Summary

Keywords

  • “The digital divide is an attractive formulation because it promises an easy solution to a messy situation: it proposes that computer access in and of itself is a meaningful measure of informational power and privilege” (10).

Notes

Introduction

  • The digital and techno-scientific turn in Gates and Gilroy after the deconstructive (cultural) turn of the 80’s and 90’s (3–4); “The biotechnical turn (like the visual turn) is born of a particular moment in history, one which privileges the technological and specifically the digital over other forms of knowledge, mediation, and interaction.”
  • The impetus for this collection is manifold: 1) to address the digital turn in scholarship around race more generally; 2) to re-inscribe race as a category of analysis within digital studies; and 3) to engage how “Race has itself become a digital medium, a distinctive set of informatic codes, networked mediated narratives, maps, images, and visualizations that index identity” (5).
  • Self-described four main critical interventions:
    1. “A re-envisioning of race in digital technologies as a form of code, as well as a visual representation of a raced body” (8)
    2. “We now know that computers themselves will not fix social and racial inequality, and indeed may produce new forms of inequality” (10)
    3. “how it is that Internet users are sorted and segregated into separate platforms or networks” (13)
    4. “taking account of the confluence of digital media’s rise as a dominant cultural platform alongside rapid developments in racial genomics” (14)
  • “The scientific practice of classifying and comparing bodies using digital information in biomedical and pharmaceutical research is profoundly challenging earlier theories of social constructivism that viewed race as a purely imaginary construct” (15).

McPherson. “U.S. Operating Systems at Mid-Century”

  • “McPherson argues that scholars work against ongoing processes of encapsulation that separate disciplines from each other and racial populations from social and political alliance, reminding us that ‘computers are themselves encoders of culture,’ and that it is ‘at best naive to imagine that cultural and computational operating systems don’t mutually infect one another’” (9).
  • Begins w/ two fragments, the first the development of UNIX in 1965; the broader upheavals of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960’s: “Not surprisingly, these two fragments typically stand apart in parallel tracks, attracting the interest and attention of very different audiences located in the deeply siloed departments that categorize our universities” (23). Her research question: why?
  • And here’s one of the best critiques of the Manovich project: “Early forays in new media theory in the late 1990s did not much help this problem. Theorists of new media often retreated into forms of analysis that Marsha. Kinder has critiqued as “cyberstructuralist,” intent on parsing media specificity and on theorizing the forms of new media, while disavowing twenty-plus years of critical race theory, feminism and other modes of overtly politicized inquiry. Many who had worked hard to instill race as a central mode of analysis in film, literary, and media studies throughout the late twentieth century were disheartened and outraged (if not that surprised) to find new media theory so easily retreating into a comfortable formalism familiar from the early days of film theory” (23).
  • “lenticular logic”: two things co-existing but never being able to be viewed at the same time; instead, McPherson proposes a “stereoscopic logic,” wherein two things blur together to form one dimensional whole (24–25). “We might understand UNIX as the way in which the emerging logics of the lenticular and of the covert racism of colorblindness get ported into our computational systems, both in terms of the specific functions of UNIX as an operating system and in the broader philosophy it embraces” (25).
  • UNIX’s familiar edits to simplify and chunk “underscore a [lenticular] world view in which a troublesome part might be discarded without disrupting the whole” (26); “It is not much of a stretch to layer these traits over the core tenets of post-Fordism, a process which begins to remake industrial-era notions of standardization in the 1960s: time-space compression, transformability, customization, a public/private blur, etc.” (29).
  • Modularity reflected in social life in the 60’s: identity politics “as a kind of social and political embrace of modularity and encapsulation, a mode of partitioning that turned away from the broader forms of alliance-based and globally-inflected political practice that characterized both labor politics and anti-racist organizing in the 1930s and 1940s” (30).
  • “Both the computer and the lenticular lens mediate images and objects, changing their relationship but frequently suppressing that process of relation, much like the divided departments of the contemporary university. The fragmentary knowledges encouraged by many forms and experiences of the digital neatly parallel the lenticular logics which underwrite the covert racism endemic to our times operating in potential feedback loops, supporting each other” (33). This is also an interesting answer to the “problem” of digital studies’ interdisciplinarity.
  • The figure of “operating systems”—shared epistemologies running underneath multiple disciplines—is also a powerful formation for overcoming the two cultures myth (33).
  • “To push my polemic to its furthest dimensions, I would argue that to study image, narrative and visuality will never be enough if we do not engage as well the non-visual dimensions of code and their organization of the world. And yet, to trouble my own polemic, we might also understand the workings of code to have already internalized the visual to the extent that, in the heart of the labs from which UNIX emerged, the cultural processing of the visual via the register of race was already at work in the machine” (35).

Chun. “Race and/as Technology”

  • “As she writes, ‘segregation is an important U.S. racial technology, a clarifying spatial mapping that creates stark racial differences where none necessarily exist’” (9).
  • “To what degree are race and technology intertwined?” (38); Chun’s intervention is to think race as a technology, a thing that is done by operations: race as a “tool of subjugation,” a technology of “mapping” (40).
  • The cultural turn has failed us: “Even more damning, despite the good intentions behind the reformulation of race as culture, the conceptualization of race as culture has been no less effective at creating social divisions than the notion of race as biology. Racist arguments have adeptly substituted culture for nature, creating what Etienne Balibar has called ‘neo-racism’” (42).
  • Segregation as a technology by which white populations denature black success (46); “Racism renders everyone into a standing reserve of genes to be stored and transmitted.”
  • “Cyberpunk literature, which originated the desire for cyberspace as a frontier rather than cyberspace itself, seductively blinds users to their circulating representations through dreams of disembodiment (freedom from one’s body), sustained by representations of others as disembodied information” (50).
  • “The formulation of race as technology also opens up the possibility that, although the idea and the experience of race have been used for racist ends, the best way to fight racism might not be to deny the existence of race, but to make race do different things” (57).

Fouché. “From Black Inventors to One Laptop Per Child”

  • “As Rayvon Fouche reminds us in his essay ‘From Black Inventors to One Laptop Per Child: Exporting a Racial Politics of Technology,’ technology has a pre-digital history that has long devalued the contributions and needs of African Americans, and these roots have borne fruit in digital uplift projects such as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative” (9).
  • One of the useful methodological questions that this essay raises for my work is the utility of periodization. Fouché cites Mumford and Kuhn; we can also ask what our investiture in periodizing the Anthropocene really is and to what utility to we put it in our work?

Marez. “Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the History of Star Wars

  • “The popularity of Star Wars in Silicon Valley as well as the success of the film itself responds to and shapes race and class formations in California that originate in the history of its agribusiness economy and which continue to shape contemporary digital cultures” (87).
  • So essentially: we follow McPherson’s operating system formation to note that the principles of white supremacist free market capitalism undergird the production of a major cultural phenomenon whose variegated interpretive possibilities allow it to operate as a cipher for those right wing principles across economic forms. Got it. “Unfortunately, in contexts dominated by a Star War worldview it becomes harder to see and think about things like “Justice for Janitors” and, more broadly, digital culture’s dependence on systems of racialized labor” (106).

Galloway. “Does the Whatever Speak?”

  • This chapter is reproduced as the post-script for Galloway’s Interface Effect.
  • “His provocative thesis is that the promiscuous production of digital racial imagery ought to be read as more than just the production of stereotypes, business as usual on the Internet, but rather as a form of racial coding, a logic of identity that has come to replace it more globally” (11).

Gandy. “Matrix Multiplication and the Digital Divide”

  • “Oscar Gandy’s chapter, ‘Matrix Multiplication and the Digital Divide,’ explores how data-mining practices that classify, sort, and evaluate populations reproduce racial inequality and generate new mechanisms of racial discrimination” (11).
  • “This chapter is an attempt to illustrate some of the ways in which computer analyses of transaction-generated information (TGI) that involve sophisticated techniques based on matrix multiplication and linear algebra help to determine the quality of life that many of us get to enjoy. Although the emphasis is on the ways in which these matrices affect peoples of color, no one really escapes their reach” (128). In other words, this chapter’s argument is commensurate w/ observations that the great “evil” of digital technologies to white people is that it is exposing them to the same kind of technicities that have hence structured the lives of people of color.

Everett. “Have We Become Postracial Yet?”

Sandvig. “Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain”

  • Sandvig shows up a lot in collections on media, infrastructure, and the environment; while his ethnographic approach differs from mine (what even is mine?) it’s worth keeping up on his output.
  • “This essay tells the remarkable story of how 100 percent Internet penetration was achieved on an Indian reservation that, in common with ‘Indian country’ all over the U.S., had previously suffered from one of the most impoverished communication and general infrastructures to be found in the U.S. This work provides a useful challenge to the utopian notion of technological appropriation as always giving users from marginalized groups a variety of interesting new ways to be ‘other,’ and asserts that in the case of the TDV, ‘technological and cultural difference isn’t celebrated-instead it is suppressed’ (12–13).

boyd. “White Flight in Networked Publics”

Hargittai. “Open Doors, Closed Social Spaces?”

  • “By collecting two data sets across time and across a number of social networking service platforms, such as MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, and BlackPlanet, she is able to offer a unique and striking picture of racially segmented use over different time periods” (14).

Wilson/Costanza-Chock. “New Voices on the Net”

Nelson/Hwang. “Roots and Revelation”

Chow-White. “Genomic Databases”

Duster. “The Combustible Intersection”

Archive and Impact

  • One of the major interventions this collection proposes is the challenge that science and technology make to conceptions of deconstruction, discourse, and social construction so dear to the cultural turn of the 1980’s. This question lurks underneath many of my readings; take Barad, for whom the developments of quantum dynamics provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date “theory” for explaining a radical materialist view of the universe.