Urban social and economic disparities have come out in sharp relief in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City, marked by new political organizing and large-scale protests over racial and economic injustice. These mobilizations are taking place across social and mobile technology platforms, such as neighborhood mutual aid and support groups, in ways that are unprecedented. But practices on mobile apps and social media often reproduce existing inequalities. This project examines how emerging technologies contribute to divergent experiences of urban space in gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn, through participatory research with groups in Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights. Conceptually, it draws on approaches from anthropology, cultural geography, and feminist technology studies to understand how intersections of race, gender, and class take place on and through technology. Historically, both technology and public space have constituted white, masculine, middle-class domains. How are current technology platforms enabling or challenging existing structures of power, such as neighborhood groups on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Whatsapp or community organizing on Slack and Instagram? Methodologically, the project is grounded in digital ethnography, bringing the established tools of anthropological fieldwork to online, digital spaces. The research includes remote participant-observation and open-ended interviewing with organizers and participants in neighborhood and community groups including mutual aid groups, neighborhood associations, business associations, and activist organizations. The findings will offer insight for participants, technology designers, and policymakers into how technology practices produce multiple, divergent experiences of urban space that challenge but also re-create inequality.
Associate, NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology, New York University