Contesting Algorithmic Racism through Digital Cultures in Brazil.

This UKRI-funded project at the University of Bristol runs from September 2023 to January 2025. The project team is led by Professor Edward King.

This project explores cultural responses to ‘algorithmic racism,’ the embedding of racial biases within software systems, in Brazil.

It interrogates how cultural products, from literature to digital art, and practices, from video game design to digital archiving, can be used to challenge the ways in which, despite their sheen of neutrality, new technologies often reproduce existing racist assumptions. Examining the intersection between the creative industries and activism, it is the first to ask: what does an analysis of cultures of resistance to algorithmic racism in Brazil reveal about our understanding of the relationships between race and digital technologies, art and digital activism; as well as about our public understanding of the forms of bias specific to the digital age?

Although algorithmic racism is a global concern, it has become the subject of particularly urgent debate in Brazil. A combination of high rates of smartphone ownership and low levels of digital literacy, coupled with the use of social media by far-right President Bolsonaro’s supporters to both legitimise racist discourse and manipulate public opinion, has made it especially visible in the country. At the same time, cultures of opposition to algorithmic racism have been particularly quick to mobilise in Brazil due to two main factors:

1) the prominence of media activism that is the legacy of government-supported digital inclusion initiatives of the 2000s

2) the explosive confluence of both national anti-racism movements (including the Movimento Negro Unificado) and transnational campaigns such as BlackLivesMatter. 

The research will map creative responses to algorithmic racism in Brazil across different media and aesthetic practices, including Afrofuturism, collaborative videogame production, digital archive design, and visual art. The project will counter a tendency in existing criticism to focus narrowly on the online visibility of either Afro-descendent or indigenous communities. The focus instead is on the interconnections between racialisation practices in digital cultures in a national context that has been so dominated by ideologies of ‘mestiçagem’ (racial mixing).

The monograph will discuss these issues from 5 perspectives:

1) interrelations between discourses of digital and racial inclusion

2) the role of futuristic aesthetics in imagining alternative technologies

3) alternative digital archiving practices

4) the use of videogames to develop alternatives to algorithmic racism

5) the influence of struggles for land rights on discourses and practices of digital inclusion.

The project is underpinned by a multidisciplinary cultural studies approach and has coproduction and impact at its heart. It combines close analysis of works of digital culture (videogames, multi-media art and literature) with archival research and structured interviews as well as participatory design. Working closely with external partners in the creative industries and third sector, the project will result in an educational videogame, digital inclusion toolkit and policy advisory document that will support non-profit organisations and community groups running digital literacy initiatives with marginalised communities in Brazil.

Ricardo Ruiz and Felipe Fonseca, from our partner Global Innovation Gathering, have written blog posts detailing the project in their own words, which you can read below.

To follow the project’s progress, and to find out more, please see below.

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