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Conclusion: Now Let’s Multiply

This chapter is a draft. The final version of Data Feminism will be published by the MIT Press in 2019. Please email
Catherine and/or Lauren for permission to cite this manuscript draft.

Less than 24 hours after the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the unexpected
defeat of Hillary Clinton, a retired grandmother from Hawaii, Teresa Shook,
took to Facebook to declare her intention to march on Washington in protest of
the president-elect. Less than two days after that, Shook’s idea became a reality
when a group of professional activists and organizers offered to help her plan
an official event--what they decided to call, as Shook had, the “Million Women
When Shook picked the name, she was thinking about the Million Man March,
the 1995 event which brought a reported 1.5 to 2 million African American men
to the National Mall in order to call attention to issues of civil rights and racial
injustice. It’s unclear as to whether Shook knew that there had already been a
protest called the Million Women March, which took place in Philadelphia, in
1997, on behalf of African American women. But in either case, the name of the
2016 event drew critics– who pointed out, rightly, that because the initial group
of organizers consisted only of white women, they lacked the crucial perspectives
that would allow them to develop a truly inclusive social and political platform.
The critics were right. And after adding additional women of color to the
organizing committee– many of whom were professional activists and organizers–
and also changing the name of the event, it expanded into a more powerful and
inclusive movement, if not ever controversy-free. With more than 600 distinct
locations across the US and an estimated three to five million participants, the
Women’s March on Washington became the largest single protest in U.S. history.
The story of the Women’s March serves as a reminder that while feminism can
serve as a valuable starting point for identifying issues of inequity and injustice,
it’s not the only position that a person might start from. As we hope we’ve made
clear, a feminist approach– to data science, to visualization, or to anything else
in the world– should always be accompanied by an awareness of the perspectives
that it does not, or cannot, account for.
We are two white women with four advanced degrees and five kids between us,
who work in the privileged world of higher education. While we have learned
immensely from, for example, the Black feminist activists and organizers whose

work we describe in this book, we can never speak directly from the life experi-
ences that motivate their work. But imagine a book on data that takes Black
feminism as its focus. What concepts would it introduce, what principles would
it propose, and what examples would it cite?
Some of these possibilities are hinted at in the mission of the group Data for
Black Lives, which we discuss in The Power Chapter. The group’s emphasis
on liberation, rather than a generic form of social good, leads them to projects
that actively work to overturn the discrimination and injustice experienced in
Black communities as a result of data-driven systems like predictive policing,
predatory lending, and risk-based prison sentencing. Or, for another example,
consider the principles that guide the corpus creation work of the Colored Con-
ventions Project, which we discuss in Teach Data Like an Intersectional Fem-
inist. Like the nineteenth century organizing meetings that the project seeks
to document, the CCP promotes the work of collectives over individuals, and
insists on acknowledging the humanity of any person or group represented in
their data set.
Or, as another starting point, consider what a queer approach to data science
might entail. Queer data science might build off the concept of failure, as de-
scribed by Maria Munir with respect to the lack of non-binary gender categories
in What Gets Counted Counts. Amplifying the moments in the data processing
pipeline when our work leads not to new knowledge, but to something we can’t
ever know, a queer data science could help to call out the otherwise invisible
assumptions embedded in our technical and social systems. This might take the
form of visualizing the gaps in a data set--a sort of inverse of Daniel Cardozo
Llach’s visualization of architectural data traces that we discuss in Show Your
Work. Or it could lead to the design of an entire visualization that, rather than
employing interaction to lead to increasing insight, instead becomes increasingly
opaque over time--a sort of data science version of the “refusal of legibility,” to
borrow Jack Halberstam’s term, that characterizes much of queer life.
Or how would a disability studies perspective, which shifts the focus from the
individual body to the social structures that enable the capacities of certain
bodies, while disabling the capacities of others, push us to rethink our approach
to interface design, and of the larger frames in which we display the results of
our data analyses? Or a postcolonial approach, which would challenge us to
connect issues of power, politics, and geography, in the context of data? Or an
explicitly indigenous approach that values cultural knowledge as sacred and has
rigorous accountability structures for working ethically with outsiders? These
are only a few of the possibilities that approaches to data science, informed by
additional perspectives, might present.
Our goal with this book has been to provide a model of how feminist thinking
might be applied to data science, and to plant the seeds for exploring how other
modes of thinking that intersect with social and political concerns can help
advance the field. In the examples in this chapter, we sketch out some of these
possibilities. This conversation – about data, design, and justice – is one that’s

only just begun.