DEBORAH M. WITHERS

Researcher, writer, curator and publisher



My research is widely concerned with exploring the cultural heritage of women's movements, or, more specifically, theorising the possibility that women-focused and feminist communities have something called a 'cultural heritage.' To do this I use the 2003 UNESCO convention for the protection of intangible cultural heritage to think through the formations of feminist cultural heritage. Feminist cultural heritage, I argue, is characterised by intangibility, informality and is often fragmentary as it moves across generations. It changes according to the discourses, practices and imaginaries available to those mobilising heritage for the purpose of identity formation and orientation in different times and spaces, and is also subject to modification and re-purposing. My research, which draws substantially on the work of philosopher of technology and technics Bernard Stiegler, argues for a radical politics of tradition whereby the techniques, practices, representations, knowledges and cultures that emerge from specific communities of interest are foregrounded as a site of political contestation and struggle. Traditions are dynamic entities made and re-made through the (always already) technical act of transmission. Such an understanding of tradition and heritage is contained through the blanket categorisation of 'the past.'


The Fabulous Dirt Sisters (2012) by Deborah M. Withers and Emma Thatcher. [Oral history filmed as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project Music & Liberation (2012)].


My interest in the intersection between intangible cultural heritage and digital culture in particular, arises from practitioner experience developing an archive' of women's liberation music from the UK (http://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk). The music making communities of the WLM are subject to novel forms of transmission within digital culture through the site, which renders feminism's intangible cultural obscurities accessible to different feminist generations. Furthermore, my work explores how the processual temporalities of digital, computational 21st culture intersect with the remains of women's liberation culture which emit similar temporalities due to their often partial, unfinished and incomplete quality of the artefacts. Or, more explicitly, the material was documented in order to be re-performed and re-interpreted, as when the legacy is encountered through song-sheets and musical notation. In line with other theorisations of the performative quality of digital historicity, and the different temporalities this enacts within the now, I outline the distribution of women's liberation music as contributing to wider re-thinkings of time, memory, history, memory and heritage in the digital age. These issues are explored in my forthcoming book, Accessing the already-there: feminist generations, transmission and digital culture.