News! DESIGN JUSTICE AI: Critical AI @ Rutgers and CCA announce a 2024 CHCI-Mellon Global Humanities Institute at the University of Pretoria

Critical AI @ Rutgers is pleased to announce that we are organizing a 2024 CHCI-Mellon Global Humanities Institute in collaboration with the Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis, the Center for Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, the Humanities Research Centre at ANU, and the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut. Our institute, titled DESIGN JUSTICE AI, will explore community-centered, humanistic, and interdisciplinary engagement of “Generative AI” (the statistical modeling of human languages, communication, arts, and cultures). A call for participants, with special focus on early career and emerging scholars, and more information about the application process can be found here

DESIGN JUSTICE AI is a collaboration between Colin Jager (Director of the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers) and Lead PI Lauren M. E. Goodlad (Distinguished Professor of English & Comparative Literature, Chair of the Critical AI @ Rutgers initiative, and editor of Critical AI) in conjunction with co-PIs at each of the partnering centers: Matthew Stone (Professor and Chair of Computer Science at Rutgers), Katherine Bode (Professor of Literary and Textual Studies at ANU), Vukosi Marivate (Chair of Data Science at the University of Pretoria and lead for the Data Science for Social Impact Group), and Michael P. Lynch (Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and former director of the Humanities Institute).

Our shared focus is the rapid diffusion of so-called generative AI–machine learning technologies that simulate human languages, communication, arts, and cultures through the statistical modeling of vast troves of “scraped” internet data. Our Global Humanities Institute is inspired by the work of the Design Justice Network, a hub for people committed to embodying and practicing the Design Justice Network Principles. Longstanding DJN member Sasha Costanza-Chock (former fellow of the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society and Head of Research for wrote Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need (2020) to advance community-led design practices. Our approach to these topics combines interdisciplinary critique, public humanities, and best practices from data science and digital humanities (DH), with collaborative research that strives to center people and cultures that have been marginalized by design processes. 

Our Design Justice AI institute will cross disciplinary divides and reach out to affected communities as we foster creative thinking, model new forms of research, and produce resources for scholars and the general public. As commercial technologies aim to simulate and mediate human expression and creativity at an unprecedented scale, our Global Humanities Institute will seek interdisciplinary standpoints and fertile alliances that produce knowledge “from below”: through creative collaborations between researchers, students, and community partners. Our goal is not only to “critique” these fast-developing technologies, but also to envision ML systems that work in the public interest: i.e., safe, accountable, and inclusive systems that are receptive to many voices.  

Through publication of blogs, research templates, interviews, experimental datasets, recorded lectures, pedagogical practices, and peer-reviewed articles and special issues, our institute will share resources that help to diffuse these critical methods. In doing so, we hope to help any campus to develop nuanced understanding of and engagement with “generative AI,” including robust pedagogical strategies, and the potential for community-centered research projects informed by design justice principles. 

Photo credit @universityofpretoria on Instagram

Our guiding questions include:

  • What would be lost from human creativity and diversity if writers or visual artists come to rely on predictive models trained on selective datasets that exclude the majority of the world’s many cultures and languages?
  •  What frameworks or evaluation practices might help to concretize what is meant by “intelligence,” “understanding,” or “creativity”–for machines as well as humans? How might such humanistic interventions help diverse citizens to participate in the design and implementation of generative technologies and the benchmarks that evaluate them? 
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of current statistical models–which generate outputs probabilistically (by privileging dominant patterns) and selectively (based on scraped data)–in modeling the lived knowledge, embodied cognition, and metareflection that informs human communication, art, and cultural production? 
  • If evidence suggests that “generative AI” is harmful–and/or counter to the professed object of enhancing human lifeworlds–what alternatives might be forged through community participation in research that rearticulates goals, and reframes design from the bottom up? What kinds of teaching, research, community practices, and policies might sustain these humanist-inflected and justice-oriented design processes?

Although the DESIGN JUSTICE AI outlook will not reject the potential utility of “generative AI” out of hand, our research questions go to the heart of what inclusive collaborations can contribute to the study of resource-intensive technologies that aim to monetize and “disrupt” human communication and creativity. 

For a complete list of participants, see below. We look forward to sharing more information soon and circulating applications for participating in the 2024 Institute at the University of Pretoria.

For questions, please write to

DESIGN JUSTICE AI Participants so far include the co-PIs at all four collaborating institutes as well as the below, affiliated faculty, and a representative from Design Justice Network.

Rutgers University, Center for Cultural Analysis (CCA)

  • Brittney Cooper: Professor of Africana Studies/Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies; a scholar of Black women’s intellectual history and race and gender politics, Cooper is currently working on sexism and racism in digital and social media contexts.
  • Alex Guerrero: Professor of Philosophy; a J.D. who specializes in moral and political philosophy as well as African and Native American Philosophy, Guerrerro has taught a recent graduate seminar on the Ethics and Politics of AI.  

Australian National University (ANU), Humanities Research Centre

University of Pretoria, Centre for Advancement of Scholarship

  • Abiodun Modupe: Lecturer in Computer Science and specialist in the modeling of local African languages, Modupe is currently implementing a degree program in “Big Data Science” for the Data Science department.
  • Brenda Nomadlozi Bokaba, Lecturer in African Languages and Literature, Bokaba is an activist for multilingualism across South Africa and works with community partners on local African languages.  
  • Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem: Head of Philosophy, AI Ethics lead for the Centre for AI Research, and Chair of the Southern African Conference on AI Research (SACAIR), Ruttkamp-Bloem is an ethics policy researcher currently serving as a member of the UNESCO World Commission for Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (IUHPST).

University of Connecticut, Humanities Institute (UCHI)

  • Anna Mae Duane: Director of the University of Connecticut Humanities institute and professor at the Department of English, Duane is an award-winning teacher and scholar researching and teaching in the fields of American Studies, African American Literature, and the Medical Humanities.
  • Eleni Coundouriotis: Professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, Coundouriotis researches African literature and human rights.

Design Justice Network (DJN)

  • Wesley Taylor: Assistant Professor in the Department of Graphic Design at Virginia Commonwealth University, member of the Design Justice Steering Committee, Taylor is a print maker, graphic designer, musician, animator, educator, mentor and curator whose practice is rooted in social justice.

We are grateful to all of the above faculty for their input as well as to CCA Business Manager Matt Leonaggeo, Rutgers Grants Specialist Justin Samolewicz, and the Critical AI @ Rutgers team (Kristin Rose, Jennifer Vilchez, Andi Craciun, Ang Li, and Jai Yadav). 

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