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HCDE guest lecture: Sucheta Ghoshal, "Designing a Grassroots Culture of Technology Practice"
HCDE guest lecture: Sucheta Ghoshal, "Designing a Grassroots Culture of Technology Practice"
WhenThursday, Feb 27, 2020, 10 – 11 a.m.
Campus locationStudent Union Building (HUB)
Campus room332
Event typesLectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsHuman Centered Design & Engineering

All are welcome to join the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering for a special guest lecture.


Grassroots social movements resist systemic oppression—based on race, class, caste, gender, and other normative characteristics—by organizing from the margins of a society. Grassroots communities, like any other organizational setting, are becoming increasingly dependent upon Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as Google Drive and Facebook. While these technologies enable new possibilities for collective action, they also create new power relationships challenging grassroots culture. Often these power relationships start to resemble the dominant culture surrounding popular ICTs—the culture of those who have the privilege of technical expertise. Historically, the idea of technical expertise has had a particularly racialized, gendered, and classed character—for instance, people of color have either been completely absent or existed only as consumers in the material, technical, and institutional aspects of computing rather than being considered as expert makers or maintainers of technology. While grassroots communities strive to fight against systemic inequities by incorporating popular ICTs, they also risk perpetuating similar conditions around technology in their own communities. As a result, in a movement primarily led by and centered around people of color, technical and organizational power become associated with whiteness, young age, and higher socioeconomic status even when people with these characteristics themselves believe that that should not be that case.

In this talk, I am going to share what I have learned from being a community organizer and an action researcher situated in the U.S. South. My work approaches the complex sociotechnical dynamic of grassroots movements with a critical practice lens—designing a culture of  technology use that is rooted in the understanding of technology as a cultural and political artifact with consequences beyond utility. Toward this, I will share my findings from helping build a local grassroots movement (Science for the People, Atlanta) and then helping sustain a large regional movement (Southern Movement Assembly). My close involvement in these communities both as a researcher and as a volunteer activist enabled me to understand how grassroots social movement communities—primarily consisting of historically marginalized people—relate to collaborative technologies used in their everyday work. Further, I’ll discuss the process and the outcome of several workshops I have conducted in multiple Southern states and movement artifacts I collaboratively designed with and in these communities. Throughout my action research, I have strived to channel the tacit, seemingly mundane experiences and feelings movement members have toward designing a grassroots culture of technology practice i.e., a culture of questioning ICTs for the values they embody and produce while simultaneously re-aligning technology use with grassroots values. Finally, I will share my future agenda for building public infrastructures of resistance and accountability toward designers and maintainers of ICTs.

Sucheta Ghoshal is a PhD candidate in Human-Centered Computing at Georgia Tech. Sucheta has been embedded in grassroots social movements in the United States—both as a researcher and as an activist—for the last four years. Her research focuses on studying how grassroots social movements in the United States relate to information and communication technologies (ICTs). Broadly, her work strives to critically question ICTs in their totality for the role they continue to play in the larger systems of oppression—namely, systemic racism, class, caste, and gendered oppressions. Additionally, she is interested in uncovering ways in which we can form public means of consciousness, resistance, and accountability against technology-mediated systemic oppression. She was formerly a software engineer at the Wikimedia Foundation where she built several tools for Wikipedia and worked on building a community of Wikipedians in India. She has been a community organizer working in various capacities globally for over a decade.

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