HATCH: The First Feminist Science Shop

In California’s Marin Headlands, May 2018, I am at the first think-tank weekend for HATCH, the first feminist science shop–located at University of California Davis. Surrounded by members and collaborators, the walls are covered with butcher paper with questions and scattered answers:

What is feminism(s)?
ways of knowing toolbox
ecology of practices [1]
What is science?
inquiry-based  methodologies
knowledge & sense making
What is Feminist Science?
Situated sense-making justice-based

We are in the process of imagining a new scientific enterprise that aspires to contribute towards collective liberation for all beings and resists toxic cultural values that orient, incentivize and guide much of our research – a feminist science.

What even is Feminist Science?

In some group exercises, a few folks compare Feminist Science to a kaleidoscope – oriented at both the mechanisms of our world, and the cultures we exist within: our values, our shared imaginations, the systems we operate inside of, and the social dynamics we experience every day, whatever our work may be.

Another group defines Feminist Science as a sledgehammer to break down the ruling establishment and smash the modern scientific project.

Someone compares the idea to networks of mycelia and saxifrages, spreading throughout the sciences–remediating toxic behaviors and biases, reflexive to environments and experiences, and constantly reflecting. In this network, there is always space for more voices to be heard and bodies to be seen.

We’re dreaming of a culture of science that aspires to listen, learn and grow.

We envision a world where goals of spreading scientific literacy so the “illiterate can understand us” have yielded to longings to listen to those who are wronged by the academic-scientific-industrial complex.

That night I have a vibrant dream about a laboratory where subject and object have become fugitive words. There’s a moment where I’m we, the microscope, and a mass of mycelium spreading out its fungal branches in every direction.

A short history of science shops

Science shops were designed to provide free research and labor in response to community concerns.The first contemporary science shops emerged in the Netherlands, organized by university staff and students in the 1970s, coinciding with the integration of project-based learning into Dutch universities and a growing environmental awareness. By the 1980s, there were science shops in every Dutch university, as well as Germany and France, where research agendas were guided by local community needs and the labor was provided by students in exchange for credit and supervised by science shop staff.

Since the 80s science shops have spread throughout Europe and the Middle East where researchers and students collaborate with communities on research projects in many disciplines from oceanography or soil chemistry to community medical needs, urban design, risk analysis, green chemistry, and more.

In the US it has been more difficult to support and fund community-based research centers inside and outside of the university; there were a few science shop projects throughout the 70s that didn’t survive. But now there are a few burgeoning science shop projects that create spaces for community members, activists, local organizations, all kinds of scientists and scholars, artists, and anyone else to inform and help with research project. [2]

The 21st Century Science Shop

Part of the failure of science shops in the US was that they never got enough institutional support and all of the labor landed on underpaid graduate students. Now, scientists and organizers passionate about community-informed research are exploring new science shop models that revolve around relationships rather than a physical location. Starting in 2017, UC Davis Professors in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Sara Giordano and Rana Jaleel co-direct HATCH: Feminist Art and Science Shop Mellon Research initiative [3]. Aside from organizing workshops, residencies, talks, and supporting a wide array of student projects, HATCH uses student interest, the projects’ research capabilities, and resources to support two local organizations, California Latinas For Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) and The People’s Community Medics (PCM), based in Los Angeles and Oakland, respectively.

On the second day of the HATCH weekend think tank, Ena Valladres, the Director of Research at CLRJ told us about how HATCH students have helped investigate health inequalities in California Latinas, especially around breast cancer mortality rates in California’s Central Valley. This research supports CLRJ’s mission of investigating environmental effects on health care, health inequalities, and reproductive health. To maintain HATCH’s relationship with CLRJ, HATCH co-director, Sara Giordano’s class will video chat with Ena once a week so that they can continue to find ways to support CLRJ’s mission with their research and resources.

In the next session, Sharena Thomas told us about how PCM, a non-profit that she co-founded with her friend Lesley Phillips in 2011 while investigating Oscar Grant’s murder. During their investigation Sharena and Lesley discovered that Oakland Police screen every 911 call before dispatching emergency services. The same day they uncovered this, Sharena and Lesley founded The People’s Community Medics, providing free trainings in basic emergency care, treating bleeding traumas such as gunshot wounds, seizures, and stabbings to folks of all ages in schools and cities across the country.

Sharena does this work on top of her job and often buys her supplies out of pocket. Her kids help her put together workshop supplies and signs. Money and labor are the two biggest obstacles for Sharena. Her dream is to have a clinical space where she can host trainings, provide care, and store supplies.

At our weekend gathering, we were able to start generating a list of potential donors, talk about launching a new webpage and forum, and apply for grants to fund PCM and assess its trainings compared to larger organizations, such as the American Red Cross.

HATCH co-director Sara Giordano has been able to incorporate both Ena and Sharena’s projects into her undergraduate and graduate courses. This has also allowed HATCH to sponsor graduate students to work with CLRJ and PCM, and has created a way for HATCH to contribute money to these organizations, provide labor, and provide research with the legitimacy of the university.

These relationships might be what the 21st century science shop is: figuring out ways to subvert the university to redistribute its resources, to share its technologies and spaces. For me, the primary goal of the 21st century feminist science shop is its ability to bring people together to learn from one another as experts in their own, to organize, and mobilize one another to act. It is capable of shifting our culture so that scientists are the ones asking community organizations, “what do you need?”, “how can I help?”, and figuring out how they can use their skills and resources to care for the people and places around them.  The 21st century science shop is capable of making space for scientists, educators, organizers, activists, and the people around us to learn how to support each other, a skill that seems more important than ever.

[1] Term coined by Isabelle Stengers in an ecology of practices, 2013
[2] For a more information on the history of science shops and project descriptions, you can visit: https://www.livingknowledge.org/science-shops/about-science-shops/
[3] For more information on HATCH and the growing feminist science shop at UC Davis, please visit their site! http://hatch.ucdavis.edu/

Adam Blaustein Rejto is a painter, musician, and unemployed biochemist living in Brooklyn. They are the founder and director of The Compassionate Knowledge project at Hampshire College’s Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies.