In this blog post, I will briefly discuss the topic of social justice and technological design. Then I will explain the role of social justice in my research. Finally, I will provide some insights and takeaway notes from the workshop.
So, what is social justice anyway?
It might seem like a fancy synonym for ‘equality’ which is based on the fact (or assumption) that we live in an unequal/unjust world. However, ‘justice’ and ‘equality’ each refers to different concepts. Equality entails sameness, which might actually cause inequality to arise. Whereas justice entails fairness which does not necessarily mean sameness.
Social justice could also be perceived as just another synonym for ‘human rights‘. However, according to Meckled-Garcia, social justice generally refers to the moral standards, whereas human rights refer to the laws and institutional standards regarding people’s entitlements. This means human rights define what people are entitled to get regardless of whether or not these rights are just.
Hence, social justice could be defined as the fairness in giving social privileges and opportunities (entitlements) for individuals without any form of discrimination. (What’s your definition?)
Questions to raise:
- What is social justice?
- Who decide what is ‘just’?
- Are all desirable things ‘rights’?
Can Technology interfere? Is technology the solution?
The ease of obtaining, learning and using technology nowadays made it easier for the power to be distributed in everyone’s hands. Thus, technology provides promising potentials for interested parties (e.g activists, vulnerable groups ..etc) to restructure their communities. However, although some ‘technologists’ have a great faith in technology, to the extent that someone would say ‘technology is God’, technology is still incapable to solve some problems, especially social ones. Evgeny Morozov, the author of The Net Delusion, refers to this phenomenon as “solutionism”.
The problem with such an approach is that it forces us to try to find solutions for social problems with the technological constraints available. This, according to Evgeny Morozov, leads to , either eliminating the original problem or altering the problem to make it more technically feasible.
Then, what is our role, as social justice and tech researchers (activist academics), here?
It is crucial when dealing with social problems to extract them from the ‘technology’ box in order to explore more potential solutions. Then once a solution is found we can try , although not guaranteed, to see how it fits in the technology box.
Secondly, regarding digital activists, we have to bear in mind that designing for activists may make them more susceptible to political risks (e.g Digital Activism in Saudi Arabia). This means design considerations should take into accounts both activists and their opponent parties.
Finally, tech researchers who are interested in social justice should go to the field and experience these issues themselves. However, balancing commitments to research and activist’s work can be tricky. Thus, making the research project as a process similar to documenting and analyzing the activist’s work might be a good starting point to combine both aspects.
Social justice and HCI methods
“How can different principles of social justice inform HCI methods such as decolonization or intersectionality?”
The role of social justice in my research:
Social justice underpins the goal, methodology and design in my research project.
The direct goal of the research is to reshape conceptions of women in the Saudi culture. However, the indirect goal is to open dialogue around sensitive topics and provide opportunities for all individuals to express their views and discuss other’s views.
The methods used to approach this goal are qualitative studies, particularly focus groups and interviews. The aim of these is to understand and analyse people’s perceptions of women in addition to their general sense-making processes.
The analysis of these studies will feed into the design phase which aims to allow public to collectively create , edit and discuss the content of women’s achievements.
Common challenges in social justice HCI research:
- Political issues
- Religious constraints
- Social acceptance
- Technical constraints
- Academic limitations
- Social order/institutional order