Sucheta Ghoshal

Spring 2021

Speculating Beyond Data Capitalism

Led by HCDE PhD student Caitie Lustig, co-sponsored by Professors Daniela Rosner and Sucheta Ghoshal

In this DRG, we will take a critical look at the labor of data workers and its relationship to wider systems of oppression. Data are essential for the creation and functioning of the software we use every day, but how are data produced, managed, and cleaned? Who does that labor and under what conditions?

We will read about and discuss topics such as data capitalism, data colonialism, the labor that goes into producing and managing data, the materiality of data and the work needed to maintain and repair its physical infrastructures, and designing for alternatives. These readings will be contextualized in case studies on different kinds of data labor, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk workers who train machine learning models and content moderators on social media platforms.

This DRG has three objectives: (1) to discuss these topics through the lenses of anti-capitalism, post-colonial theory, feminist technoscience, and critical data studies, (2) to write design fictions to speculate about alternative futures, and (3) to learn about other methods that we can use in our future work.

Format and output of the DRG:

This DRG is 2-3 credits.

Over the course of the quarter, we will discuss readings, and some weeks we will have researchers and/or activists join us as discussants. In the latter half of the quarter, we will write and workshop short design fictions as tools for thinking about how to design more equitable alternatives and provide critiques of existing systems.

At the end of the DRG, we will share out our design fictions, potentially as a contribution to a conference or journal, or as its own website.


We encourage people with any level of experience with these topics to apply. The DRG will be 1.5 hours in length once a week at either 10-11:30am PT on Mondays or Thursdays, depending on the availability of the DRG members. If you are interested but neither of those times work for you, we still encourage you to apply because we may be able to find a different time.

Please email Caitie Lustig at by March 23 with a short description of why you would like to join the DRG--your interest in the DRG need not be academic, and we welcome you sharing your personal interest in the DRG. Please also state your availability. Applicants will be notified of whether they were accepted on March 24.