inequality

A Fantastic Everyday Puzzle: Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ Dark Fantastic Cycle

“Myth-making may be dangerous indeed for those of us who play in the dark… but let’s play anyway.” EBONY ELIZABETH THOMAS
a book review by VERONICA KIM HOTTON As we anticipate EPIC2021—yes, bring on the puns—I had the spectacular task of studying The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. My goal was to find small ways to spark our EPIC community's curiosity ahead of her EPIC keynote. As a regular audiobook listener, I listened to the voice of Janina Edwards bring Ebony Thomas’ work from the page to my ears, and if you are looking to add an audiobook to your virtual shelf, it’s a fantastic audiobook; you should not hesitate. I also have the paper book and it is a wonder to hold. Because Ebony weaves in autoethnographic storytelling throughout her book, my personal experiences were what first drew me to this work. We both grew up in Michigan. Ebony was in Detroit and I was a white girl in one of the many suburbs spawned by White Flight. We are Generation X with “the holy trinity of our mid-1980s children’s films [being] The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and—my favorite...

Considering the Futures of Ethnography for Social Change: An Interview with Panthea Lee

Panthea Lee: As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions.
By VICTORIA LOWERSON BREDOW and CONNIE MCGUIRE, Research Justice Shop "As ethnographers we can guide conversations and support conflict mediation in ways that do not just further entrench people in their positions." —Panthea Lee In August 2021, we connected with EPIC2021 keynote speaker Panthea Lee—strategist, organizer, designer, and facilitator, and Executive Director of Reboot. Panthea is a pioneer in designing and guiding multi-stakeholder processes to address complex social challenges, with experience in 30+ countries with partners including UNDP, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate, CIVICUS, Wikimedia, Women’s Refugee Commission, and governments and civil society groups at the national, state, and local levels. We were excited to get to know Panthea, learn about her work, and now, share our conversation1 with the EPIC community in advance of her talk. How did you come to do the work you do now? —Victoria I am from Taiwan. My family lived there during one of the longest periods of martial law in the world, 38 years. I think...

Watch Party—Design & White Supremacy Culture

by Hello to the global EPIC Community! I’m the new community manager for Ethnography Hangout Slack, a space to discuss applied ethnography created by EPIC, Anthrodesign, and Ethnography Matters. I’m excited to energize even more engagement and inspire you to develop valuable connections and conversations there. To kick that off, I hope you’ll join our…

Design & White Supremacy Culture: A Call and Response

AUTUMN SANDERS FOSTER, Chair Quire Consulting NANCY DOUYON Douyon Signature Labs ANGELA GIST-MACKEY University of Kansas WILLIAM LEZ HENRY University of West London MELINDA WEEKES-LAIDLOW Weekes in Advance Enterprises Within the growing global discourse around race, whiteness, and racial injustice lies a call to address the ways systemic racism and normalized whiteness continue to shape our work. Many organizations have issued formal statements but struggle to identify and implement meaningful next steps. Through this panel, we will discuss how change works in concert with or opposition to dominant norms, values, and culture in our research and our organizations. Panelists Autumn Sanders Foster has worked with Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and non-profits, helping them grow their businesses by understanding their customers. She launched Quire Consulting in 2017 to provide clients access to qualitative research and design strategy that brings real people into the center of the design process. She leads...

Post-Human Centered

ALICIA DUDEK, Chair Mycoreality IAN BOGOS Georgia Institute of Technology SUSAN MOYLAN COOMBS Gaimaragal Group TRICIA WANG Sudden Compass We invented our world at human height, with us in the middle. Much of our work is designed even more narrowly, with a particular kind of human at the middle. What happens when we go beyond the limited “user-centric” or “human-centric” scales? What does it look like, feel like, move like when humans are not in the middle of the system? Panelists Alicia Dudek is an experienced design ethnographer and futurist. Her work brings the customer’s point of view and human voice to any group’s innovations and decisions. The work she does with teams brings empathy into the organisation to help inform, inspire, and initiate innovation. Central to her ability as a change agent is a capability to illuminate absences of customer understanding and to build powerful projects to rally teams and decision makers around their client’s needs. She is the founder of Mycoreality,...

Scaling Dignity: An Antidote to Poverty?

LORENN RUSTER 3A Institute, Australian National University PechaKucha Presentation—A wise woman once shared with me that the opposite of poverty isn't wealth. It's dignity. In a world where scale is about optimising for something bigger, faster, easier, broader and more profitable, we risk decision-making that is at odds with preserving, enabling and enhancing human dignity. What if we changed our focus to instead work out how we scale human dignity? This PechaKucha draws on my career across consulting, social enterprise and academia in geographies from Sydney CBD to rural Uganda and highlights three moments where I experienced dignity that I believe can scale. Through the telling of stories it shows glimmers of how we can choose a definition of scale that preferences dignity. It can look like making space for a chicken gift, enshrining dignity in our organisational values and structures and building question-asking muscles. If we believe that the opposite of poverty is dignity, then scaling dignity is an antidote to poverty....

There’s No Playbook for Praxis: Translating Scholarship into Action to Build a More Ethical Bank

JEFFREY GREGER Varo The US banking industry has a long history of excluding, exploiting, or simply ignoring low-income communities, recent immigrants, and racial minorities. In this paper, I share my experiences creating a community of practice where employees of a rapidly-growing banking startup can identify and confront the ethical challenges facing the financial technology (fintech) industry. This community is informed by insights from four years of activism and anthropological research that I conducted with small teams of service designers and ethnographers developing financial services for and with low- to moderate-income communities around the world. Through this research, I identified three institutional logics—insularity, decontextualization, and technological hubris—which limit efforts to build a more inclusive, equitable banking system. These logics hold the potential to lead well-intentioned organizations, and the practitioners they employ, to harm the marginalized communities they set out to help. This paper concludes...

Protesting for Change, #BLM

downtown chicago from perspective of driver approaching from south side
by RITA DENNY, EPIC We support the protesters. Black lives matter. Working at my desk in the past few days, a fairly constant thump of helicopters and aggressive wail of sirens has forced me to parse space in new ways. Here, in the US, the rights of protestors to claim space is contested by presidential rhetoric and ruthlessly cynical uses of force for political ends. We are feeling the reverberations wherever we are sitting—in cities or not, in the US or not—as we bear witness. As we act and speak as citizens, families, neighbors and cities, it is worth a moment to be thoughtful about how we, as ethnographers in industries and organizations, choose to participate. As ethnographers we observe life as lived on the ground, as it unfolds, embodied or ephemeral, with affect and purpose, in relation to material systems and systems of meaning. The ground is where change happens—is practiced, performed, and contested in acts small and large, messy and often with contradiction. Our practice is also framed within larger organizational...

Agency & Tech Colonialism: Extending the Conversation

“What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions?” Sareeta Amrute’s keynote address “Tech Colonialism Today” opened EPIC2019 in a provocative, mobilizing spirit that inspired discussions on stage, in breakout sessions, and around breakfast tables. Sareeta journeyed across time and territory to explore what characteristics make something colonial to begin with, such as extractive and hierarchical systems. As you might guess, she argued that yes, the tech industry today has core colonial attributes. But goal wasn’t just critique; Sareeta showcased counterconduct—the agency that people, communities, and companies have to build alternatives. If colonial legacies and socioeconomic systems seem a bit “out of scope” as context for standard product or user research projects, check out Sareeta’s award-winning book Encoding Race, Encoding Class. You’ll learn about Meena’s daily tea ritual, hear Bipin describe why he sometimes chooses to write bad code,...

Change Agent: Lessons on Power and Failure from Eight Years of Systems Research & Policy Design

CHELSEA MAULDIN Executive Director, Public Policy Lab PechaKucha Presentation Drawing on nearly a decade of research and design engagements with U.S. federal and municipal governments, I'll describe a gap between intended outcomes of government policies and the lived experience of people affected by those policies. I'll discuss how that gap arises from variances in the decision-making agency of policymakers and members of the public. Next, I'll discuss how human-centered researchers and designers attempt to equalize government/public agency though interventions in the policy decision-making cycle. Then I'll suggest criticisms and shortfalls of current human-centered approaches to improving policy and service-delivery systems, including researchers and designers’ tendencies to amplify complexity, to extract value from the public, and to accept status quo inequality. Finally I'll propose that, when using research and design as tools for positive policy and systems change and increased agency for marginalized peoples,...

Designing for Dynamics of Agency in NYC Homeless Shelters

NATALIA RADYWYL The Public Policy Lab; The School for Visual Arts Public sector innovation (PSI) is an emerging multidisciplinary field that is attracting practitioners from a wide range of sectors and industries, with a correspondingly broad set of skills and experience. PSI aims to significantly improve the services that a government has the responsibility to provide by taking a user-centered, partnership-based approach, from service content development through to methods of service provision (OECD 2012). Yet the work is complex and not without risk, if undertaken without appropriate foresight, thoughtfulness, and rigor. In particular, when it comes to pursuing PSI in the design of social service policy and its provision, some of the more substantial risks lie hidden in systemic power imbalances that can easily be exacerbated, despite practitioners’ best intentions. This article uses a case study about homeless service provision in New York City (NYC) to offer a candid portrayal of undertaking research and design work in...

Calibrating Agency: Human-Autonomy Teaming and the Future of Work amid Highly Automated Systems

LEE CESAFSKY Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley ERIK STAYTON Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley, MIT MELISSA CEFKIN Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley This paper explores how the design of everyday interactions with artificial intelligence in work systems relates to broader issues of interest to social scientists and ethicists: namely human well-being and social inequality. The paper uses experience designing human interactions with highly automated systems as a lens for looking at the social implications of work design, and argues that what human and automation each do is less important than how human and automation are structured to interact. The Human-Autonomy Teaming (HAT) paradigm, explored in the paper, has been a promising alternative way to think about human interactions with automation in our laboratory's research and development work. We argue that the notion of teaming is particularly useful in that it encourages designers to consider human well-being as central to the operational success...

3 Narratives that Stymie Social Change and What We Can Do about It

by NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR, FrameWorks Institute Social change requires culture change and social science can help. “Context matters.” “It’s a systemic issue.” “It’s…complicated.” As ethnographers and researchers these are our mantras—but how can we communicate about social issues in ways that really make a difference? Evidence shows that how we frame our messages can have dramatic effects on all kinds of outcomes that count. Real social change requires shifts in deeply ingrained cultural models: what people feel about society and social groups; how we understand problems and their solutions; and the degree to which we feel motivated and willing to engage in the social problems of our day. I have studied nearly 40 different social issues, the cultural models people use to understand them, and messaging that can shifts those understandings. Across these diverse social issues, I have found three cultural models that stymie social change—and three research-based messaging strategies that can help shift them. Three...

Automation Otherwise: A Review of “Automating Inequality”

by DANYA GLABAU, Implosion Labs What if we thought differently about how to integrate human and machine agencies?  Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the PoorVirginia Eubanks2018, 272 pp, St. Martin's Press As I sat down in to write this review of Virginia Eubanks’ latest book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, I couldn’t help but consider it in light of the growing restiveness among tech workers in response to their companies’ perceived ethical lapses. Rank and file employees have begun to speak out against the use of big data-driven software systems and infrastructure for ethically questionable ends like warfare, policing, and family separation at the United States-Mexico border. To date, these protests have mired several public-private contracts between government agencies and some of the world’s biggest tech companies in controversy, including Google’s Project Maven, a collaboration with the Pentagon...

How Is Evidence Created, Used & Abused? EPIC2018 Opening Remarks

by DAWN NAFUS (Intel), EPIC2018 Co-chair We chose Evidence as the EPIC2018 theme in part to explore this question of why some things constitute evidence and not others. There are lots of factors we could point to, but since I’m standing next to a data scientist the first one I’ll talk about is digitization. Digitization changes how people live, and it creates forms of evidence about people’s lives that we need to reckon with methodologically. Many of us are in the thick of organizations that handle some complicated datasets, traces of people and their environments, and so on. We’ve got to figure out how to engage with them, and I think that means we need new approaches if we are going to meaningfully intervene. The toolbox of user experience is only going to get us so far. So we’re going to need some friends, particularly those data scientists who are, like us, committed to the idea that datasets ought to be moored in some kind of social reality, and that they can’t just be built based on what’s expedient at the time. While...