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Starting with Philip E. Agre’s 1997 essay on “critical technical practice”, we consider examples of writings from computer science where authors describe “waking up” from a previously narrow technical approach to the world, enabling them to recognize how their previous efforts towards social change had been ineffective. We use these examples first to talk about the underlying assumptions of a technology-centric approach to social problems, and second to theorize these awakenings in terms of Paulo Freire’s idea of critical consciousness. Specifically, understanding these awakenings among technical practitioners as examples of this more general phenomenon gives guidance for how we might encourage and guide critical awakenings in order to get more technologists working effectively towards positive social change.


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Critical Technical Awakenings

Show Author's information Maya Malik1Momin M. Malik2( )
School of Social Work, McGill University, Montréal, H3A 0G4, Canada
Institute in Critical Quantitative, Computational, & Mixed Methodologies, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA

Abstract

Starting with Philip E. Agre’s 1997 essay on “critical technical practice”, we consider examples of writings from computer science where authors describe “waking up” from a previously narrow technical approach to the world, enabling them to recognize how their previous efforts towards social change had been ineffective. We use these examples first to talk about the underlying assumptions of a technology-centric approach to social problems, and second to theorize these awakenings in terms of Paulo Freire’s idea of critical consciousness. Specifically, understanding these awakenings among technical practitioners as examples of this more general phenomenon gives guidance for how we might encourage and guide critical awakenings in order to get more technologists working effectively towards positive social change.

Keywords:

critical technical practice, critical consciousness, perspective transformation, education, machine learning
Received: 20 May 2021 Revised: 07 December 2021 Accepted: 08 December 2021 Published: 30 January 2022 Issue date: December 2021
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Publication history

Received: 20 May 2021
Revised: 07 December 2021
Accepted: 08 December 2021
Published: 30 January 2022
Issue date: December 2021

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© The author(s) 2021

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Acknowledgment

Thanks to two anonymous reviewers for great feedback and pointing us to some relevant literature, and Ben Green both for fantastic continuous comments and for corralling and managing this special issue.

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