Blogs | MIT Center for Civic Media

The Activism of Anna Deavere Smith's Notes from the Field

Anna Deavere Smith in "Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education." Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

By Ethan Zuckerman and Erhardt Graeff

One of the best tricks educators can use is the technique of pulling students out of the classroom to encounter the issues we're studying in the "real world." So it's a gift when an artist of the calibre of Anna Deavere Smith opens a new work in Cambridge just as the semester is starting. And given that our lab, the Center for Civic Media, studies how making and disseminating media can lead to civic and social change through movements like Black Lives Matter, a three-hour performance about the school-to-prison pipeline is an unprecedented pedagogical gift. A dozen of us made our way to the American Repertory Theatre at the end of August for a performance we'll likely discuss for the rest of the academic year.

Deavere Smith's work is often referred to as "documentary theatre," and Notes From The Field: Doing Time In Education follows a model she's rightly been celebrated for. Portraying individuals she's interviewed while researching a controversial topic, she recreates their physical tics and speech patterns on stage, telling their stories—and the work's larger narrative—through their original words.

Part of what makes this work is Deavere Smith's ungodly skill at mimicry. As it happened, the first character she portrayed during Notes From The Field is a friend of Ethan's—Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund—and when he closed his eyes, the rhythm of her speech was so similar to Sherrilyn's voice, he thought it must be a recording. In the next scene, as Deavere Smith donned orange waders to become a 6'4" 300-pound Native American fisherman, we were all willing to suspend any disbelief.

No Permission, No Apology: Designing For the Other Panel

This is a liveblog of a panel discussion about "Designing for the Other" with Catherine D'Ignazio, Yvonne Lin, Ridhi Tariyal, Kristy Tillman, and Zenzile Moore.

No Permission, No Apology Opening Keynote by Megan Smith

Megan Smith

This is a liveblog of a talk by Megan Smith, US CTO and MIT Corporation Member. The No Permission, No Apology conference will provide opportunities to develop the professional and personal skills that can help women navigate spaces not necessarily created with them in mind. This will also be a chance for men to better understand how to foster inclusiveness, bridge divides, and serve as effective allies. (Liveblog by Erhardt Graeff and Rahul Bhargava)


How do we make sure everyone on the planet is fully included in solving the hardest challenges in the world?

We never see black technical women in movies like we do in the upcoming Hidden Figures—the new film featuring black women engineers on the moon mission. It's untrue and it's debilitating.  We never see people like Margaret Hamilton, who coined the term software engineering and led the source code development for the lunar lander. We wouldn't have landed on the moon if she had not architected the software in a way that we address memory issues.

We had female astronauts who went through the training with the male astronauts, but were never allowed to fly. We never made spacesuits for them. But they passed all the tests and in some cases better than the men. "Stereotype Threat" is a danger that leads us to question whether women are able to do the task. People never think that about men. 

High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

Online harassment has been an enduring and evolving social concern for over 40 years, yet many of the most urgent empirical questions for public well-being and freedom remain unexplored. Nor can our answers currently evolve at the pace of socio-technical change.

On August 17th and 18th, we worked with Jigsaw to convene 35 researchers, advocates, and platform representatives to identify and advance high impact research about online harassment. Together, we have just finished a public report on our conversation:

[pdf] High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

How should you use this report? We created this document to share what we learned and to draw attention to research projects led by our workshop participants. If you see a question or a project that you're interested in, we encourage you to contact the people listed with the project.

A new pilot phase for Promise Tracker in Brazil

We are excited to share that over the summer we teamed up with Humanitas360 and the University of São Paulo’s CoLab for Development and Participation (CoLab) to launch a second pilot phase of Promise Tracker in Brazil. Throughout the remainder of 2016 we'll be working with a range of civil society partners to develop case studies on the use of Promise Tracker in different cities and explore new methodologies for assessing impact.

Over the past year and a half, we had the opportunity to work with Nossa São Paulo and organizations across the country that make up the Brazilian Network of Sustainable cities to develop and test first version of the Promise Tracker tools. In a series of workshops, we collaborated with local groups to gather feedback and pilot monitoring campaigns around the infrastructure and service issues they considered most pressing.

As Promise Tracker is adopted and used beyond these initial workshops, we are interested in better understanding whether the tool is useful to local groups and the extent to which it helps them achieve their goals. We’ll be working closely with CoLab to document ongoing monitoring initiatives and develop a participatory framework for supporting organizing groups in assessing their own objectives, learnings and progress.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Disobedience: breaking the rules for social good

Many ideas and norms once considered unthinkable, like test tube babies and gay marriage, have now become everyday norms. It’s impossible to imagine life without them. For society to evolve, however, we must always be challenging our norms as well as the rules and laws that reflect them. Our institutions must lead in a way that harnesses this questioning into a driver for positive change. This session looks at how institutions can become “disobedience robust” — cultivating the ability to question themselves and accept questioning from others.

Moderated by Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab with panelists
Liz George, MIT Alum Class of 2008
bunnie huang, Author, Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering
Karrie Karahalios, Assistant Professor, Siebel Center for Computer Science, University of Illinois

All panelists are former MIT students (although Joi says he come in the backdoor:). Before this event, Joi interviewed lots of administrators at MIT including John DiFava. And everyone said that they had never met a student who was a bad person. And DiFava spent his career chasing bad guys with the MA State Police before coming to MIT.

Forbidden Research liveblog: "why we can't do that"

Liveblog by Alexis Hope, Sam Klein, Willow Brugh and myself

Karrie has been a pioneering researcher on how technology shapes our lives. She is also an expert on algorithmic auditing, looking into ways that these technologies are shaping our social lives.

As we think about the work Karrie has been doing to address the legal barriers to producing research — and the legal barriers to consuming research — we will also talk about how we think about our roles and responsibilites adjusting the systems.Three weeks ago, Karrie teamed with other researchers on a lawsuit to challenge the barriers to doing algorithmic auditing because the data is tied up by Terms of Service.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Hacking Culture at MIT

liveblog by Willow Brugh, Natalie Gyenes, and me

Speaker: Liz George, MIT Alum Class of 2008 and MIT Hacker

Liz starts by defining hacking as any good scientific endeavor begins.

Hacking, (noun)

  1. A project without a constructive end
  2. An unusual and original solution to a problem
  3. An activity that tests the limits of skill, imagination, and wits.

If you can build a model of the system, you can push it to its limit or test a system in a way you'd never otherwise be able to do.

Hacking, (verb)

Forbidden Research Liveblog: Rites and Rights

Rites and Rights

Saeed A. Khan, Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern History, Politics, and Culture, Wayne State University
Alaa Murabit, Founder of The Voice of Libyan Women, UN SDG Global Advocate & High-Level Commissioner

With a US presidential candidate proposing a ban on Muslims entering the US, Islam has become a popular "foreign" target for demagogues and fearmongers. At the same time, the recent passing of prominent Muslim athlete Muhammad Ali has revealed ways in which Islam had become a popular, domestic target of the same groups—later turned into an engine promoting civil and political rights at home.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Sexual deviance: can technology protect our children?

liveblog by Alexis, Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself

Ethan Zuckerman, Director, MIT Center for Civic Media moderates.

Conducting research on adults who have sex with children is virtually impossible due to ethical and legal restrictions. The advancement of technologies like robots and virtual reality has opened the door to exploring questions that were previously not possible. But while a U.S. court case has held that virtual child pornography is legal, the law in this area is controversial and emotionally charged. Legal uncertainties and vast stigma make actual research difficult. At the same time, a better understanding of this deviant behavior has the potential to significantly change lives.