Social Justice in the Digital Economy: Summer Webinar Series

Tuesday 8th June // 6pm – 7:30pm BST

Equitable Digital Economies

Current neoliberal economic models driving much digital innovation are exploitative and contribute to the reproduction and widening of inequalities. Can design help forge equitable economic models and reshape current value-systems? How?

Panel Speakers

  • Dr Tawanna Dillahunt, University of Michigan’s School of Information (UMSI), Eliciting alternative economies using speculative co-design.
  • Dr. Pitso Tsibolane, University of Cape Town, “It feels like slavery all over again!” Critical Perspectives on Digital Gig Labour in the Global South.
  • Ruth Catlow, Furtherfield – The role of art and culture in critical engagement with alternative economies and decentralised technologies
  • Prof Ann Light, Sussex University/Malmo University, Transformative Economies and Relational Assets
  • Dr Maurizio Teli, Aalborg University, A few thoughts on commoning, participatory design, and going beyond capital.

Chair: Prof Lizzie Coles- Kemp, Royal Holloway University of London


Tawanna Dillahunt  is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information (UMSI) and holds a courtesy appointment with the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. Working at the intersection of human-computer interaction; environmental, economic, and social sustainability; and equity, her research investigates and implements technologies to support the needs of people experiencing marginalization and historically excluded populations. She and her Social Innovations Group have developed digital employment tools that address the needs of job seekers with limited digital literacy and education; assessed real-time ridesharing and online grocery delivery applications among lower-income and transportation-scarce groups, and proposed models for novice entrepreneurs to build their technical capacity.

Eliciting alternative economies using speculative co-design

My intention going forward is to ensure that marginalized voices are being heard in the design of transformative technologies (i.e. artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things). In partnership with a community-based grassroots organization fighting for economic justice in Detroit, I plan to create spaces for speculative co-design and imagining alternative economies. I’m looking forward to discussing what led to these efforts and gaining your insight into our direction going forward.


PitsoTsibolane is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Systems at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and an associate of the Centre for IT and National Development in Africa (CITANDA). His broad research interests lie at the intersection of technology, culture and labour. His research focusses on how societies outside the dominant European and North American metropole interact with digital technology through critical developmental lenses that centre their ways of being and voice. His other research interests are ‘Information Systems and Education’ as well as Southern Theories, particularly the indigenous sub-Saharan relational philosophy of Ubuntu. He is currently the co-principal investigator for the “Future of Work in the Global South” (FOWIGS) initiative, which forms part of the Fairwork initiative, which aims to set and measure decent work standards in the platform economy. 

“It feels like slavery all over again!” – Critical Perspectives on Digital Gig Labour in the Global South

My intention is to shine the light on how algorithmic management, platform bias and unfair work practises, particularly in this age of the Covid-19 pandemic, has re-ignited memories of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of a different kind among vulnerable African workers already burdened with heightened precarity.


Ann Light is Professor of Design and Creative Technology at the University of Sussex, UK, and Professor of Interaction Design, Social Change and Sustainability at Malmö University, Sweden.Her work addresses themes of social and ecological justice; the co-making of futures and the politics of design. She has specialised in participatory practice and the social impact of technology, bringing a background in arts, humanities, AI, and human-computer interaction to bear on innovation in social process, culture, and wellbeing. She is currently investigating how creative practices can promote transformations to sustainability. 


Maurizio Teli is an associate professor in the department of planning at Aalborg University. With a PhD in Sociology and Social Research, he has always worked in interdisciplinary contexts focusing on the political dimensions of the production and use of digital technologies. He has developed an ethnographic sensibility, now extended to include digital methods, for the study of software development and for the participatory design of digital technologies. He was the scientific coordinator of a Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) Coordination Action in the Science-in-Society domain, “My Ideal City”, and has worked in other EU funded projects, including the H2020 Commonfare project, of which he is Research and Innovation Coordinator. He is now focusing on the design of digital technologies nourishing commoning practices.

A few thoughts on commoning, participatory design, and going beyond capital  

I consider emergent technologies (e.g. machine learning, resource management systems) as part of the ongoing conflicts between the exploited ones and the ruling class and I aim at engaging with such technologies with a participatory design perspective. I care about mid- to long- term collaborations with grassroots initiatives and institutional actors engaged in commoning practices that question capitalism in the light of sustainable futures. 


Ruth Catlow is co-founder and artistic director of Furtherfield and networked cultures expert. Her artistic practice and curatorial work at Furtherfield has focused on critical investigations of digital and networked technologies and their emancipatory potential. She has developed a specialism in the creation of games for deep and rigorous research called Live Art Action Research Role Play (LAARRPs). Ruth is also the founder of DECAL Decentralised Arts Lab a Furtherfield initiative that exists to mobilise collaborative research and development by leading artists, using blockchain and web 3.0 technologies for fairer, more dynamic and connected cultural ecologies and economies.

The role of art and culture in critical engagement with alternative economies and decentralised technologies

My intention is to create the contexts for diverse interests and cultures to shape decentralisation technologies that will impact all of our lives into the future. The art world provides a powerful context to carry out this work, because of the relationship between art, value and money, the tension between relational work and commodification, and artists’ engagement with self-organising and infrastructural critique. I will talk about the challenges we face and what’s at stake in the development of these new financial and governance technologies.  

We can begin to repair these weaknesses, but we will need to pay more attention to the necessarily human and collaborative work-practices of data science, and we will need to re-think our technologies to preserve a more transparent and accountable provenance of human decisions and human outcomes that contribute to data science applications.