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Deb Donig, Ph.D., English Literature (2017)

I am an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Cal Poly and a Lecturer at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, in the Data Science MA program.

My research focuses on the evolution of global literary and political networks. I focus on three major areas:

  • Ethical, responsible, and humanistic technology
  • Literature, data analytics, and globalization of literary, cultural, and political networks
  • Digital media, law, and human rights

Learn more about the Ethical Technology Initiative @ Cal Poly

Subscribe to the Technically Human Podcast on iTunes

Current Projects:

Ethical Technology:

Read more about my work in ethical technology here and visit my new project, the Ethical Technology Center at Cal Poly, here:

Ethical Technology is a new field of enquiry that seeks to develop an approach to technological innovation grounded in humanistic principles in values. It foregrounds tech ideation, practices, cultures, and products that are equitable in both process and outcome.

Increasing concerns about unintended consequences of technology demand a vision for a new kind of technologist. Exclusionary developments in the tech sphere, including sexism, racism, classicism, and geographical bias; vast imbalances in the equity of tech, including algorithmic bias and evaporating privacy; and urgent concerns about the ethics of technological production have together led to a current of alarm about the consequences of big tech’s practices and products. In the wake of this “techlash,” college campuses must start training the next generation of this workforce to think about the ethics of technology.

Major tech companies have started to understand the need to address these concerns, creating thousands of jobs in California with titles such as “ethical hacker” or “ethics officer.” These jobs will constitute one of the most important and quickly growing job fields.

Our vision is to study and define ethical technology, to identify best practices, key concepts, theories, and strategies for creating ethical and equitable technologies, and to train the next generation of technologists to succeed in this new field.

The major technological problems of the 21st century will not be technical; rather, they will be questions about how our technologies, existing and new, will adhere to and uplift human values. These problems will not be solved using the same ways of thinking and tools that created them. Nor will they be solved by one field of study or approach alone. We aim to build an interdisciplinary coalition of thinkers, critics, practitioners, technologists, and humanists to come together and work cooperatively to create a better vision for our technological future.

Global Warning: The Politics of Comparison in an Age of Universal Human Rights

My book project, “Global Warning: The Politics of Comparison in an Age of Universal Human Rights” focuses on literatures of human rights, global atrocity, reparations, and truth and reconciliation. I look at the intersections between diverse geographical and geopolitical sites of atrocity and their associated discourses, examining the way they borrow, refer to, and complicate one another.

The comparative nature of representing atrocity motivates my work at the theoretical level. I find that in the context of international law, contemporary legal and political representations of atrocity come to rely on rhetorical strategies of comparison—analogy, metaphor, and comparison—that are typically classified as literary devices. This leads me to ask how literary forms, literary content, and literary methodologies have migrated into and been mobilized in the service of some of the major projects of global human rights in the post-1945 era. Thus, my research strives to bring together literary approaches, specifically the dynamics of analogy, similitude, and figuration, with legal approaches, drawing on legal theories, evaluation of policy measures, and human rights legislation.

One World Trade Center

My new project, “One World Trade Center” enlists digital technology and data analytics in examining the global development of fiction in The New Yorker. I use digital mapping technology and data analytics to look at the central role of The New Yorker in the evolution of a 20th and 21st century literary economy. I created a database that lists over 10,000 The New Yorker stories, every piece of fiction published in the magazine, alongside the date of publication, the author’s nationality, the gender of the main character, the narrative perspective of the story, and the setting story setting. I then use an algorithm I developed with dynamic digital mapping technology to visualize and to analyze the dataset, thus tracing the evolution of The New Yorker fiction over the course of a century. I plan to identify the “worlding” of The New Yorker fiction from the magazine’s inception in 1925 to the present.

The central inquiry of the project seeks to understand the exchanges that take place over space and time. Geocoding the spatial category of the data set, alongside temporal data, allows for a dynamic interface, displaying the density of stories published in a certain place. A timeline feature on the platform allows users to scroll through time, while the map dynamically responds to movement across the timeline. The platform allows users to visualize the geographical distribution of data across any category my dataset includes.

The methodology I developed, which finds a symbiotic relationship between methods of “close reading” and “distant reading” will be valuable to digital humanities scholars in providing a new way for thinking about the presentation of large data sets that span space and time. I anticipate that my study will be valuable to political scientists analyzing representations of gender or geopolitical representation; to historians interested in global historical trends and concurrent factual reportage; and to sociologists who may use this data to understand the evolution of social networks and their representation within this representational network. My research intervenes into critical conversations about representations of race, gender, nationality, and globalization in popular culture.

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