(Virtual) Book Club

Every few weeks, members of the clinic get together (virtually) to read and discuss books relevant to our research interests. Topics of discussion include the agency of data subjects, forms of resistance towards being targeted, tensions between privacy and control, and many more. 

Next Meeting:

Time: Sept 23, 5 PM EST

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

by Ellen Ullman

How can I participate? Please reach out to the organizers to express your interest. As our meetings are virtual, you can participate from anywhere! At the moment, our participants are based in Ithaca, NY; Evanston, IL; Dublin, OH; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sydney, Australia.

Organizers: Carson Crane (cjc344@cornell.edu) & Chris Hesselbein (clh268@cornell.edu)

Upcoming Books (Fall 2021)

Fall 2021

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology (2017)

By Ellen Ullman

September 23, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • How does our work with machines affect the machine versus human distinction? Does working with machines allow us to better understand humans?
  • How do we make sense of seemingly different and distinct behavior in technological working groups? Do people follow different norms in these settings?
  • How does the storytelling aspect of this writing affect the reader? What are the benefits of allowing stories to speak for themselves as compared to directly placing them in the context of larger trends?

Spring/Summer 2021 (Theme: Recourse and Resistance)

The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism (2019)

By Nick Couldry and Ulises Ali Mejias

July 30, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • To what extent is data colonialism a global phenomenon in the context of the global production/adoption of ICTs?
  • How can we make sense of the criticism surrounding their use of the term “colonialism”? How does it speak to the broader political debates?
  • How do we make sense of the “naturalness” connotation of the term “ecology”? How does ecology speak to the mechanisms of data colonialism?

The Participant: A Century of Participation in Four Stories (2020)

By Christopher Kelty

July 9, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • Has participation really dwindled in the past decades?
  • With what frames of mind can we approach a book? As a research study? As a piece of art? As a creative non-fictions? As an intervention?
  • Can we read this book as being self-exemplifying? That is, is it possible that our attempts (as readers) to participate in Kelty’s arguments and stories are troubled by the very same dynamics he is trying to describe?

Data Feminism (2020)

By Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein

May 13, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What’s a good balance between technical details and social scientific inquires?
  • What kind of context/details would allow the readers to probe inside the black box?
  • How to navigate the problem of missing/absent data when interpeting data analysis?

Digital Countercultures and the Struggle for Community (2017)

By ‪Jessa Lingel

April 16, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • Do the frameworks of flexibility, authenticity, legibility work for examining both counterculture and technology?
  • How are communities defined? How did Lingel define community in her research?
  • How do the three case studies of countercultures in the book compare to bigger, more mainstream communities like Black Twitter?
  • How big of a role does one’s affiliation with a community play in their contextual identity?

Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (2015)

By ‪Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum

March 18, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • How can obfuscation be implemented as an everyday form of resistance or a “weapon of the weak,” as articulated by political scientist James C. Scott?
  • What are the limitations of writing a “user guide”? Would people benefit more from shared stories of success? For whom are the authors writing?
  • What’s the implication of bringing these strategies of obfuscation to light? Would the visibility harm the “powerless” that have no choice but to obfuscate?

Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need

By ‪Sasha Costanza-Chock

February 18, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • To what extent can we make values transparent and explicit in the design process?
  • The tension between neoliberal logics and the pursuit of design justice?
  • What does fairness mean in the design of system? Is fairness achievable when someone will always be left out? Is fairness the end-goal?
  • How to incorporate design justice into the pedagogy in a university setting (e.g. at the Digital Due Process Clinic)?

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

By ‪Anna Wiener

January 21, 2021

Highlights of Discussions:

  • How does Wiener’s identity as a white female working in a non-technical role influence her experience in Silicon Valley?
  • How much does Wiener’s liberal arts education as a sociology major at Wesleyan University inform her critique of Big Tech?
  • How to think of Wiener’s position as someone working in Silicon Valley while attempting to immerse in the counterculture in the Bay Area?
  • What are some contrasts between the publishing industry and the tech industry? Stagnant and predictable v.s. aspirational and entrepreneurial?

Fall 2020 (Theme: Algorithms and Identity)

Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures (2020)
By ‪André Brock Jr.

December 4, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • Brock’s emphasis on Critical Technocultural Discourse Analysis. What did we think of his methodology?
  • Libidinal economy? Studying feelings; jouissance, pathos?
  • How can scholars study systems at the margins?
  • The centrality of Du Bois’s concept of ‘double consciousness’?

We Are Data: Algorithms and The Making of Our Digital Selves (2017)
By John Cheney-Lippold

November 15, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • How does algorithmic ‘identity’ relate to identity if, as Cheney-Lippold argues, “we are not quite aware of the categories we are classified into”?
  • To what extent does miscategorization matter in ordinary people’s daily life?
  • Cybernetics (ch. 2), feedback loop, and concept of ‘measurable types’. How do we feel about the reference of these terms?

Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter (2020)
By Charlton McIlwain

October 15, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What to think of the notion that “African Americans as not just technologists, but automatically as activists too”?
  • What is the role of drugs in the rationalization of racial codes/profiling?
  • Mcllwain’s choice of building on other Black scholars’ work?

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (2012)
By Natasha Dow Schüll

September 25, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What are the connections between “the zone” of addiction and social media platforms such as TikTok?
  • What is the role of architecture and space in creating “the zone”?
  • In light of greater public awareness of the roles algorithms play in our daily life, will ethnographic study like this still be possible in the future?

Too smart: How digital capitalism is extracting data, controlling our lives, and taking over the world (2020)
By Jathan Sadowski

September 10, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • Who owns whose data when people are “sliced into data streams”? Is data collection a form of theft?
  • Is democratizing innovation the way to go forward? Do we feel more ‘empowered’ knowing what we’ve read?
  • Is datafication a form of violence? Do we feel violated, or is it normalized?

Race After Technology (2019)
By Ruha Benjamin

September 3, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • Race is/as a technology?
  • How does the clinic fit into the “abolitionist toolkit”?
  • How to think of Benjamin’s conceptualization of the “New Jim Code”?

Platform Capitalism (2017)
By Nick Srnicek

August 20, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What are the “means of production” in platform capitalism?
  • What to do? How to resist, subvert, or change?
  • The connections between Srnicek’s concept of platform capitalism and Zuboff’s framework of surveillance capitalism?

Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass (2019)
By Mary L. Gray & Siddharth Suri

August 6, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What are the ethical implications of utilizing Amazon MTurk for research purpose?
  • Thoughts on the paradox of the last mile of automation? Will human v.s. the machine always be a dichotomy?
  • How do platforms facilitate the uneven balance of “transaction costs” between recruiters and workers?
  • How is the distinction between human and machine mobilized and challenged throughout the book?

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019)
By Shoshana Zuboff

July 17-31, 2020

Highlights of Discussions:

  • What role do people/data subjects play in surveillance capitalism?
  • What is the relationship between the emerging logic of neoliberal capitalism and the rise of surveillance capitalism?
  • How to conceive of the performative nature of “behavioral surplus”? 
  • What does personalization look like from a generational standpoint?  Are there different “cultures of personalization” in its adoption?
  • What would a critique of power under conditions of surveillance capitalism look like?

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