I am so proud to have been a part of the first symposium on Critical Data Studies at the University of Minnesota, an interdisciplinary initiative that was made possible by the Institute for Advanced Study and Informatics Institute.
Thursday’s keynote by Dr. Ruha Benjamin was a fascinating look at the ways that science, technology, and medicine are political. Biotechnologies and genomic research, she argued, are designed with discriminatory frameworks and result in findings and technologies that perpetuate the marginalization and oppression of people along racial and gendered lines.
One of my favorite lines from the talk: Our biopolitical imaginary recalibrates existing social difference (e.g., race/ethnicity) as genomic difference.
Note: I will post a video of the presentation Dr. Benjamin gave when it is available, but for now you can watch her excellent TED talk From Park Bench to Lab Bench – What Kind of Future Are We Designing? below:
On Friday those of us who received the summer fellowships each gave a five-minute “lightning talk” that introduced our research projects. IAS recorded those presentations as well, and they can be viewed below:
06:25 Emma Bedor Hiland, Communications Studies
(En)coding Inclusiveness in Smartphone Applications for Mentally Disordered Users
12:32 Lars MacKenzie, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies
Accounting for Change: Big Data, Gender Transition and Financial Surveillance of Identity
18:13 Deniz Coral, Anthropology
Markets with Many Faces: The Role of Screens in the Financial Imagination
22:35 Katelin Krieg, English
Victorian Data Analysis and Visualization
27:52 Alexander Fink, Social Work
Locating Human Possibility and Aspirations in Social Service Mass Data Collection Systems
33:50 Madison Van Oort, Sociology
Well-Dressed Data: Workplace Surveillance in the World’s Top Retailers
39:35 Amelia Hassoun, Anthropology
Big Data, Big Futures: Imagining the Singaporean Smart Nation
45:14 Stephen Savignano, Anthropology
Interaction / Machination: Thinking Machines through Interactive Computation
49:40 Link Swanson, Philosophy
User interfaces and the epistemology of the new computational cognitive revolution
Following these lightning talks, pairs of fellowship recipients gave 10-minute, more-in-depth presentations on their research and findings to symposium attendees. Lars Mackenzie and I were a pair as our work shared the theme of In/Visbility, and we discussed our findings with faculty, graduate students, and University staff.
Toward the end of the symposium, everyone in attendance agreed upon the importance of continuing these conversations about the human in the data. I am hopeful that we can all continue to meet and discuss our work and activism.
In her closing remarks, Dr. Benjamin encouraged us to refuse to be relegated to the sidelines when it comes to science, technology, and big data practices. Do not become an addendum to the work that is already underway, she argued, demand a seat at the table during the beginning of these projects instead. It was an extremely positive and inspiring experience, and one that the University staff, researchers, and students have likely been changed by.