Jordan Kraemer wins an SSRC “Just Tech” grant to study online platforms and inequity in the COVID-19 age
Jordan Kraemer, an instructor in Tandon’s Science and Technology Studies (STS) program, points out that social and economic disparities have come out in sharp relief in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City. Recently, Kraemer garnered a Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), which is seeking to gain an understanding of the immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic on society.
Kraemer’s project, “Divergent Spaces: Digital Platforms, Gentrification, and Neighborhood Organizing during Covid-19 in NYC,” examines how emerging technologies contribute to varying experiences of urban space in gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn. She is applying the established tools of anthropological fieldwork — participant-observation and open-ended interviewing — to digital spaces, engaging with organizers and participants in mutual aid groups, neighborhood associations, business associations, and activist organizations, among others.
Historically, both technology and public space have constituted white, masculine, middle-class domains, and Kraemer is interested in discovering how current technology platforms, such as neighborhood groups on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Whatsapp or community organizing on Slack and Instagram, are enabling or challenging that state of affairs. Her findings will offer insight into how technology practices produce multiple, divergent experiences of urban space that challenge but also re-create inequality. “We know that digital platforms can worsen the effects of gentrification and other inequalities,” she says. “But the pandemic is shifting how neighborhoods and communities connect and organize, widening some gaps but at the same time, offering new opportunities for support and action.”
In addition to her SSRC-funded work, Kraemer has served as a research lead for the project called “Terra Incognita: Mapping NYC’s Digital Public Spaces in the COVID-19 Outbreak,” led by Dr. Mona Sloane — a fellow of NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and the organizer of the Institute’s event series “Co-Opting AI: Public Conversations About Design, Inequality, and Technology.”
The “Terra Incognita” project was funded by Civic Signals and ran over the summer of 2020. It examined how local communities in NYC’s five boroughs maintained social ties and interaction despite social-distancing mandates, how these interactions and spaces were mediated by different kinds of technologies, and how, together, this constitutes a new form of digital public space.
“I’m pleased that the SSRC has recognized the strength of Jordan’s ongoing body of work about how digital networking platforms help people build community,” says Danya Glabau, director of the STS program. “This project will be crucial in highlighting the ambivalent nature of such technologies: they can both create new community bonds and reinforce existing inequalities and exclusions. As the grant committee points out, communities and governments must step up to design systems that contribute to a more just future, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Jordan's work will play a crucial role in allowing activists, researchers, and policymakers to harness the potential of digital technologies."
Sloane added, “I am thrilled that Dr. Kraemer was awarded the SSRC Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant. Her work is incredibly timely and makes important contributions to understanding the connections between the different formations of inequality in digital and in real spaces — knowledge that we need if we want to build more equitable technology platforms.”
To read more of Kraemer’s work, see "The Trolls are Organized and Everyone’s a Target: The Effects of Online Hate and Harassment," a recent report co-authored by her and Glabau for the Anti-Defamation League. She is also the author of an upcoming book, Mobile City, an ethnographic account of social media and urban place among an emerging middle class in late 2000s Berlin.