On Friday I had an amazing opportunity to present during the “Data, Social Justice, and the Humanities” event at the University of Michigan. This one-day conference explored the implications of gathering and analyzing digital data for humanities scholarship in light of social justice imperatives. Activism, archiving, and representation served as interpretive lenses to focus discussion. Corresponding with some physical computing work we’ve been doing in the Maker Lab, my talk, “‘The Data Knows You Better Than You Do’ and Other Constructions,” outlined the Internet of Things (IoT) through a digital culture studies perspective. It stressed how the IoT is conceptualized in popular culture, how it’s practiced across several settings and markets, and how it raises a variety of social justice concerns, which have yet to be significantly addressed by academics, including digital humanities practitioners. During the last quarter of the talk, I also pointed to some important creative and critical projects that are directly or indirectly responding to the IoT’s social justice elements. Those projects were Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory (edited by Trebor Scholz), Wyld CollectiveLocal Autonomy Networks (Autonets), “Circuit Bending Videogames” (by Nina Belojevic),  Seattle Attic, Double UnionFree Geek, and Machine Project. Among other things, these projects have inspired the Maker Lab’s research and culture.

Here are the slidedeck and source files for my IoT talk. Over at Storify, Moya Bailey (Northeastern University), who also gave a compelling talk during the conference, archived tweets from the event’s #DSJandH hashtag. Thanks, Moya! Thanks, too, to Jessie Daniels (City University of New York), Jacqueline Wernimont (Arizona State University), Michelle Habell-Pallan (University of Washington), Sonnet Retman (University of Washington), Alexandra Stern (University of Michigan), Maria Cotera (University of Michigan), Michelle Caswell (University of California, Los Angeles), and Simone Browne (University of Texas, Austin) for their talks, and to Sidonie Smith, Doretha Coval, Patrick Tonks, Lisa Nakamura, David A. Wallace, Paul Conway, the Institute for the Humanities, and the School of Information at the University of Michigan for their role in making the conference happen. “Data, Social Justice, and the Humanities” was an absolutely fantastic event—one of the best conferences I’ve attended in recent years. Here’s to many more like it in the near future.


Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the Makerspace project, with the news tag. Featured image for this post care of Jentery Sayers and the Maker Lab.

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More about Jentery Sayers

Assistant Professor, English and CSPT | Principal Investigator, MLab in the Humanities