The Critical Technology Podcast


Conversations from the frontlines and behind the scenes of sociotechnical research

Critical Technology explores new and emerging research into the social, cultural, and political implications of new/recent technological developments, in the form of one-on-one interviews with the researchers and authors of the studies themselves.

In each episode, Sara Grimes, Director of the KMDI will introduce a new academic publication or study that she thinks will be game changer in how we understand a particular technological application or innovation — its role, meaning, and impact on our lives. She will delve into the specifics of that publication/study with the author/lead researcher themselves, providing listeners with a firsthand account and insight into the work, its major findings and most wide-reaching conclusions, as well as how it fits within both the broader academic literature and our common knowledge about the technology examined.

Format: One-on-One Interviews

Frequency: Bi-monthly

Length: 30-35 minutes

Trailer: Introducing the Critical Technology podcast

Episode 1: Platforms and Cultural Production with Professor David Nieborg

The Platforms and Cultural Production Project explores the recent shift of the cultural industries toward production and distribution systems embedded in digital platforms. Digital platforms in this context includes well known examples, like Facebook, Apple and Amazon, as well as industry-specific systems used predominantly by media/cultural producers (such as Unity for game development) that share many of the same properties and functions. The project examines the rise in prominence of these various digital platforms against the backdrop of wider transformations in the technologies, cultures, and political economies of digital media, through case studies from North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia and China.

Launched in 2017, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), this game changer research collaboration is co-led by three Principal Investigators: 

Dr. Brooke Erin Duffy, Department of Communication, Cornell University

Dr. Thomas Poell , Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam

Dr. David Nieborg , Department of Arts, Culture and Media and Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

Using an approach that combines media studies, political economy of communication, and cultural studies, the Platform and Cultural Production research team is tracking how the rise and spread of platforms is changing the cultural industries, and the growing impact of platforms on our everyday lives. In this episode, Sara chats with the team’s expert on the political economy of platforms, Dr. David Nieborg (@gamespacenl).

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Suggested Readings

Social Media + Society volume 6, issue 3 (July – Sept. 2020) Special Issue: Platforms and Cultural Production

Social Media + Society volume 5, issue 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2019) Special Issue: Platformization of Cultural Production

Coming Soon: Platforms and Cultural Production (the book), Polity Press, Sept. 2021

Episode 2: Educational Technologies in Refugee Camps

The Portraits of Education Change: Redefining Pedagogy & Technology in Refugee Camps project investigates the social and cultural conditions of how technology is used to mediate, facilitate, or support teaching and learning by students, teachers and the broader communities living in refugee camps. It seeks to fill an important gap in our knowledge of the human experience of teaching and learning in these contexts, where significant resources are going into educational technology as part of humanitarian aid and development funders’ response to the global youth refugee crisis. This project builds on the research team’s previous work, which shows that for refugees living in camps, a complex array of factors can make a particular technology valuable, and that teaching and learning can happen in diverse, social, peer-to-peer, and unexpected ways. Portraits of Education Change applies a participatory research design to identify the roles technology plays in supporting teaching and learning in the lived experiences and daily lives of women and men in the Kakuma (Kenya) and Dzaleka (Malwai) refugee camps.  

The project builds on previous research conducted since 2011 across several different studies. In 2020, it received funding in the form of a Connaught New Researcher Award from the University of Toronto. The project is led by: 

Dr. Negin Dahya, Assistant Professor in the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. 

in collaboration with: 

Dr. Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University.

Dr. Olivier Arvisais, Département de didactique de la Faculté des sciences de l’éducation de l’Université du Québec à Montréal.

Portraits of Education Change combines education and media studies, feminist research methods, postcolonial theory, and critical race theories to identify the informal and emergent pedagogies that make the adoption of technologies by refugees in camps both possible and sustainable. In this episode, Sara chats with the project’s Principal Investigator and expert on digital media and learning, Dr. Negin Dahya (@MsNegin).

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Suggested Readings

Negin Dahya, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Dacia Douhaibi, & Olivier Arvisais (2019). Social support networks, instant messaging, and gender equity in refugee educationInformation, Communication & Society, vol. 22, no. 6, 774-790.

Negin Dahya & Sarah Dryden-Peterson (2017). Tracing pathways to higher education for refugees: the role of virtual support networks and mobile phones for women in refugee campsComparative Education, vol. 53, no. 2, 284–301.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Negin Dahya, & Elizabeth Adelman (2017). Pathways to Educational Success Among Refugees: Connecting Locally and Globally Situated Resources. American Educational Research Journal, vol. 54, issue 6, 1011-1047.

Episode 3: The City as Platform

The City as Platform project is an interdisciplinary research collaboration aimed at understanding the complex intertwining of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the surveillance society, as they converge and manifest within the design and lived experience of smart cities and other built environments.  Key questions driving this project include “how do we understand the citizen’s right to the city,” how do such rights manifest within smart cities, and how can more equitable, accessible, and generative futures be designed and realized. The project brings together industry, government, and citizens through workshops and immersive experiences that invite a reconfiguration of smart city urban design, and a transformation of techno-centric to human-centered design practices. The team uses a combination of critical data analytics and ethnographic fieldwork to conduct research and foster dialogue across three cities: London, UK, New York, US, and Toronto, Canada. 

Launched in 2013, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), this game changer research collaboration is co-led by three Principal Investigators:  

Dr. Beth Coleman, Associate Professor in the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.  

Dr. Leslie Regan Shade, Professor at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. 

Dr. Charles L. A. Clarke, Professor with the Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo.  

The project builds on theories developed by Dr. Coleman, which explore how AI systems and algorithms are reshaping the design and function of the technologies that surround us, and the impact this has on our lives, our relationships with the built environment, and our rights as citizens. This work expands on ideas first presented in Dr. Coleman’s book Hello Avatar (2011, The MIT Press), which explored the many modes of identity that emerge as we move between offline and virtual spaces. In City as Platform, Coleman delves into the aesthetic, civic and human dimensions of our new reality, shared with ubiquitous AI-driven technologies. In this episode, Sara chats with Dr. Coleman (@drbethcoleman) about some of the terms and concepts that are central to her important and timely theoretical contributions.

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Suggested Readings

Beth Coleman (2019). Bauhaus generative: Avant-garde to algorithmic aesthetics in three chairs. In Laura Forlano, Molly Wright Steenson, & Mike Ananny (Eds). Bauhaus Futures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Beth Coleman (2016). Let’s get lost: Poetic city meets data city. In Eric Gordon & Paul Mihailidis (Eds.) Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Beth Coleman (2019). Technology of surround. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol. 96, issue 2, pp. 351-366. 

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