IS Colloquium: Towards a Conception of Data Violence

Anna Lauren Hoffmann of the University of Washington, discussed her research on how technology can promote or hinder social justice.

How can one not been interested in someone with a quote on the front page of her website that reads, “Categorize me/I defy every label?”

The quote is from a line in a song by R&B artist Janelle Monáe from the 2013 album The Electric Lady.  But in many ways, it also offers a window into the work of Anna Lauren Hoffmann, an assistant professor at The Information School at the University of Washington, whose research seems to challenges how the design and use of information systems and our interactions with it categorize and define us, not always with positive outcomes.

Hoffmann is the featured speaker for the UCLA Department of Information Studies Colloquium Thursday November 30.  Her work centers on issues in information, data, and ethics, with particular attention to the ways in which the discussion about and the design and uses of information technology can promote or hinder the pursuit of important human values like respect and justice. She is interested in how the standards and categories imposed on the world through data, information, and technological systems and the ways we talk about them can discriminate by supporting the development of self-respect for some and hindering its development for others.

Hoffmann posits that our micro interactions with technology can be a form of discursive violence or what she calls “data violence” that may marginalize or even discriminate against certain populations, especially gender minorities.

“It’s hard to maintain a sense of dignity and self-respect in the face social structures or communities or political environments that don’t value you, that don’t value your identity, that don’t value the things you want to do in life,” she says.  “It becomes a challenge then, a constant struggle to assert your self-respect in the face of that kind of indifference or maliciousness.

The song quote from Janelle Monáe Hoffman says “reflects an explicit struggle with a world that wants to to put her in boxes, to make her fit in or be subordinate. It is representative of this kind of fighting and struggle for self-respect in a world that that might want to deny it.”

You can find out more about the research and work of Anna Lauren Hoffman on her website Anna/Everyday.

Read this article and others on the public scholarship at UCLA Ed & IS at Knowledge That Matters.