered, bodiless society,
Kamberidou, I. (2004). “Slavery of the Mind and “Mental Imprisonment” (1870) in the harem: the Bodiless Society, a de-gendered or gender-neutral emancipatory social space? Opening presentation (10.30 -11.00) to the ‘Virtual Harem’ for the Consultation Workshop on Gender and Technology, European Commission – Information Society DG. Avenue de Beaulieu 31 6/30, 1160 Brussels, 28 June 2004. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4071.0483 [explanation of power structures, limits and lessons that can be drawn]