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Race and Digital Discrimination  

Seeta Peña Gangadharan

Race and digital discrimination is a topic of interdisciplinary interest that examines the communicative, cultural, and social dimensions of digital technologies in relation to race, racial identity, and racial inequalities, harms, or violence. Intellectual traditions in this area span vast terrain, including those that theorize identity and digitally mediated representation, those that explore social, political, and economic implications of unequal access to technological resources, and those that explore technical underpinnings of racial misidentification in digital systems. The object of inquiry thus varies from racialized interactions in digital spaces, to the nature or extent of access to high-speed broadband infrastructure, to levels of accuracy in computer automated systems. Some research orients toward policy or technical interventions to safeguard civil and human rights of individuals and groups and prevent racial discrimination in the design and use of digital technologies. Other strands of race and digital discrimination scholarship focus on diagnosing the (both recent and distant) past to excavate ways in which race itself functions as a technology. The variety in approaches to the study of race and digital discrimination has evolved organically. Following a general concern for bias in the design, development, and use of digital technologies, scholarship in the 1990s began to center its attention on the problem of racialized discrimination in computerized, data-driven systems. In the earlier part of the 1990s, scholars writing about surveillance warned about the social, political, and economic consequences of sorting or categorizing individuals into groups. Toward the latter half of the 1990s, several scholars began scrutinizing the incorporation of specific values—and hence bias—into the computational design of technological systems, while others began looking explicitly at racialized interactions among users in virtual community and other online space. Throughout the early 2000s, scholarship—particularly in European and US contexts—race and racialization in different aspects of design, development, and use of digital technologies began to emerge. The advancement and rapid commercialization of new digital technologies—from platforms to AI—has heightened interested in race and digital discrimination alongside social movements and social upheaval in relation to problems of systemic and institutionalized racism. Scholars have also taken interest in examining the ways in which race itself functions as a technology, primarily with attention to race’s discursive power. The study of race and digital discrimination in all its varieties will remain relevant to issues of social ordering and hierarchy. Scholarship on race and digital discrimination has been instrumental in broadening critical and cultural perspectives on technology. Its ability to expose historically and culturally specific dimensions of race and racial inequality in digital society has helped scholars question modernist assumptions of progress and universal benefit of technological development. This body of work will continue to push discussion and debate on the nature of racialized inequalities in future eras of technological innovation.


Digital Cultures and Critical Studies  

Larissa Hjorth

The digital is now an integral part of everyday cultural practices globally. This ubiquity makes studying digital culture both more complex and divergent. Much of the literature on digital culture argues that it is increasingly informed by playful and ludified characteristics. In this phenomenon, there has been a rise of innovative and playful methods to explore identity politics and place-making in an age of datafication. At the core of the interdisciplinary debates underpinning the understanding of digital culture is the ways in which STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Science) approaches have played out in, and through, algorithms and datafication (e.g., the rise of small data [ethnography] to counteract big data). As digital culture becomes all-encompassing, data and its politics become central. To understand digital culture requires us to acknowledge that datafication and algorithmic cultures are now commonplace—that is, where data penetrate, invade, and analyze our daily lives, causing anxiety and seen as potentially inaccurate statistical captures. Alongside the use of big data, the quantified self (QS) movement is amplifying the need to think more about how our data stories are being told and who is doing the telling. Tensions and paradoxes ensure—power and powerless; tactic and strategic; identity and anonymity; statistics and practices; and big data and little data. The ubiquity of digital culture is explored through the lens of play and playful resistance. In the face of algorithms and datafication, the contestation around playing with data takes on important features. In sum, play becomes a series of methods or modes of critique for agency and autonomy. Playfully acting against data as a form of resistance is a key method used by artists, designers, and creative practitioners working in the digital realm, and they are not easily defined.