With their ability to depict hundreds, thousands, and sometimes even millions of relationships at a single glance, visualizations of data can dazzle, inform, and persuade. It is precisely this power that makes it worth asking: “Visualization by whom? For whom? In whose interest? Informed by whose values?” These are some of the questions that emerge from what we call data feminism, a way of thinking about data and its visualization that is informed by the past several decades of feminist critical thought. Data feminism prompts questions about how, for instance, challenges to the male/female binary can also help challenge other binary and hierarchical classification systems. It encourages us to ask how the concept of invisible labor can help to expose the invisible forms of labor associated with data work. And it points to how an understanding of affective and embodied knowledge can help to expand the notion of what constitutes data and what does not. Using visualization as a starting point, this talk works backwards through the data-processing pipeline in order to show how a feminist approach to thinking about data not only exposes how power and privilege presently operate in visualization work, but also suggests how different design principles can help to mitigate inequality and work towards justice.
Lauren Klein is an associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, where she also directs the Digital Humanities Lab. She received her A.B. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Her research interests include digital humanities, data visualization, data studies, food studies, and early American literature. In 2017, she was named one of the “rising stars in digital humanities” by Inside Higher Ed.
Klein is currently at work on two major projects: the first, Data by Design, is an interactive book on the history of data visualization; and the second, Data Feminism, co-authored with Catherine D’Ignazio, is a trade book that explores the intersection of feminist thinking and data science. She is also the author of Matters of Taste: Eating, Aesthetics, and the Early American Archive (forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2020) and the editor (with Matthew K. Gold) of Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 and Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019, both published by the University of Minnesota Press.