Past Events

Past Lectures

The SFI hosts lecture events that bring a wide range of thinkers and writers to the University of Pittsburgh. Past lectures have addressed topics such as scientific work processes, design, emerging technologies, information policy, human-machine relationships, knowledge work, ethics, and privacy.

2020: Matthew H. Rafalow,  UC-Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society and Google

Education researchers struggle with the fact that students arrive at school already shaped by their unequal childhoods. Would we see greater gains among less privileged students if they had a more level playing field?

This talk draws on a comparative ethnographic study of three middle schools to address this question, focusing the case of digital technology use. In the contemporary moment, kids’ digital skills appear in the form of their digital play with peers, like through social media use, video gaming, and creating online content. Drawing on six hundred hours of observation and over one hundred interviews with teachers, administrators, and students, I show how teachers treat these very similar digital skills differently by school demographic. I also illustrate the ways these social forces at school shape students' participation online, in and outside of school. The book updates class-focused theories of cultural inequality by showing how race and racism, as well as school organizational culture, determine whether students’ digital skills can help them get ahead.

View the recording here.


2016: Christine L. Borgman, Center for Knowledge Infrastructures at UCLA (February 29, 2016)

“Big Data, Open Data, and Scholarship”
Scholars gathered data long before the emergence of books, journals, libraries, publishers, or the Internet. Until recently, data were considered part of the process of scholarship, essential but largely invisible. In the “big data” era, the products of these research processes have become valuable objects in themselves to be captured, shared, reused, and sustained for the long term. Data also has become contentious intellectual property to be protected, whether for proprietary, confidentiality, competition, or other reasons. Public policy leans toward open access to research data, but rarely with the public investment necessary to sustain access. Enthusiasm for big data is obscuring the complexity and diversity of data in scholarship and the challenges for stewardship. Data practices are local, varying from field to field, individual to individual, and country to country. This talk will explore the stakes and stakeholders in research data and implications for policy and practice.


2015: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University (March 31, 2015)

“The Social Life of DNA in the Era of Big Data”
This SFI lecture will focus on the expansive use of genetic ancestry testing, the 2013 controversy over the decoding of the genome of Henrietta Lacks, the growing phenomenon of familial searching in the criminal justice system, and ideas of compound racialization in the era of big data.

Alondra Nelson is dean of Social Sciences and professor of sociology & gender studies at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. Her books include Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History; Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination; and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Her latest book, The Social Life of DNA, will be published next year. She is presently engaged in new ethnographic research that examines grassroots responses to the STEM field crisis. Nelson is the recipient of fellowships from the Ford, Wilson, and Mellon Foundations. She has been a visiting fellow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Medicine, the BIOS Center at the London School of Economics, and the Bavarian American Academy. She sits on the editorial board of Social Studies of Science and serves as an advisor to the Data & Society Research Institute.

2014: Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University (November 6, 2014)

“Sensing War at the Interface”
This talk sets out the motivating questions and initial analytic framing of my research in progress on the problem of ‘situational awareness’ within contemporary of (particularly U.S.) warfare. My focus is on the interfaces that configure war fighters to ‘recognition’ of relevant subjects and objects, including the of us and them that are prerequisites for defensible killing.’m interested more specifically in the logics and material practices of remotely-controlled weapon systems (particularly armed drones and weaponized robots), and military training simulations, configurations reveal complex relations of mediation and embodiment, distance and proximity, vulnerability and impunity that comprise contemporary warfare, as the virtual is infused with real figurations with their own material effects, and the real environments of war fighting are increasingly virtual. The primary empirical basis for this research is archive of, an immersive training environment developed between 2001 and as the flagship project of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.read the project through a frame inspired by Judith’s theoretical analysis of figuration’s generative agencies, to try to further the training simulation’s discursive and material effects.

2013Dr. Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley Law School and School of Information, “Overcoming Copyright Obstacles to Creating Digital Libraries” 
2012David H. Holtzman, former Chief Technology Officer at Network Solutions, “Stealing Digital Assets—Piracy and Privacy”
2011Dr. Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University, “Teaching from Country: Stories and Place in a Postcolonial Australian Aboriginal Pedagogy”
2010Dr. Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law School and Berkman Center for Internet & Society, “Minds For Sale”
2008Dr. Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School
2007Dr. Chris Dede, Harvard Graduate School of Education