Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, by Virginia Eubanks

Today I finished reading this very intesting book on the effects of policy-algorithms on vulnerable people and social justice.

A powerful investigative look at data-based discrimination—and how technology affects civil and human rights and economic equity

The State of Indiana denies one million applications for healthcare, foodstamps and cash benefits in three years—because a new computer system interprets any mistake as “failure to cooperate.” In Los Angeles, an algorithm calculates the comparative vulnerability of tens of thousands of homeless people in order to prioritize them for an inadequate pool of housing resources. In Pittsburgh, a child welfare agency uses a statistical model to try to predict which children might be future victims of abuse or neglect.

Since the dawn of the digital age, decision-making in finance, employment, politics, health and human services has undergone revolutionary change. Today, automated systems—rather than humans—control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.

In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhumane choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.


On writing in a second language and unpleasant reviews

CHI reviews were out last week and, as usual, they were the topic of extended dicussion until rebuttals were submitted. My reviews were quite split, and I had the bitter feeling I had submitted my article to the wrong sub-committe. Actually I almost felt stupid about it, stupid for spending a lot of effort on a piece of work and then giving it to people who obviously work with different topics – yes, always check out the names on the list, even if that commiittee has alwys been your confort zone. Writing the rebuttal was good to answer to what I felt were misunderstandings of my work and of reflective essays more in general. But it isn’t those misunderstandings I’m still annoyed about, not at all. It is R2’s tone (for real this time) that still bugs me. The review was really unpleasant in every single point raised, and it culminated with something that read like: “in fact one of the major weaknesses of this paper is the language and the many errors and typos”. This point was brought up, almost verbatim, by the AC. Now, I know my English is not perfect, but I also know it’s not broken and I’m sure it has never been a MAIN weakness of my writing. So in a growing, international, scientific community that only speaks English, why can’t we find a nice way to say that a certain paper needs (careful) proofreading? Why aren’t ACs more sensitive towards these issues?  Can these issues be pointed out in a rebuttal without compromising your work, once and for all? Why aren’t expert and novice external reviewers asked to be kind with their collegagues?

Towards the end of 2017

2017 is turning to an end, and as usual November and December are dark, cosy and very busy. Two weeks ago, Airi Lampinen and I submitted a paper to ECSCW 2018; the work is an ethnography of the Stockholm Hoffice Network. Hopefully the paper will be accepted but, regardless of that (for now at least!), it has been fun and interesting to reflect on what the Hoffice means for CSCW research on changing workplace practices. Since ECSCW has a single-blind review process, I paste the abstract here:

Abstract. We analyse the self-organising network Hoffice – a merger from the words home and office – that brings together people who wish to co-create temporary workplaces. The Hoffice concept relates to a co-working methodology and to the set of practices inherent in opening up one’s home as a pop-up workplace, with the help of existing social media platforms, particularly Facebook. We discuss the practices around changing workplaces, particularly for workers who lack a stable office and orchestrate flexible work arrangements. We collected our research materials through interviews, participant observations, and workshops. Our study draws attention to i) the practical arrangement of Hoffice events, ii) theparticipatory efforts to get individual work done, and 3) the co-creation of an alternative social model that encourages trust, self-actualization, and openness. To conclude, we discuss how Hoffice is already making change for its members, andhow this is indicative of politics of care.

Otherwise, the collection of papers that were presented at our ECSCW 2017 workshop on “Nomadic Cultures beyond Work Practices” is finally out. I’m really happy about the papers and their contribution towards a more contemporary research on nomadic practices.


Already two interesting talks this week

This week has started with two very interesting events. On Monday I went to the opening keynote of the Existential Terrain Conference to listen to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University, USA. The title of Wendy’s lecture was “Proxy Politics: From Global Climate Change to Racial Profiling”. Wendy raised very interesting issues on the materiality of information and algorithms and how they become proxies that make decisions based on people’s online connections even when they’re silent and do not say anything.

Today (Tuesday) was another stimulating day with Ann Light giving a talk at our Department. Ann is a Professor of Design and Creative Technology at the University of Sussex and she talked about ”Framing Wonder: Beyond Design for Existential Crisis”. In her talk, she discussed the role of CHI and designers of technology in addressing existential and world crisis such as climate change, mass migration, escalating refugee numbers, austerity policies, etc. Ann’s talk drew on her the paper she presented at CHI earlier this year.


My brilliant friend – non academic post –

Only in bad novels characters always do and say the right thing, and events are always explained by clear and direct causes. This is the key to the tetralogy “My brilliant friend” by Elena Ferrante. All the characters are vivid, imperfect and real, like their everyday lives. You’re drawn to them and then want to take a distance from them, but getting to the end of this contradictory story about friendship, Italy and Neaples makes you wish you could read more of it.

I bought the first book of the tetralogy last spring because I wanted to read something italian in Italian, and because I was curiuos about an author I hadn’t read before. I was surprised to find out that the books are international bestsellers and very popular in Sweden too, so belive all the hype and just read them

Another CHI is over

Last Sunday I got back from Denver where I attended CHI 2017. As usual if was fun, exciting and overwhelming to be among 3000 attendees for almost a week.

My conference schedule started on Saturday with our workshop on Design Fiction for Mixed-Reality Performance, a collaboration with a bunch of interesting folks from The Mixed Reality Lab (Nottingham University), Open Lab (Newcastle University), The University of York, the University of Glasgow and, of course, my colleagues from DSV/SU. The workshop was inspiring as we played with crazy ideas of performative interactions, and addressed ethical issues emerging from introducing novel technologies into interactive performances. Something interesting we did, was to play with the whole idea of fictions by telling small lies about our respective research. I must say this wasn’t easy, but it was a playful way to push the limits of what we do and to discuss dreams and concerns about future research.

On Wednesday afternoon it was time to present my own paper Interactive Performance as a Means of Social Dialogue, coauthored with Maria Normark and Louise Barkhuus. Realising I was supposed to present in the plenary ball room made me really stressed because of the rock-concert feeling the stage had. But the talk went very well, and I’m really pleased about it. The paper has been awarded an honourable mention which means that it is among the 5% best papers at the whole conference which had a total of 2400 submissions.  It presents the study of the performance Haimon (directed by Rebecca Forsberg, Rats Theater) and it draws attention to the aesthetical and political qualities emerging from participating in it. Drawing on the tension between these two qualities, the work illustrates the transition from being audience members to being engaged citizens and how this becomes the essence of a civic dialogue on socio-political concerns. Overall, a contribution to the growing CHI discourse on Digital Civics and Civic Technologies.

As usual, I came back from CHI with a lot of energy, new ideas (too many maybe) and ready for more writing.

Nomadic Culture(s) Beyond Work Practices

Yesterday I received an email notification that our workshop proposal to ECSCW 2017 has been accepted. I’m looking foward to this workshop as it willbe an opportunity to revisit and explores ideas and research  interests developed during my PhD in light of recent socio-technical developments.
The workshop is a collaboration with old and new colleagues I really enjoy working with, and it will take me back to ECSCW after several years of absence.


This workshop is relevant to ECSCW 2017 as it will provide a context to revisit past and current research on mobility and nomadic practices that has traditionally been core in the community. As such, it will be an opportunity to highlight how this area of research has contributed to the CSCW community, but also to identify unsolved problems, future challenges and research agendas. We see the in-depth discussion that we hope to generate as an opportunity to connect research on nomadic practices to more recent research on sharing platforms as sites of work. This will contribute to develop an understanding of nomadic culture by providing a more contemporary perspective on the social and cultural aspects around workplace sites and co-working practices.

More about the workshop


Luigina Ciolfi is Reader in Communication in the Communication and Computing Research Centre, C3RI, Sheffield Hallam University (UK). She holds a Laurea (Univ. of Siena, Italy) and a PhD (Univ. of Limerick, Ireland) in Human-Computer Interaction. Her main research interests are on people’s experience of technology in the physical world, nomadic work and life practices, cultural heritage technologies and collaboration and participation in design. She has worked on several research projects exploring interaction with technology in public spaces, heritage settings, and practices of work and life on the move. She is interested in further exploring placemaking and mechanisms of mobilisation of work and non-work activities. She has organised numerous international workshops and has published on these topics in refereed conferences and journals.
Breda Gray is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Limerick. She holds a B. Soc. Sc. (University College Dublin, Ireland); BSW (University of British Columbia, Canada), MA Management Learning and PhD Sociology, Lancaster University UK. She is Co-Convenor of Gender ARC research consortium between the University of Limerick and National University of Ireland Galway. Her central research interests are in gender, migration, mobilities, changing work patterns and governance. She has published widely on these themes as well as leading and advising on related international and national research projects.
Airi Lampinen is a researcher and lecturer at Mobile Life Centre at Stockholm University, Sweden. Over the past decade, her research has focused on social and economic activities in networked settings, ranging from network hospitality and peer-to-peer exchange in local communities to on-demand service platforms and social media. Lampinen holds a PhD in social psychology from University of Helsinki and a BSc (Eng.) from Aalto University’s interdisciplinary Information Networks degree programme. Previously, she has been a researcher at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and a research intern at Microsoft Research New England.
Fabiano Pinatti is an Associate Researcher at the Institute of Information Systems and New Media of the University of Siegen. He holds a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. in Computer Science from the Federal University of São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil, and a Multidisciplinary PhD developed within a joint project between the Interaction Design Centre of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, University of Limerick, Ireland, and the Department of Sociology at the same university. His interests span Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction Design, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Ubiquitous and Mobile Computing, Mobile and Nomadic Work and Informatics in Education and the focus of his research is on technologically-mediated human practices. He has published several articles on topics related to these fields of research in prestigious international conferences. During his doctoral research he has investigated issues of nomadic work/life practices in the knowledge economy, providing a more nuanced account of nomadicity and associated issues.
Chiara Rossitto is a lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at Stockholm University. She holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), and a Masters Degree in Communication Science from the University of Siena (Italy). Her research is characterized by a combination of social theory and empirical investigations of technologies use. Her previous work has focused in the methodological and analytical challenges inherent in studying nomadicity in collaborative work. She has also investigated place-making practices and how they can emerge from the interactions between people, their activities, and their efforts to manage and use constellations of technologies. She is interested in outlining a research agenda exploring an ecological understanding of contemporary nomadic practices.

Workshop on Design Fictions for Mixed-Reality Perfomance

On Saturday May 6th we’ll be running a very intresting workshop at CHI 2017. The workshop will focus on generating design ideas for Mixed-Reality Performances through the use of Design Fictions. The workshop is a collaboration with a number of engaged and interesting colleagues and I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately, and quite disappointingly, Asreen Rostami, who is the workshop’s main organiser, won’t be able to attend it due to the US travel ban.