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In Memoriam: Dr Heike Jensen - a personal recollection

In Memoriam: Dr Heike Jensen - A Personal Recollection

Heike was a dedicated feminist and from the bottom of her heart a humanitarian. Both her scholarship and her work for NGOs aimed at making the world a more just place for every human being. (Thomas Ochs, 2 February 2015)


News of Heike Jensen’s death from cancer, on 3 February 2014, reached internet governance academic/civil society networks but a year later.

The dedication above, sent to us by Thomas, her partner, underscores Heike’s contribution to critical scholarship and activism in this domain; in particular her focus on gender and women’s rights as indispensable to internet policymaking and internet governance scholarship. In this respect Heike was a real-life trailblazer, a role model, and an inspiration. It must have taken some effort for Thomas to contact us all personally by email and for that I, for one, am very grateful.

Even if belated, the news of Heike’s passing is still rippling through these networks with on- and off-list expressions of sadness and dismay at the news. During the time she was ill, Heike kept working though, contributing to our knowledge of how decisions on the internet’s design, access, and use affect people everyday, at the personal, local, and national level, and in ways that remain relatively under-researched, namely from a gender and Global South perspective (Jensen 2013). Thomas’s dedication is a timely reminder that even in this highly technical, arcane and slightly ‘geeky’ domain for research and activism, we are all still human.

 A commemorative special edition of looks more closely at Heike’s contribution to gender and social justice advocacy in the internet governance and ICT for Development domain. Here, I would like to remember Heike as a person, scholar, cherished colleague, and foundation member of GigaNet.

 Those who did not have the fortune and privilege to meet this extraordinarily talented, yet modest and disarmingly gentle person have a chance to get to know one side of her through her output during the early days in 21st century media/internet social justice advocacy; comprised of reports, commentaries and contracted research that span the WSIS years, early ICANN civil society networking, and first two mandates of the IGF. In this body of work we can see how Heike was able to deliver concise, yet sharp analyses of specific struggles over key terms in the WSIS outcome documents, overviews of internet and human rights issues in Europe, Germany in particular, and her contribution to the formation of two of the Internet Governance Forum Dynamic Coalitions (the Gender DC and the IRP Coalition).

 To my mind it is her astute analyses of these early struggles over the narrative of internet governance - as it emerged as a self-conscious policy and advocacy domain - that provide important markers to recent developments; e.g. which issues, concerns, and constituencies were, and still are being left out of not only the official but also the unofficial archives of internet governance undertakings, and their host institutions (the ITU, IGF, ICANN inter alia). I will be discussing her intellectual contribution in the commemorative collection; a selective list of Heike’s output is below.

 Heike’s involvement with the WSIS Gender Caucus (2003-2005), and then the IGF Gender Dynamic Coalition as well as the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition in the earlier years of the Internet Governance Forum, along with her participation in GigaNet are how I got to know her; as a person as well as through her scholarship. We first met in 2008 at the Annual GigaNet symposium at the Hyderabad IGF meeting of that year and met up socially in the years that followed. Others know her through her activities as a researcher and consultant for Freedom House and the Association for Progressive Communications and their annual global surveys of internet access and use around the world; the Internet Freedom Reports (2011) and Global Information Society Watch projects (2013) in particular. Heike also contributed to some of the early, and formative analyses of the World Summit on the Information Society process with respect to their gender and human rights dimensions (Jensen 2005a. 2005b, 2006).

 The networks and the hands-on work in which Heike engaged are cross-border, cross-sector and interdisciplinary by nature and predilection. This is why news of her death has been a ripple of both physical and virtual proportions. Making an effort to revisit her work, recall her contribution to debates, meetings, and conversations that do not get onto our search engines, along with the many that do come up, warrants our stopping in our resolutely forward-looking tracks for a moment. Recalling the past lives of internet governance debates and policy discourses in which Heike took part allows then time to be reflexive, to take stock and note what indeed has - or has not – changed. Heike thought about these things carefully and methodically, and made her case eloquently in an intellectual domain governed to a large extent by the volatile and brief shelf-life of the online campaigning, five yearly cycles of high-level consultations, and current events that are all part of the daily business of internet governance processes, research, and mobilization.


How would I like to remember Heike? First not only for her contribution to what we know about the textual nature of internet governance consultative processes from the inside (Jensen 2005a), but also for her understanding of how human temperaments, cultures and affiliations, perhaps even “tribal” behaviours (Heike trained as an anthropologist, her PhD was an ethnography of rock musicians) are part of the genealogy of now much publicized struggles over ownership and control of ICT, and nowadays the internet. I especially want to honour Heike’s unswerving yet compassionate commitment to feminism and feminist research as part of on-the-ground struggles for the link between socioeconomic equality and affordable internet access and terms of use around the world, women’s rights and gender justice in the Global South; here her contributions to the GenderIT work (Jensen 2011), the APC GISWatch project (Jensen 2013), and GigaNet research (Jensen 2008) are instructive.

 Heike was one of the first GigaNet members to place human-to-human, and human-thinking machine interactions at the centre of critical investigations of IG as process, policy outcomes, and political struggle. She managed to combine sophisticated social and political theory (e.g. theories of hegemonic masculinities, feminist theories, discourse analysis) in her inquiries into how IG is also a narrative, if not a set of narratives. As such IG is always ‘under construction’, a site for, and of contestation (Jensen 2005a, 20013) and for this reason change (however defined) is a long-term process. Heike knew, anthropologist that she was, that the systems and artefacts covered by IG research, decision-making, and advocacy are not self-explanatory, neither value-free, nor neutral, nor do they arrive ready-made.

 To quote one of her later contributions, engaging in Internet Governance - as research, policy, or advocacy work – requires patience and perseverance because;

‘…given the high likelihood of a continuation of far-reaching ICT-induced changes, the ferment and upheaval linked with these developments will persistently open hegemonic positions to challenge and in doing so will also favour ongoing feminist contestations. These opportunities need to be seized at all levels, because only “constant dripping wears away the stone.”’ (Jensen 2013)

I will miss Heike, for this sort of insight and ability to place the moment in passing within a broader socio-historical perspective. But I also will miss her compassion, her dry sense of humour, and her laughter as I mourn her passing. She and Thomas had settled in Munich a couple of years before she passed away, a big move for a born-and-bred Berliner. But as she said in the last email she sent me, Munich also had much to offer and she was enjoying discovering a new city, a new house, even if she was far away from her mother in Berlin. All the networks, and the people who knew Heike, who worked with her are poorer for losing her, so young.

MF (@GloComm)

Heike Jensen: Publication List (selected)

2005a, “Gender and the WSIS Process: War of the Words” in Visions in Process: World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva 2003 – Tunis 2005, edited by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung

2005b, “Women, Media And ICTs In UN Politics: Progress Or Backlash?” presented at Gender Perspectives on the Information Society, South Asia Pre-WSIS Seminar 2005, 18th – 19th April, Bangalore, India;

2006, “Women’s Human Rights in the Information Society” in Human Rights in the Global Information Society, edited by Rikke F. Jørgensen, Cambridge MA: MIT Press: 235-262

2008, “Engendering Internet Governance Research: The Example of Censorship”, presented at the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet) 2008 Annual Symposium;

2011, “Germany”, Freedom on The Net 2011, Freedom House:

2013, “Whose Internet is it Anyway? Shaping the Internet – f=Feminist voices in governance decision making” in World Global Information Society Watch 2013:  Women's rights, gender and ICTs, of Progressive Communications;

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