Annenberg Conversations on Race: "Technology and the Reproduction of Racial Inequity"
- For those of you who just joined us, thank you so much for coming today. You are in Zoomland and you are at the third kind of instantiation of this larger conversation that the Annenberg School is having on thinking about race and the way that it shapes us as scholars, communication scholarship, and many, many, many of the important issues that we are tackling within the school and beyond. And today, I am so so thrilled to have Dr. Kadija Ferryman
to engage us in this conversation and to share a bit about her really really exciting research on thinking about health science, health technology, and the perpetuation of racial inequality today. So, what's gonna happen now is that I'm going to introduce my friend Kadija and a little bit about her research and then we'll just kind of have a conversation about some of the things that I find really, really exciting about her work, some of the things that I really think are important for this community to hear about the things that she is thinking about in terms of her research topics, the substance, the methods. And then before I really get into that conversation or I should say, and then after that, we'll have some questions, we'll have time for questions. And for those of you who were able to see the slide that was up before, just if you could feel free to put any questions that come to your mind in the Zoom chat during the conversation, that would be really helpful, I'll do my best to kind of incorporate those as we go. If you would like me to read your question completely, feel free to type the entire thing out, I'm happy to use my voice and to read those questions for you.
If you'd rather voice your own question, which is also very, very welcomed and encouraged, we're a relatively small-ish group today or a good sized group, but a manageable size. So if you'd like to use your own voice, you can just kind of indicate in the chat that you have a question and I'll be happy to kind of call on you at the end when we have some time for question and answer there. So, before we get started with our guest of honor today, I just wanna thank all the folks who make these conversations on race possible, our Dean, John Jackson, for convening them, Deborah Williams for coordinating these events, and also our very capable and incredible IT staff who are at the ready if you have any questions, please feel free to, actually can one of you unmute and maybe tell me who should people contact if they have issues in this? - [Andres] Hi. Yeah, anyone who has any technical issues can contact me or Annika Marnik and we will, you can direct message us here in Zoom or on Teams and we'll try to help you out as quickly as possible. - Awesome. All right, thank you so much Andres and Tim.
Okay, so let's get started. I can't wait to tell you all about our guest today and to have her talk about her research in her own words. I want to introduce Dr. Kadija Ferryman.
So, Dr. Ferryman is currently the assistant industry professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. And as of next academic year, she'll be moving to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as an assistant professor there in their Department of Health Policy and Management, and also at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Her research investigates the co-production of race and the science and technologies of healthcare.
Really steeped in her background as an anthropologist, she uses ethnography to investigate the development of precision medicine, genomics research, electronic health records, and many other technologies that we'll be talking about today, to understand how different professional and expert cultures navigate the politics and ethics of our increasingly data-intensive healthcare settings. And beyond tackling these kinds of big theoretical questions that are at the heart of various academic fields including communication, bioethics, science and technology studies, anthropology and many others, her research also illuminates the very concrete ways that science and technology can recreate racial health disparities, even when these projects are explicitly dedicated or committed to improving these issues. So, I warned Kadija that I was gonna tell a little story about her and how we know each other at the beginning, I hope it won't be too embarrassing.
So Kadija and I know each other because we are both postdocs at the Deep & Society Research Institute a few years ago where she really spearheaded the institute's agenda on health and health tech and racial inequality. And when we started, I have this very vivid memory of us kind of navigating all of the different hurdles of postdoc life together and kind of being in this very stressful and exciting place and kind of being newbies in this environment together and me kind of graping to her about, I gotta navigate this new IRB and what is this IRB and I'm having all these problems with this IRB, can you look at my application and all this stuff. And she was of course incredibly generous and would always kind of be my sounding board for any grapes that I had. And then I remember an email coming through, an announcement, an institute wide announcement that Kadija was actually joining the IRB, joining an IRB of this huge and important precision medicine study, this nationwide, the largest nationwide precision medicine study in the United States.
And feeling like oh, wow. So here I am kind of complaining to her, seeing us as like compatriots in this stressful situation together and then realizing how she was actually setting these rules, right? That she was in the position to use her expertise in this way and review proposals from not necessarily scientist just like me, but other kinds of scientists who are interested in using different kinds of data and feeling amazed, not only by her expertise, but also to her by her commitment to actually making these communities better and not just kind of talking the talk of this research and really understanding these things analytically, but also walking the walk and really getting involved in these issues as a scholar. So we'll be talking about both sides of her research like in that same mode today. So what I wanted to invite Kadija to do first is to kind of introduce us, for those of us who might be less familiar with her research, to all of your different research areas, kind of give us an overview of the things that you're interested in, what you see your major fields are, and then afterwards, to tell us about how you came to be fascinated by these things. 'Cause I think it can be really helpful for especially the PhD students among us to kind of hear a little bit more about how these things don't just like drop on us from the clouds and that they're kind of deeply embedded in our backgrounds. - Great, thank you so much for that intro and story, Julia.
And before I get started, I also wanna thank Julia and Dr. Deborah Williams and the staff and everyone at Annenberg for hosting me today for this conversation. As Julia mentioned, we are friends in real life so this is a real pleasure for me to spend this time together and engage with you Julia as well as everyone out there in Zoom as well. So, and yeah, and that story about the IRB, hopefully we will, we'll get to that conversation around how that happened, how I decided to do that because it wasn't a sort of easy decision. But I'll start by giving an overview of my research.
So as you very nicely and succinctly described, I think about my research essentially focusing on the ethics and politics of health technology, right? And for me, where the ethics and politics of health technology, and when I say health technology, I mean specifically genomics, I mean electronic medical records, I mean predictive models that are used in healthcare, AI, that are used in healthcare. So these are the kinds of and other kinds of digital health data that are relatively new forms of health data. So these are the kinds of health technologies, I guess they're really more health information technologies that I'm interested in, really looking at the ethics and politics of those health information technologies. But for me, where the ethics and politics become really interesting is where they intersect with, right? Because I do see when these technologies begin to intersect with race, the ethical questions become really interesting and the political issues become really interesting.
And I focus on how when we look at these technologies, how we can see race kind of being made real, being made material, if you will, through these technologies, and how race through these technologies is sort of mediated as a category of risks as well. So it's really interesting because I think at this sort of intersection of ethics of politics and health technologies and race, you sort of see race emerge in these different forms that I think are really interesting. And then to sort of get a little bit closer, and I think where I get really drawn to those kinds of questions and issues that I get really drawn into looking at is particularly when these technologies are very specifically, when there's hope around them and they're framed and sort of there's hope around how they can specifically address health disparities, right? 'Cause there are some health technologies of course that are new and being developed that may not have a kind of health disparities focus, an explicit health disparities focus, but I think it becomes really interesting when you see this combination of the hope and hype around these new technologies, and with the hope of, okay, we can use these technologies to address health disparities. So I think you see this really interesting kind of flavor of technological optimism, when the hope is how we can kind of apply these technologies to begin to address health disparities. And that's where I see again some of these really interesting sort of manifestations of race, these really interesting mediations between race as a category, between race as a risk in these technologies so it's really kind of that intersection that I think is really interesting.
And just to give you some concrete examples of how I've looked at that, so in my dissertation, so I kind of looked at this issue in a couple of ways. So with my dissertation research, I conducted an ethnographic study with scientists, physicians, research staff, community advisors, and was really on the ground with them for a number of years while they were grappling with the issue of how to use genomics to address racial disparities in health. So, there have been a couple of sort of recent discoveries that of particular genetic variants that have these kind of ancestry or population connections and so it's this very tricky area because on the one hand, these ancestry or population-specific variants are really promising because they could be a way to sort of intervene in the health of a specific population if there's a genetic connection to a disease. And in this case, it was a genetic variant that was found more often in people of African ancestry that increased the risk of end stage kidney disease. And before this finding, there was already a health disparity, a racial disparity between black people and other groups and sort of their health outcomes when it comes to end stage kidney disease. So there was a lot of hope around, okay, we've identified this genetic risk factor, maybe we can actually intervene in this existing health disparity.
But at the same time, right, these scientists, because I think of a lot of the good work that's been done by social scientists, they knew that this was a very tricky area and sort of getting them into this, potentially this minefield around race as a biological category, scientific racism. So it was really interesting to see how they sort of navigated between wanting to use this new variant to really address disparities to really improve the health outcomes of people of African descent, while not at the same time kind of reinforcing some of these ideas of race as a biological category. So in this study too, this is one of the examples where I saw a kind of race kind of taking shapes in these multiple forms as a social category, but also as a kind of genetic category at the same time, and how through the process of biomedical research, scientists, experts, communities were trying to kind of move through that, move through these different categories and sort of use them in different ways. And then for my postdoc research at the Data & Society Research Institute, I looked at some of the hope and hype surrounding precision medicine, which is a bit broader than genomics. Precision medicine includes genomics, but also includes new forms of digital health data, so electronic medical records, environmental data also, the hope is that some kind of data that's not considered traditional health data like air quality, water quality, that all of these kinds of data could be combined to and analyzed to actually sort of learn more about influences on health, what makes people healthy, what makes them sick.
And here as well, the focus was on sort of how a range of actors from biomedical researchers to software engineers, because with precision medicine, you have kind of this additional expert domain of software engineers coming in to build these predictive models, to gather these data to put them together, to think about how these new data sources and these new analytical models again, could be brought together to address again, the sort of overall idea of what are the factors that make people sick and keep them healthy, but also, specifically, there are some racial disparities, could this new field with these new data sources and methods make an intervention on some health disparities as well? So that was my dissertation work. My current work, and we'll get into my current work a little bit later as well, but it's still focused on the ethics and politics of health information, technology, and I'm still really interested in precision medicine and precision medicine research. And for my current work, I'm really interested in how inclusion is being framed in precision medicine, especially as a way to address racial disparities in health, and how inclusion in large data platforms, what does that actually look like, and how do those kinds of data intensive practices of inclusion kind of bring marginalized groups in in some ways and potentially exclude them in others. Also moving in some different directions, different but related direction, so I have a background in policy research. So I've been lately getting more interested in sort of the emerging policy of this field. So initially, when I started researching precision medicine in 2017, it really was kind of a new field, but now, almost four years later, it's still emerging, it's still a new field, but there are some sort of policy and regulatory discussion is beginning to build in the field and so I'm getting really interested in how these policy conversations are shaping up what the regulation for this field is starting to look like, right? So it's related of course to biomedical research and governed by some of the more traditional sort of regulatory mechanisms that are in place, but because of this kind of confluence of these new data types and these new analytical tools, the field does present new regulatory and sort of governance issues that I think are interesting.
So I've had my kind of finger on the pulse of the policy, how the policy around the field is shaping up. Another couple of things that I'm interested in sort of currently, current and future as well, is I'm really interested in, and this is sort of related to the policy piece as well, in how when we get to kind of a national stage, there are national organizations that are focused on health disparities, focused on minority health for example, and many of these groups are quite influential in developing policy, health policy for specific groups et cetera. And so one of the areas that I'm going to be focused on in the future is how these national minority health groups, kind of what their interaction and engagement is with precision medicine research and sort of how they're contributing to some of the policy and data governance conversations there.
Something that's a little bit, I think a little bit more distinct from some of my current research areas but that I'm really interested in is data governance. So I've looked at precision medicine in the government sector as well as in the private sector and as some of you may know, some of the big tech companies recently have been sort of turning their attention to health trying to sort of break into the healthcare field. And recently, Google sort of got into some trouble because it was revealed that they were building kind of a very large health data infrastructure. And so I'm really interested in the building of health data platforms, health data infrastructures, and sort of what those look like. There are these health information exchanges that are also really interesting so I want to sort of kind of do some comparative work looking at those.
But that also kind of comes from my interest in STS and the importance of sort of looking at infrastructures, these things that may seem like they're kind of invisible, but actually exert a lot of power and allow some things and don't allow other things. So I'm really interested in sort of, if we take the case of Google for example, building a health data infrastructure, yes, it would be great for Google to build an interface where physicians instead of the sort of clunky, electronic medical records that they have right now, they would have a Google search bar where they can put in their patient's name and get a really nice, pretty kind of search results, right? But what does that mean when Google is the one that is kind of creating and designing that infrastructure? So that's another area of interest. And I'm also really interested in health data cooperative.
So the other issue that's come up in this precision medicine domain is sort of where's the ownership for this health data? So when these platforms are being built, and this is something of course that's come up in other fields as well, not just with health data, data are becoming of course quite lucrative so what are the models for privacy and ownership for individual data. And there's a number of health data cooperatives, and so I'm interested in sort of different kinds of health governance models. That's pretty pretty new though, like I literally just know about a few of those, but that's something that's on the horizon for me sort of thinking about alternative models for health data governance. So that's the current stuff.
But I know the second part of your question was sort of, how did I get here from anthropology, right? - Not a typical path for an anthropologist to be doing the kinds of things that you're doing and so I would love for you to talk to our audience about that. - Yeah. And I think my professional career, in general, all the dots sort of connect now, but at the time when I was doing it, they didn't really seem to be sort of leading up to one straight path.
But my kind of first career was actually doing housing policy research, specifically looking at housing discrimination, racial discrimination in housing and what the impacts, the multiple impacts of that were. And that's actually really when I really got interested in sort of looking at race and health and different processes of marginalization because I saw in real time sort of how the impacts of racial segregation impacted of course people's housing and economic possibilities, but also literally, quite literally, their health and the health of their families and children et cetera. So I kind of started doing housing policy research, but connected that up to health. And then I majored as, I was an anthropology major undergrad, did policy research right after college and then decided to pursue graduate school in anthropology and actually started kind of focusing on anthropology, if you can kind of think of it as like anthropology of policy, but connected that back to health. And for me, when I say that I look at the ethics and politics of health and technology, that may not scream anthropology for some, right, for multiple reasons, right? One, because I kind of do, I study up, I do research with experts, I do research mostly in what we think of as the global north or the west and those may not be typically kind of field sites or populations that people associate with anthropology, but for me, I see it very much in line, the kind of questions that I ask, see it very much in line with an anthropological kind of focus because not to sound reductant but anthropology for me is really about kind of studying power. So if it's anthropologists who are looking at kinship or ritual, it's really sort of looking at those things to understand how power works in a place.
And so, when I'm looking at ethics and politics of health information technology, it really is kind of the study of power. And even looking at ethics, there's a long tradition in anthropology of anthropologists kind of trying to understand different moral worlds, right? And it's this kind of supremely human thing to do to ask, am I doing the right thing? Am I living my life the way that I should? And what are the things that are getting in the way of me potentially living my life the way that I should? So to me, I also see ethics as really like a core anthropological domain of inquiry as well. And with race, again, I also see that as very for to anthropology because, again, culture is typically the kind of defining concept of American anthropology, but culture was really this foil to race in the American anthropology, right? That it was like, okay, there's this idea of race as this unchanging biological category. Well, actually, there's this other way to think about human behavior and let's think about it in terms of culture.
So race has always been this kind of category that anthropology has engaged with. So I really see, like I said, even though the sort of domains and the populations that I engage with may not initially strike some as kind of anthropological, I really do see them as really central kind of questions and concerns, and even the health information technologies themselves, right, they are kind of artifacts, they are digital artifacts that you can look at, right? Anthropologists look at artifacts to understand the culture and society in which they were built, and how those artifacts reflect and shape the culture. And I think we can look at that with health information technology, as well as political artifacts, right? Like when we look at an EHR, what do we actually see? So. - Yeah, that's absolutely wonderful.
I think it's wonderful to kind of think about the ways that these disciplines which seems so steeped in a particular kind of history, perhaps colonial legacies, right, like all these different problematic ways that we've had to overcome as researchers in our own disciplines and just the way that you narrate the power of the kind of essential tools to do things that might be counter to the original kind of intention to those disciplines, the founders of the disciplines is very wonderful. And actually, this just occurred to me as you were talking, so, thinking from the community of people that we have gathered here, again, like in my position as an assistant professor here at the Annenberg, here in my house at the Annenberg School virtually, we have a lot of faculty and students who are interested in thinking about platforms and racial inequality, and thinking about technology and different kinds of inequality, myself included in that. But one of the things that your work does, which I have always been absolutely fascinated by and I think is really unique is this perspective of ethics that you were mentioning in your kind of thinking, how your research is so tied to like really core anthropological ideas. And I wonder, what do you think this kind of ethics perspective gives us or allows us to see in thinking about the ways that technologies reproduce inequality in various kinds of ways that we might be missing in our current conversations about these issues? - Yeah. And I think it's really important to note that there are different ways that you can think about ethics, right? So, sometimes when we hear the word ethics, we might think of IRBs, rules, boards, right? We might think of these like very prescribed kind of rules and principles, right? So, if we are thinking about, well, what are the ethics of platforms, one way to think about it would be like, okay, there are these data platforms, what rules do we need to develop to sort of govern the proper or the ethical use and development of these platforms? And that is of course sort of one key thing and I think a reasonable way to think about it. But I think a more expansive and more interesting or an alternate way to kind of think about ethics and often how I think about ethics is in this sense of how do we, and again, it sort of comes back to power for me, right? So first of all, when we're thinking about ethics, who is getting to sort of ask the questions about, who's sort of setting the terms of what's right or what's wrong? And that very question of, okay, is this platform ethical, that immediately to me, you have to sort of bring in other concerns about social hierarchies, power, right? Because the way that you know whether or not something is ethical or not, right, sort of depends on all of these other factors.
So even a common ethical issue like privacy, right? Like so say you wanted to say, well, all right, we wanna make sure that our data platform is ethical and that it's secure, it protects users privacy, right? But we know that privacy is something that is not evenly experienced across different groups, that is not available across different groups, that means different things to different groups, right? So again, you could take a sort of one view that says, all right, let's just make sure that their privacy is protected or you could sort of take this step back and say, okay, well, what does privacy actually mean and look like if we sort of think about it in terms of power, right? And often, privacy, even this concept of privacy, I went to a really interesting talk some weeks ago by a legal scholar who said that we have to think about the history of privacy as a concept. And privacy as a concept was really to like protect the property of white men, right? Like that's where privacy as a concept really sort of developed. So I think even when sort of saying, okay, let's make sure that our data platform is ethical and make sure that it protects privacy, there are so many layers in there that you can interrogate, right, to make sure that your kind of ethical analysis of a platform, let's say, actually touches upon so many different questions that I think are really interesting and central to anthropologists, sociologists, right? And it's not to say that, and again, I don't wanna kind of be reductive or too expansive to say that like, well, all anthropologists are really talking about ethics or vice versa, or sociologists are always talking about ethics and vice versa, but I think that if you take that kind of approach, you really see that if you want to get to a sort of socially informed ethics, if you will, those kinds of questions are essential. - Yeah, the way that ethics invites, the ethical perspective kind of invites us to ask these larger questions that are often implicit when we rush to make governance rules for example like you said, that our ideas of fairness are kind of all embedded through those things and yet those assumptions often remain unquestioned until someone like you it comes into the room and says, what assumptions are you operating with here? I should say to this is another story from Kadija and my relationship, we were tasked to putting together, I don't know if you even remember this, Kadija, we were tasked with putting together a reading list or a reading group on inequality in digital technology at Data & Society for some of the research assistants and associates and like other folks who were interested while we were there. And we sat down to put a syllabus together and I was like, okay, here's what digital inequalities is, here's what it looks like.
And Kadija said, I remember you saying, I think we need Rousseau on this syllabus. And what is inequality anyways? And I remember being like, wow, this is exactly the kind of question that I need to be asking myself and I don't, we often don't in these conversations, this is often taken for granted. So, this really segues really nicely I think into the other part of your career, your approach to your research, but also not just research the way that you maybe understand your commitments as a scholar and the kind of ways that you use your research to change things to actually achieve justice along these dimensions.
So, as a part of this postdoc research that you did on this huge precision medicine on the hope and hype, which was also a wonderful way of putting that, the hope and hype of precision medicine, you became involved in this field not just as a researcher, but as an advisor, as an active participant in the All of Us Research Program, which is the largest ever research study that is also a precision medicine study. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how this came about, and maybe also how you related this role or thought about this role to your scholarship and also to your critique of this field. - Yeah, yeah. So, for that postdoc project, right, we wanted to make it comparative so we were looking at precision medicine research projects that were just emerging. So we looked at the All of Us Research Program because it was the largest, it's funded by the NIH.
We also looked at a project, a kind of more local version. NYU had this human study that was a precision medicine research project. We also looked at Google or Verily, I should say, Alphabet, not Google, but Verily.
Verily is a project baseline which is also a precision medicine research study. So we wanted to look at something in the private sector as well. So we were sort of doing interviews and asking questions about these three different kinds of projects and others that actually came, there were also some other smaller precision medicine research projects that we investigated as well. And so my colleague, McKenna and I worked on the study which was going along, getting interviews, looking at documents, having a great time. And I get a call from someone at the NIH that essentially says, so we kind of heard that you've been asking us questions about precision medicine, about the All of Us Research Program and about the potential pitfalls, right? And one of the interesting things that came out from the interviews that we did was that there really was so much hope and often sort of in the beginning, when McKenna and I would do interviews and we kind of come to the part of the interview where we'd say, okay, this all sounds great, but like, what could go wrong? Sometimes people were sort of taken aback, right, and they were like, well, what do you mean, or not in a naive way, but that the project hadn't even really gotten off the ground yet and these were good actors, these weren't bad actors in a sense, right? There wasn't a profit motive here. And so I think for some, it was really kind of not what they were kind of thinking about, right, like what could go wrong with the study, but this was really important for us to sort of do this kind of anticipatory.
Alondra Nelson has called this I believe anticipatory social science, right? Where you're like, you want to think about what the problems will be kind of ahead of time. And so I get this call basically saying like, hey, we heard you've been asking questions about like how this is gonna go wrong, do you wanna help us to make sure that it doesn't go wrong by joining the Institutional Review Board, the IRB. And this was for the All of Us Research Program.
And it wasn't an easy decision initially because I really was invested as a researcher, as an observer, as someone sort of on the outside lending a sort of critical eye to this field. And so I wondered about how being involved like this, being involved in the IRB might interfere with my critical research goals, right? But after some thinking and talking with people there and other colleagues, I realized that I had, I sort of had this thought of like, well, what is research for? And I don't wanna get into this discussion of like, well, basic research and should research be applied et cetera, but for me at the time thought, all right, well, I'm doing this research, what is it for? I'm doing it because I want to highlight, identify, some of the vulnerabilities in this emerging field before it becomes widespread, right, because so much of what I know, the environment that we were immersed in Data & Society was, so many of our great, fantastic colleagues were looking at pitfalls of technology that had already happened, right? And even at Data & Society, they were still sort of on the vanguard, but these mistakes had already been made, right? So, I really had to consider and say, if my goal here is to kind of make sure this field doesn't end up like competence or predictive policing or whatever, right? Totally different field, but you kind of get the point that I'm making, then how can I do that, right? My research is one way but there are other ways as well and perhaps being a part of the project in this way could be a way for me to make that kind of intervention, right? And I do think that it falls into a tradition of engaged. So in anthropology of course, there's I anthropology but there's also this larger tradition of engaged scholarship, right? And I do think that my participation on the IRB falls into this tradition of engaged scholarship. I do think also because of just the structure of the IRB, that it is actually a really separate body. And once I participated in it and I saw that, okay, this IRB isn't just a kind of rubber stamp type of institution, right, as some have critiqued IRBs as being, not really having any teeth, not really having power, just kind of being a rubber stamp for research projects, I really saw that the people on this IRB, no one is employed by the NIH, no one's careers depend on the NIH, right? So the structure is set up in a way that IRB members can really voice their critiques and concerns in a strong way, and we have some very strong voices on the IRB that do just that. And so I see, and through my participation, I've sort of seen the program change based on actual recommendations that I and my other colleagues have made.
And this also kind of gets back to a debate within anthropology, right? Our discipline is based on participant observation and anthropologists know that as you're participating, you are changing your field of study as you're studying it anyway, right? So there's no way to actually be this disembodied outsider that's actually just studying the field but not changing it and so of course there's different levels and different ways so you're going to change the field, right? My hope is that I can like change this field for the better, that's why I'm interested in it. And so to me, I sort of see this as one of the ways of doing that. - Do you find yourself taking field notes during IRB meetings? - So, it's funny that you ask that question.
So one of the kind of agreements that I did make when I joined the IRB is that they were like, okay, you're really joining as an IRB member, like not as an observer, not as like an anthropologist, so no, I don't take field notes but I do take meeting notes. I do take notes as I do on every meeting that I take, and of course, I am an anthropologist so my critical eye I feel like it's never closed so there are some interesting observations that I've just sort of made about the politics of the program and of the IRB itself, but no, in my role, that was sort of one of the things I think initially was that, I know, I would be there specifically kind of not with my anthropologist hat on, but as an IRB member. But I mean, really I think, I'm not totally not an anthropologist as I'm there because part of why they wanted me there is for my critical look at the field, right? So I'm always still the critical social scientist there when I'm looking at applications and things like that.
So I guess I'm not taking field notes and I'm not going to publish an ethnography of my time on the IRB, I don't have plans to do that at this point but-- - I would read that just FYI. - Yeah, yeah, but is it totally separate? I'd say, not, it's complicated. - That's really interesting.
And thank you so much too for sharing that kind of like background too. I think as scholars especially in these areas of emerging technologies like you said, we're often seen as kind of being on the vanguard or kind of being this ethical or critical check on some of these systems and so oftentimes, or students may be in the position or even some of the faculty members also have already experienced this, be in the position of being invited to go from being observers to being engaged in these regulatory bodies, or in providing advice through consultation or governance, strategies or whatever it is. And just kind of hearing you say about like what those agreements can look like and how you kind of position yourself as an outsider within or an insider outsider, all these different types of positionality that we can take I think is really helpful and to just hear how that deliberation goes on. So I wanna be mindful of, yeah, go ahead, please. - I just wanna just add quickly to that point especially because you brought up sort of students and thinking about picking research sites and areas and sort of knowing a little bit of the background of some of the common students I think in your program. That comment reminded me of a piece by, I believe it's Nancy Scheper-Hughes who's an anthropologist, where she sort of relays the story of doing fieldwork in Brazil for many years and then one time kind of going back to the field and her informants saying, kind of sitting her down and being like, all right, Nancy, like what are you gonna do for us? Like you're doing this research, but like, you have all of this power and privilege, how are you going to use it on our behalf, right? And it was this sort of moment of tension of like, oh, but, will this kind of sacrifice my position as the ethnographer but yet I do have relationships with these people.
And so I think it's something for kind of students as they're thinking about their research questions and topics, right, to think about, well, is this a site where I would be ready or compelled to engage in other ways, right? Like, would I be ready to engage in other ways outside of doing my own research on behalf of the people that I'm working with, studying with, interlocutors et cetera, right? And I think that could actually be a good way for if students that maybe having trouble sort of thinking about research questions or deciding kind of directions to go in. And again, like the research, the research is central, but I think that could be an interesting question to sort of help with that research question site selection potentially. - Which is, yeah, top of mind I know for many of our students right now is.
This actually also reminds me of another big kind of topic that I wanted to make sure that we get to and we are running out of time a little bit. And I will save a bit of time at the end to make sure there are time for questions either in voice or in the chat. And again, a reminder to take those questions in the chat or to kind of chat raise your hand, let me know, indicate in the chat that you have a question so I can call on you. Is this not just the what of your research, right, that kind of you've overviewed your research areas, you've talked about the way that you kind of engage in, engaged research the way that you think about your research as having obligations to the fields that you were actually studying. And now I kind of wanted to save a couple minutes at the end to talk about the how of your research, right? As like a fellow methods nerd, kind of talking about the ways that you invite incredibly diverse ways of knowing into your research projects. And I don't mean that just in terms of the way that you sit on the IRB and are kind of thinking about your role there as an insider, although we've talked about that, but also, the ways that you collaborate really widely with people who do not share your epistemology in terms of what social science is good for, what kinds of questions are important to ask and answer, people like, I'm sure I'm gonna say this wrong, but like kidneys specialist and the community support folks and the clinical professionals, computer scientists more recently, we were just talking about in one of our prep conversations.
And so I'd love to hear you talk about a little bit like, when you think about these fields that you've dedicated your career to so far, right? Like addressing this issue of racial inequality and health and achieving health justice, right? Like whatever that ideal might be. Are we obligated as social scientists or do we need to think about methods and collaboration in a different kind of way if we are going to truly move needles on these issues? And how do you kind of think about that when it comes to your research? - Yeah. Yeah, I love that question because it also kind of relates to, so I thought that I had about the previous question about sort of being ready to engage in one's research site in different ways. And it's funny because I relayed the story from an anthropologist working in Brazil, but I think also for people who are sort of researching or and studying, setting up if you will, expect that also the experts that you're studying may ask you for your assistance as well.
So, and I think until it connects to this kind of interdisciplinary work and interdisciplinary field work, that there are a politics there as well, right? So, as a social scientist, there are sort of hierarchies between the social sciences and the natural sciences that are still there, right, let's keep it real. And there are questions, like I remember being questioned in my field site when I was doing my dissertation research by some genomic scientists saying, okay, when I sort of explained what I was doing, that I was gonna be observing the team and they said, well, how do your advisors like know that what you're saying is true? Like, how do they validate? What's the validation process for anthropology, right? And it was just one of these questions, right, that he was just like, I mean, I don't understand how this is like real science when this is just, or these are sort of based on your observations. And so part of that process is sort of learning the logics and the language of other fields, learning, seeing how those sort of disciplinary politics play out in while you're doing fieldwork research or if you're actually doing interdisciplinary research as well, right? And sometimes those things happen at the same time that you're sort of doing research and you're also collaborating with your interlocutors at the same time, that was part of my experience.
But even outside of kind of doing fieldwork, I do engage, and do writing and research across disciplines which is very fulfilling, I think it's very interesting, but it's tough, right? So there are moments where you have to sort of learn the language, you have to learn the politics and you also have to, but it's been exciting because I think for me, it's provided opportunities to really distill what the contribution of anthropology really is, right, to these field where it's like, well, I can run this machine learning algorithm on all of these data, like, how can you actually help me, right, like, what are you gonna tell me that's gonna help me? So I think that it's presented these opportunities to really think about what the contribution for anthropology is. It's also provided me to sort of, again, in the tradition of anthropology, we're sort of becoming immersed in a new culture and a new language, right, getting to sort of learn the methods of other disciplines. I see that as also kind of part in this tradition of doing anthropological fieldwork. And I'll share a story of an interdisciplinary collaboration recently. So I worked with a group of computational epidemiologists. So computational epidemiology is, so it's public health, but essentially public health folks who kind of use advanced analytics in their epidemiology.
And so I worked with a group of computational epidemiologists who were interested in seeing, who used platforms, who actually use social media platforms for epidemiology. And this is kind of a new area of epidemiology, right? How can we use social media data as a source of data about public health? So, this researcher, Elaine Nsoesie, she's done some really interesting research on how you can use Yelp reviews to learn about foodborne illness, right. People writing like, oh, I got sick, and can you track it through the reviews? Really interesting stuff. So, I worked with Elaine and some of her colleagues sort of looking at how, our question was, can we learn anything about miscarriage on Twitter, using Twitter, people's Twitter posts, right? So because miscarriage is the thing that often people don't talk about, it's sort of hidden, but yet Twitter is this place where people come to with and share very private things, perhaps this can kind of shed some new insights on miscarriage if we look at the way that people talk about it on Twitter. And so this was interesting, because I got to learn some of the kind of quantitative methods that I wasn't trained in, right, but it was this really interesting learning experience. But it also was, again, this moment of, for me to sort of think about what my contribution would be.
And I think it was, initially when I would start some of these interdisciplinary collaborations, it would be like, well, we have to turn everything into an ethnography, right? And it's like, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, right? Like, everything doesn't have to become an ethnography but there are different ways along, even within kind of very quantitative sort of process that you can, as an anthropologist, social scientist, communication scholar, right, that you can make contributions. So for me, it was really sort of how we frame some of the questions, how we read some of the literature that frame the questions for us and even how we kind of interpreted the data that we got from those tweets. So, it wasn't an ethnographic study, we didn't publish an ethnographic study, but I do feel like my contribution was important and valued by the other members of the team as well.
So yeah, so I guess the kind of short answer there is that I think this interdisciplinary work is sort of like, again, within the tradition of anthropology and there's different ways to do it, it doesn't necessarily have look the same every time, if you will. Yeah. - Yeah, that's really helpful.
And I know, even among the students who are here and the faculty as well, that increasingly kind of multimodal or like thinking about how to constitute these teams of researchers who come from very different places, but who are nevertheless trying to illuminate patterns and data together, that that's something that a lot of people are thinking about how to kind of come together across very different epistemologies. So, we do have a couple minutes left and I do have one question in the chat. Wonderful question from Michael Delli Carpini who's wondering about, and Michael, I'm just gonna read your question because you typed it out, I hope that's okay. How well received is the idea of engaged scholarship, public scholarship or public interest scholarship within anthropology. And is it something that emerging scholars can do without risking tenure and promotion in your experience Kadija? - Yeah, that's an interesting question. I mean, I think I'm still sort of learning that myself.
I mean, as I said before, I think there is a really robust tradition of engaged scholarship, public, sort of being a public intellectual in anthropology, and I think in sociology as well. But that I think it really depends on the department that you're trained in, I think it depends on the department that you end up in, because and also things like, you can be a public intellectual or you can be an engaged anthropologist let's say, but are you publishing equally in academic and public facing outlets or are you mostly publishing in, again, if you want to get tenure, let's say, right? Or are you mostly publishing in public outlets? And so that makes a difference, right? So, at the end of the day, I think your publication record is what, your research and publications, that's what kind of makes your case. And so if you're able to do that while also engaging in other ways, I think for many anthropologists I know who I would consider engaged scholars, I mean, it's sort of this, they're engaged work in their field sites. So there's, again, like a history of activist anthropology, their involvement in kind of activist movements or in other fights for justice et cetera, then those activities then inform their research questions and their next field sites. And so it's not necessarily something that's separate from your work.
And I think the engaged or public intellectuals who do that the best from what I see are the ones where it's not sort of two separate spheres that they're operating in that the two sort of really inform each other and they also make sure that they kind of are on track in terms of the publication and research and the other kind of standards for their department. But it's not that they sort of think about these things that they do with community groups or with their experts are on boards, that's kind of separate from the questions that they're thinking about, that actually helps inform their research and scholarship. - I think too just to like add to that is, we're talking about inequality here, we're talking about racial inequality and like this larger issue, we're talking about it in terms of how it is reproduced or co-produced through science and technology, but also, this is how these inequalities happen in the academy as well, right? And I think we need to kind of be honest about that, that like the people who are often coming into the academy with these interests, who are hired because of these interests because they're invested in solving these big problems of racial injustice, health justice, right, like gender, whatever it might be, are essentially doing double duty, right? That they are, like you said like, like it's fine to do public scholarship as long as this other kind of scholarship is still there. But if you see those things as inextricably linked in the way that you come up with your research questions and the kinds of things you get excited about, essentially, it is a burden, an invisible burden, public scholarship becomes an unrewarded burden for especially junior scholars who are interested in this kind of work so I think it's kind of important to air that and to just say, let's work on it, right? - Yeah, absolutely. I'm really happy you brought that up and I wanna just underscore that as well, that part of this, we definitely have to bring up sort of institutional and departmental politics around what kind of work gets valued.
And yeah, and what sort of appearances are valued. And there is often this, like you said, these sort of conflicting demands to be the scholar, that's the person that's sort of showing their department's commitment to racial justice or studying racial inequality, but yet, the kinds of work or engaged scholarship that's being done to sort of, again, enhance that person's research agenda, let's say, if those things are sort of, again, internally looked down upon or not given support in many ways from sort of support of mentors to financial support et cetera, right, then it's like that can create a big conflict. So it's sort of I think part of, if we're really serious about addressing racial inequality in the academy as well and wanting to really study these issues seriously, there has to be some of this inward looking at the politics of the institutions and the politics of departments at the same time so. - Yeah, absolutely. And that burden often falls on scholars of color, especially junior scholars of color, right, to do that kind of work.
So thank you very much Michael for that, and Michael's saying thank you in the chat. And I'm fully aware, for those of you who need to go, please go if you need to go. We're at the end of our time, but I have been told that we can have a few extra minutes. If there are other questions, I would love to hear them. And whether they're about engaged scholarship, whether they're about any of the kinds of technologies that Kadija is looking at, or maybe some of the platform politics of this issue with Google, I'm fascinated to hear more about that. I would love to hear those now either in the chat or to just like volunteer yourself and unmute yourself.
All right, maybe not. Okay, well, Kadija, thank you so so much for this conversation, I really appreciate it. I may rope you into future conversations about thinking about engaged scholarship, about methods, about incorporating critical social science into different kinds of modes of thinking, I know, that's a constant kind of topic of conversation between us.
And thank you so much for contributing your expertise and for showing us the background of how careers get built and thinking about these kinds of research questions, it's really, really important. And, yeah, thank you for spending the time today, really appreciate it. - Well, thank you, this was great. And I'm really happy that we got to cover like you said, the what and also the how. Because I think for me, and like you said, I think there were some students out here in the audience, I think it's really important to sort of paint that picture of how you can build a research career kind of from different paths and how those interests, right? I think my earlier interests in policy have sort of come back to my work now so it sort of all comes together, right? So I think one message, one takeaway message for maybe if, again, if there are students out there, that if you have what seemed like disparate interests, don't be too worried about those, right? And you may have to kind of focus on a few things, narrow those down for your dissertation research, right? But don't throw those interests away, right? And that experience, those experiences that you have because later in your career, you can kind of bring those back in and connect them in really big ways. So yeah, well, this was really fun, thank you, and thank you to everyone that helped make this possible.
- Awesome. All right, thank you so much, I really appreciate it, Kadija and I'll call you later. - All right, bye everyone, have a good weekend. - Thank you. - [Kadija] Bye.