Marika Cifor: I want to thank the orga­niz­ers and all of you for being here today. I’m very excit­ed to be a part of what I under­stand is start­ing these con­ver­sa­tions in Design Media Arts. I’m going to focus pri­mar­i­ly today on the ped­a­gog­i­cal end of what I do here at UCLA, and con­clude a bit by talk­ing about the research I’m just begin­ning for my dis­ser­ta­tion, which does take up some of these issues as well.

What I’m argu­ing pri­mar­i­ly today is that focus­ing on ped­a­gogy (I’m going to be talk­ing most­ly about for­mal ped­a­gogy in the class­room with under­grad­u­ates.) is a key aspect of social jus­tice work, and that teach­ing crit­i­cal data lit­er­a­cy along with oth­er dig­i­tal lit­er­a­cy skills is a key part of what we need to do.

I’m going to talk about two dif­fer­ent cours­es. The first is one that I’ve pro­posed but have not yet taught on gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, and dig­i­tal cul­ture. The idea for this course came from my own inter­est and engage­ment with ideas on the fem­i­nist Internet, as well as teach­ing. I was a TA in the Intro to LGBT Studies class, and we got to the end and real­ized that we real­ly had­n’t done much with dig­i­tal cul­ture, and is it real­ly a respon­si­ble and effec­tive with our under­grad­u­ates to talk about what being LTBTQ means, or the poten­tial­i­ties for LGBTQ iden­ti­ty and life today with­out talk­ing about the digital?

I’ve also found, relat­ed to that, that talk­ing about the dig­i­tal is a very pow­er­ful way to talk about social jus­tice with under­grad­u­ates. It already has a key rel­e­van­cy to their every­day lives, and it can make some dif­fi­cult con­cepts eas­i­er to grasp in that way, when there’s already at least some kind of lev­el of under­stand­ing and engage­ment. It also height­ens the impor­tance of doing that work.

This course takes on a num­ber of key ques­tions. Thinking about what it means in the dig­i­tal age to think about gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty, both how notions of iden­ti­ty and embod­i­ment change with the dig­i­tal, how those notions of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty don’t change with­in dig­i­tal, and how those trans­late into new forms of media. And so I want to give you a cou­ple of exam­ples from each of the class­es I’m going to talk about, some of what hap­pens there.

This is just one of the units (this’ll become clear­er when I talk about my own research as well), but I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in how sex­u­al­i­ty trans­lates onto the Internet and how ideas of embod­i­ment work in a dig­i­tal space. And I think that this unit of the course focus­es on how the dig­i­tal affects our feel­ings and rela­tion­ships, as doc­u­ment­ed in dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and how those dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies might alter, aug­ment, or dis­tance the way peo­ple relate to one anoth­er, and how the Internet inter­venes into the prove­nance of the body.

Topics in this sec­tion include, of course, online dat­ing and rela­tion­ships, pornog­ra­phy, research on sex on the Internet, both what we can learn about sex and sex­u­al­i­ty from what peo­ple are search­ing in par­tic­u­lar. There’s real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing Big Data work on what you can learn from what peo­ple are search­ing about their inter­ests, desires, etc. and what you can’t learn, how those truths are reflect­ed or not in a dig­i­tal space.

This sec­tion of course deals also with the impli­ca­tions for how dat­ing and rela­tion­ships look dif­fer­ent on the Internet. The pos­si­bil­i­ties for com­mu­ni­ty, as well as issues think­ing about the poten­tial for crowd­sourc­ing (you’ll see there’s an arti­cle on Kickstarting trans) and how that might engage peo­ple in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and iden­ti­ty prac­tices that they were not engaged in before, or expand­ing those com­mu­ni­ties in new ways.

The oth­er course I want to talk briefly about is one that I’m teach­ing right now to thir­ty under­grad­u­ates. It’s one of our core cours­es, or one of our three cours­es offered to under­grad­u­ates in Information Studies. It’s a GE course, so it’s open to any under­grad­u­ate. We don’t have our own major at the moment in Information Studies. Our depart­ment has an explic­it social mis­sion, and it’s one of the rea­sons that many of us as stu­dents and fac­ul­ty are drawn to this depart­ment and to this discipline.

This course takes a very explic­it focus on social jus­tice to inves­ti­gate the polit­i­cal, the eco­nom­ic, the legal, and the tech­no­log­i­cal aspects of the way in which infor­ma­tion is cre­at­ed, accessed, used, con­trolled, dis­card­ed, and destroyed. It draws on a huge and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary set of lit­er­a­ture from infor­ma­tion stud­ies and relat­ed fields, and it focus­es par­tic­u­lar­ly on the dig­i­tal and on con­tem­po­rary events to explore issues of infor­ma­tion and power.

I want to talk briefly here about one unit of the course. Whether or not there are in fact dig­i­tal divides and who might be… Is divide” even a use­ful way of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing dif­fer­en­tial access? Is Internet access a human right, and if it is how do we actu­al­ly enact that? Ginsburg’s work focus­es par­tic­u­lar­ly on the use of indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to rethink and to explore in new ways their own iden­ti­ties and to give peo­ple access to indige­nous knowl­edges. This unit also, I have the priv­i­lege of bring­ing in two of my fan­tas­tic col­leagues who are doing a very impor­tant project on police data prac­tices, and their work is able to talk to give an impor­tant instance of what crit­i­cal data stud­ies are.

And I think crit­i­cal data stud­ies are an impor­tant seg­ment of that larg­er project of teach­ing social jus­tice because we live in a world where data is con­stant­ly being col­lect­ed about us. We’re con­stant­ly cre­at­ing data, but we don’t always think of data as some­thing that has a point of view and a per­spec­tive from design onward. And I’m hop­ing that by edu­cat­ing a set of under­grad­u­ates we can cre­ate a more crit­i­cal set of design­ers, users, edu­ca­tors, and those engaged with technology.

I think there’s a num­ber of rea­sons why doing this work real­ly mat­ters for stu­dents. I see this as part of my own engage­ment in social jus­tice con­cerns. I think for stu­dents to actu­al­ly be able to inter­ro­gate issues of pow­er and infor­ma­tion, they need to under­stand and be lit­er­ate in data and think­ing about issues liked the oth­er two pre­sen­ters have already talked about about the bias­es of the tech­nolo­gies they’re engag­ing with. I also think that enhanc­ing their under­stand­ing of the roles of data, infor­ma­tion, and the dig­i­tal more broad­ly and giv­ing them access to a dif­fer­ent set of of dis­ci­pli­nary knowl­edge can inform their intel­lec­tu­al lives, their per­son­al lives, their lives as cit­i­zens in a glob­al­ized world. And think­ing about how such edu­ca­tion might impact their iden­ti­ties and their own reflec­tions on social jus­tice work.

All of this work is aimed at giv­ing them a crit­i­cal vocab­u­lary and per­spec­tive on these con­cerns, intro­duc­ing them to the idea that search engines have bias­es. They all use search engines, but most of them have nev­er thought crit­i­cal­ly about them as a tool. So this is a real­ly excit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty to get them to think crit­i­cal­ly about the struc­tures that are often invis­i­ble in their dai­ly lives.

“Your Nostalgia is Killing Me”, Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin

Your Nostalgia is Killing Me”, Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin

I also want to talk very briefly, and we can talk more about this in the Q&A, about my own project. This is my third year in the depart­ment so I am devel­op­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion project this year, which is very ten­ta­tive­ly titled Your Nostalgia is Killing Me.” This project takes its title from the poster you see here, which is by two activist artists, Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin. In the set­ting for this poster, it’s designed to look like a teenage bed­room; you see the bed there in the cen­ter. And the images are of course those of AIDS cul­tur­al pro­duc­tions from the 1980s and 1990s. You’ll see out the win­dow there’s an ACT UP polit­i­cal funer­al. Closer to us on the left there’s some oth­er ACT UP images. You’ll notice the Keith Haring draw­ing on the oth­er wall, just as a few exam­ples. And there is of course on the oth­er side Justin Bieber wear­ing, inex­plic­a­bly, an ACT UP t‑shirt, and images of cor­po­rate cam­paigns for AIDS activism.

Through the emblem­at­ic sig­ni­fiers, the artists assert that the nos­tal­gic focus on AIDS of the past result in an impor­tant neglect of the con­tem­po­rary nature of the AIDS cri­sis and there­fore pre­vents crit­i­cal life-saving actions from being ini­ti­at­ed and put into place. My project I should note is cen­tered in crit­i­cal archival stud­ies. This poster [was] put up in three dif­fer­ent cities, and then put up online and gen­er­at­ed a lot of dis­cus­sion, a lot of inter­gen­er­a­tional dis­cus­sion, par­tic­u­lar­ly amongst those inter­est­ed in AIDS activism and art. Those con­ver­sa­tions extend­ed into the archive and of course some of these images, though obtained through Google, are archival images.

So I’m inter­est­ed in how in the three decades since AIDS was first iden­ti­fied and entered the realm of pub­lic dis­course, how it’s become far more than a bio­med­ical event. The HIV/AIDS cri­sis, as I see it, is a fun­da­men­tal­ly cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non as well. It has gen­er­at­ed a vast body of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, even greater col­lec­tion of expe­ri­ences, affects, knowl­edge, and cul­tur­al activism. And an impor­tant part of that cur­rent cul­tur­al activism, it could be argued, is the imper­a­tive to build an archive of AIDS knowl­edge that would oth­er­wise be neglect­ed, mar­gin­al­ized, sup­pressed, or forgotten. 

And so as a result, I’m going to be look­ing at just a cou­ple of the archival projects that have been devel­oped glob­al­ly to col­lect, pre­serve, and make acces­si­ble polit­i­cal, artis­tic, and med­ical knowl­edge. So I’m deeply inter­est­ed an engaged in the issues of how archives can cap­ture or relate to human expe­ri­ences that are dif­fi­cult to doc­u­ment, whether those are embod­ied expe­ri­ences or feel­ings. So for me, this project will be about what the work of nos­tal­gia does or does­n’t do and how it shaped the expe­ri­ences, under­stand­ings, com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and mem­o­ry of HIV/AIDS through the archives and its activist move­ments. So I’m hap­py to talk more about that project dur­ing Q&A, but I want­ed to bring togeth­er those two ends.

Thank you.

Further Reference

Later, there were a pan­el dis­cus­sion and Q&A ses­sion.

Biased Data: A Panel Discussion on Intersectionality and Internet Ethics at the Processing Foundation web site.