S. Chowdhary, S. Daitzman, R. Eisenbud, E. Pan and E. Graeff, “Care and Liberation in Creating a Student-Led Public Interest Technology Clinic,” in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 50-52, Sept. 2021, doi: 10.1109/MTS.2021.3101915.
Engineers disengage from public welfare concerns during undergraduate engineering education . In her widely cited study, Erin Cech argued that this arises from a culture of depoliticization in engineering that dismisses “nontechnical” concerns and competencies, reifying a false technical/social dichotomy and meritocratic ideology that justifies existing social structures. Our college, Olin College of Engineering, was part of that study, displaying similar patterns to more traditional schools. We are resisting that trend by embracing “public interest technology” (PIT) , which we believe offers a response to the culture of disengagement. In our application, PIT represents a community of practice that encourages engineers to fully engage with context, inequity, and uncertainty; to connect technical work to their own lives and environment; and to prioritize the common good while minimizing public harms.
S. Chowdhary, S. Daitzman, R. Eisenbud, E. Pan and E. Graeff, “Care and Liberation in Creating a Student-Led Public Interest Technology Clinic,” 2020 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), 2020, pp. 164-175, doi: 10.1109/ISTAS50296.2020.9462188.
The emerging field of Public Interest Technology contains the seeds for an engineering practice that embodies the ethic of care and undergraduate engineering educational experiences in the mold of liberatory education. We realized these opportunities by creating an undergraduate, student-led public interest technology clinic. Using autoethnography, we reflect on our effort to create the clinic and find that we prioritized emotions and relationships, embraced slowness and deliberation, and claimed student ownership. These practices define public interest technology and redefine engineering in ways centering care and equity, which enabled us to create the inclusive and effective engineering and public interest technology educational experiences we wanted for ourselves.
Graeff, E. 2019. ‘Monitorial Citizenship.’ In Hobbs, R & Mihailidis, P, eds., International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy Education. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Monitorial citizenship is a form of civic engagement in which people collect information about their surroundings or track issues of local or personal interest in order to improve their communities and pursue justice. Common activities of the monitorial citizen include collecting information, sharing stories and insights, coordinating with networks of other civic actors, and pursuing accountability for institutions and elite individuals and their perceived responsibilities. The term originates in Michael Schudson’s 1998 book The Good Citizen. Schudson proposes monitorial citizenship as a successor to the “informed citizenship” paradigm to better account for our current age of information overload, arguing “the obligation of citizens to know enough to participate intelligently in governmental affairs be understood as a monitorial obligation” (p. 310). This original concept positioned monitorial citizens as “defensive rather than proactive” (p. 311). The idea of citizens paying attention to public affairs and serving a monitorial role pre‐dates Schudson and, of course, the Internet. What is different now is that technologies like the Internet and smartphones enable the average person to be more effective at monitoring topics of interest and powerful actors in society through the construction of distributed networks and ongoing campaigns that can leverage sophisticated narrative strategies with data to hold them to account. Some contemporary scholars believe monitorial citizenship may be one answer to revitalizing civics in an age of mistrust (Zuckerman, 2014), an effort media literacy can support.
The last time you cast your ballot, did you get your #democracysausage? In his 2016 book Social Media and Everyday Politics, author Tim Highfield exhibits his #democracysausage Instagram photo from 2015 (p. 147). As he explains, the ritual of compulsory voting colliding with Australian culture and participatory media led to the emergence of the #democracysausage and #democracycake hashtags with detailed maps and dedicated accounts tracking the availability of such food at polling places across Australia. Alongside Highfield’s 2015 polling booth selfie in the introduction (p. 2), these personal examples illustrate the book’s central premise that social media-oriented practices of politics are also the practices of everyday life, performed and documented at the blurry intersection of the private and the public.
Social Media and Everyday Politics provides an extensive look at the state of political communication theory and Internet scholarship covering social media and politics. Highfield intends the book as “a lens for examining the ways that individuals engage with political and personal issues as part of everyday social media activity, and by extension what this means beyond the social media context” (p. 11). Not only does he touch on many of the key debates and findings over the past decade to shape this lens, but he also complicates our understanding of these practices with caveats that account for gender, race, and other social and cultural categories. As an introduction to the research and theory on the topic through 2015, this book is a welcome addition to the scholar’s shelf.
However, rating the book as a helpful contribution of new research rather than a textbook-like compendium is more complicated. As an emergent research area, the landscape of social media and politics is inherently understudied and undertheorized. Highfield’s approach to the topic emphasizes comprehensive coverage of existing theories rather than a novel, narrative argument. To summarize the findings we have at the intersection of private, public, and political lives played out on social media, Highfield borrows the concept of “everyday politics” from civic studies scholar Harry Boyte (2004). Highfield’s use of everyday politics provides a new frame to researchers conversant in this literature and binds together the ideas and research he cites. However, a deeper dive into the civic engagement literature would be necessary to explore Boyte’s vision of everyday politics more fully.
“Growing out of Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt has been working since May 2012 to build a social movement through various forms of media and market-based activism under the banner of “debt resistance.” They cite the history of Biblical jubilees that canceled debt to normalize society (Graeber 2011), the debtor movement like El Barzon in Mexico (Caffentzis 2013), and “mortgage strikes” by Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s Peoples (Strike Debt 2014, 93), to make an intellectual and moral argument for debt resistance against the contemporary system of debt, which in their analysis causes dehumanizing shame and suffering. They describe debt as a weapon and a web that catches you—as soon as you pay off one loan you are indebted for another reason (Graeff and Bhargava 2014).”