Chelsea Barabas Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Title: Un-inventing Carceral Technology: Four Experiments in Imagining the World More Rigorously


How do we advance social justice in an increasingly datafied world? Against a backdrop of burgeoning social movements, data-driven technologies have become an important terrain of struggle. That’s because the design and implementation of technology is not simply about the creation of software and hardware objects, but the negotiation of practices and possibilities for living life together differently (Suchman 2007). In this dissertation, I examine the role of technology in shaping our collective imaginations of what is possible in the context of the carceral state. By carceral state, I mean the expansive system of state-sanctioned capture, confinement, and control that underpins our current unjust social order. Drawing on rich intellectual traditions such as feminist, Indigenous, and Black studies, I interrogate the default assumptions underlying the design and implementation of data-intensive systems, in order to fundamentally reimagine the role of technology in larger struggles for justice. Ultimately, the aim of this work is to experiment with ways of “un-inventing” (MacKenzie 1993) carceral technology, by reconfiguring the structural, interpersonal, and personal aspects of computation to the point that harmful algorithms are no longer created (Keyes and Austin 2022).

Committee members:

Justin Steil, Associate Professor of Law and Urban Planning
Roderic Crooks, Assistant Professor in the Department of Informatics, UC Irvine
Danielle Wood, Assistant Professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences
Ethan Zuckerman, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Communication, and Information, UMass Amherst

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