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darkmatter: Digital Race Methods Workshop

The Digital Race Workshop will explore research practices for understanding how discourses of ‘race’ and racism are being transformed by online networks. The rise of ‘Web 2.0’ has proliferated social media and networking sites, offering users an opportunity to interact and share information. Notably, there has been an eruption of racialized online discourse, such as everyday racial banter, ambiguous humour, ‘griefing’, race-hate comments and anti-racist sentiments. The circulation of racialized texts, images and video often ‘mash-up’ and virally diffuse across different online platforms, (e.g. blogs, and social media such as 4Chan, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). This complex, expanding racialized digital landscape poses at least two key challenges:

  • The transformations of race via online platforms; for example, how does a ‘real-time’ web propagate race, and how do contagious network effects diffuse online racial discourse?
  • The adequacy of existing research methodologies grasping the proliferation of race online; how can existing methods be applied to specifically studying race and whether new approaches are necessary?

The Digital Race Workshop will explore these questions by bringing together the fields of internet research and critical race studies. The majority of online race studies have applied existing ‘real world’ social research approaches for exploring the virtual realm. The workshop will interrogate these approaches, and explore alternative practices that stress the primacy of the materiality of online environments for engaging with ‘digitally native’ phenomena.

This workshop offers a space to explore existing internet research methodologies and to innovate alternative approaches. This initiative aims to establish a community of researchers and net-activists committed to grasping the changing configurations of ‘race’ in a networked society.

The workshop is supported by an ESRC Digital Social Research small grant, and in collaboration with the Runnymede Trust.

  • Workshop registration is essential due to limited number of places - email:
  • To enhance the discussion, participants are expected to do some reading in advance of the workshop - see below.
  • If you cannot attend the workshop but are interested in joining a digital race network, send us a message.

Workshop Programme

  • Date: Thursday 21st Feb, 2013
  • Time: 10am - 4.30pm
  • Free Event (lunch & refreshments provided)
  • Location: October Gallery, Club Room, 24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 3AL. Tel. + 44 (0)20 7242 7367. See map; nearest Tubes: Russell Square; Holborn & Chancery Lane; 15-20min walk from Euston Station. Buses: 19, 25, 38, 55, 168 & 188.
  • No disabled access. To access Club Room: ring Gallery buzzer; walk straight ahead, turn right (bottom of stairs) & go through door to outside Courtyard; go up two flights of metal stairs; Club Room is on left.

10.00am Tea & Coffee

10.15 Welcome & Opening Remarks - Sanjay Sharma (Chair, Brunel University)

10.30 Roshini Kempadoo (School of Arts and Digital Industries, Univ. of East London)

11.15 Les Back (Dept. of Sociology, Goldsmiths, Univ. of London)

12.00 Tea/Coffee Break

12.15 Dana Diminescu (Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme, Paris)

1.00pm Lunch (October Gallery Cafe)

2.00 Koen Leurs (Faculty of Humanities, Univ. of Utrecht)

2.45 Dhiraj Murthy (Bowdoin College, Maine, USA)

3.30 Tea/Coffee Break

3.45 Discussion & Closing Remarks - Ash Sharma (Chair, Univ. of East London)

Abstracts & Background Reading

Les Back
Digital Reality Racism?
I want to explore the degree to which a new kind of moment is emerging in the relationship between digital cultural, racism and everyday life. Through looking at a number of recent cases I want to explore the degree to which the relationship between lives on and off screen is producing new circulations of racism and anti-racism. I particularly want to think about the mediations of racism through look at the John Terry football case, the prosecution of Swansea University student Liam Stacey, 21. for racist twitter about Fabrice Muamba the Bolton Wanderers player, who collapsed during a FA Cup tie at Tottenham and the Youtube video which captured Emma West spouting a racist diatribe My tram experience on the Croydon Tram. The talk reflects on the methodological and theoretical issues these cases raise for the analysis of contemporary racism.

  • Back, Les (2002) Aryans reading Adorno: cyber-culture and twenty-first century racismEthnic and Racial Studies, 25:4, 628-651. Download: back_aryans_reading_adorno.pdf

Dana Diminescu
The algorithmic structuration of ethnic identities within diasporas on the Web

One of the major changes affecting diasporas throughout the world since the 1980s has been the increasing number of communities scattered throughout physical space, along with new forms of presence, regrouping, interaction and mobilisation within digital territories. This change calls for a renewal in epistemological approaches.

The study of ethnicity focuses on category formation and interaction, and on the establishment, preservation and disappearance of ethnic frontiers. It seeks to address the process of group formation, which involves looking at the construction of flows and networks.

Thus, how does the dichotomisation between members and outsiders of a diaspora take place on the Web? Is it the result of its members, of the researchers themselves as they study this phenomenon, or of an algorithmic structuration? Two case studies will be presented which can help us to uncover, describe and analyse the ways in which symbolic markers are entrenched by algorithms, which are in turn appropriated by migrants.

  • DIMINESCU D., Digital methods for the exploration, analysis and mapping of e-diasporas, SSI, Volume 51 Issue 4, December 2012, pp. 451 - 458
  • DIMINESCU D., RENAULT M., The matrimonial web of migrants: the economics of profiling as a new form of ethnic business, in Social Sicence Information, vol 50 n° 3&4, sept/dec 2011

Roshini Kempadoo
Templating our Visual Selves: The question of critical aesthetics.
My presentation will explore:

  • As a photographer, media artist and scholar concerned with culture politics and postcolonial practices, what methodology might we adopt to critically engage with envisioning practices to examine and create digital media and visual forms?
  • Methods with which to critique templating practices that are increasingly embedded in identity formations of our digital self/selves?
  • With two examples of the Google Cultural Institute and UNESCO Memory of the World project I also consider the implications of templating or database aesthetics of postcolonial records and archives of visual material.

Koen Leurs
In my slot, I would like to discuss a project I am developing on technology use among asylum seeker youth for identity, learning and networking purposes entitled: Technology as a refuge? Digital media use among young asylum seekers.
In dominant Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) discourses, technology is celebrated as a refuge for state-less subjects. Digital technologies promise asylum seekers unheralded opportunities to keep in touch with family members and homeland across large geographical distances but also to identify, gain knowledge and network with citizens in the host country. As a consequence, commercial, governmental and philanthropic investors increasingly develop technologies for this population segment. However, interpretative research addressing the meaning of these technologies in the lives of forced migrants is scarce. Combining humanities and social sciences approaches, the primary aim of this interdisciplinary project is to explore how digitalization and migration transform identification, learning and networking among young asylum seekers. Especially I would like to discuss participatory research techniques such as digital methods, photo-voice/photo elicitation and image-based concept mapping.
Furthermore, more conceptually, if time allows I would like to explore with fellow participants the merits of re-discovering 1990’s theorizations of “hypertext” to analyze/empirically trace contemporary individual/collective processes of digital identification, for example on personal profile pages on online social networking sites. In particular, I would like to see how these ideas are helpful to further develop understanding of the intersecting parameters race, gender, age, religiosity, generation are distributed online as affective forms of oppression and agency. I will ground this discussion in my empirical work on digital identity performativity among urban ethnic/religious minority youth in the Netherlands. For more info on current projects see, and

Background reading on hypertext: The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic. By Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa Available online: I recommend the introduction which is divided into 3 short pieces:

Dhiraj Murthy

Methods, Race, and Social Media Space …

During my slot, I want to highlight that the social sciences are at an important crossroads in terms of emergent social media and understandings of race. Specifically, most social scientific and humanistic disciplines are having difficulty in terms of theoretical understandings, empirical approaches, and successfully mixing methods from both. Through exploring a range of my work on race and Twitter|Facebook|YouTube, I want to highlight some methodological approaches to thinking about race and social media, including issues which I currently am trying to solve. I will discuss social network analysis, coding social media (especially twitter), as well as interesting shifts in the racial landscape of the American Twittersphere (via a discussion of my current urban American Twitter project).

Newer work which leverages social network analysis, 'big data', and 'digital ethnography'

Earlier work (via 'digital ethnography' and observing race in emergent social media):

Ash Sharma
The final discussion will:

  • Reflect on the issues raised by the workshop.
  • 'Brainstorm' what a 'digital race network' can (should?) do.

Useful background reading and viewing:

Sanjay Sharma
The introduction will attempt to highlight what's at stake when exploring and researching 'digital race'.

digital-race/digitalracemethods_workshop.txt · Last modified: 21-Feb-13 08:39 by sanjay