Wendy Chun recentered book
26 September 2022

Thinking With | Wendy Hui Kyong Chun | Discriminating Data & the New Politics of Recognition


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media at Simon Fraser University, who leads the Digital Democracies Institute, will be in conversation with respondents Hannah Turner and Evelyn Wan, moderated by Wayne Modest on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26  | 16.30-18 hours CET.

On the event of the publication of Chun's most recent book Discriminating Data - Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition (2021, MIT Press), as part of our Thinking With conversation series, we consider how "big data and predictive machine learning currently encode discrimination and create agitated clusters of comforting rage." As a museum, with extensive histories collecting 'ethnographically,' we are interested in how notions of “discriminating data” in the contexts of the digital, which Chun works with, can inform our own collection practicespast, present, and affect how we do so in the future. More generally, in our conversation, we also engage Chun’s overarching question, "How can we release ourselves from the vice-like grip of discriminatory data?", in order to also ask the same question of ourselves at the museum? 

Image: book cover of Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition. Mathematical illustration by Alex Barnett.

INQUIRIES | Discriminating Data & ‘The Museum’ 


  • How is the history of the museum rooted in physical anthropology, and as such operates an organizational technology which Wendy Hui Kyong Chun refers to as segregating data, where "polarization is a goal" despite the discourses of openness that ‘the’ digital purports. Do museums continue to polarize as a goal, even if they put forward a discourse of inclusivity and/or hybridity?  
  • What is the opposite of polarization? Or an alternative? Is this something desired and how? 
  • In the third chapter, “Algorithmic Authenticity,” the conversation about “self-branding as authenticity represents another twist in the history of authenticity: it has become openly relational,” but a relational predicated on what Chun explains constitutes “carefully crafted and scripted visibility” and as such “has come to defy definition” (148).  If the “Wereldmuseum” as brand is in some sense predicated on a pretense to a nostalgic sense of the authentic, which dangers on primitivist notions supposed non-European ways of being, then how might learning more about “discriminating data” in the contexts of the digital, which Chun works with, inform our longer histories of organizing and presenting data and collections in our museums? 
  • Another question that perhaps arises, is Chun’s idea that every recognition is a misidentification, and that within this irony, dangerously violent processes can take place. Chun writes, “Throughout Discriminating Data, we have analyzed the slippery identifications—mis- and missed identifications—that form the basis for recognition and correlation. To ‘recognize’ is to identify ‘something that has been known before.’ It is to perceive someone or something as the same as someone or something previously encountered or known”; and further on, “Recognition is an acknowledged reidentification, but, since nothing ever stays the same and no two things are identical, every recognition is also a misidentification” (228).  
  • When we digitize our collections and data ourselves, how do we discriminate? 
  • And Chun’s overarching question, is extremely generative for us: "How can we release ourselves from the vice-like grip of discriminatory data?" ... and how can we ask the same question of ourselves at the museum? 


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media at Simon Fraser University, and leads the Digital Democracies Institute which was launched in 2019. The Institute aims to integrate research in the humanities and data sciences to address questions of equality and social justice in order to combat the proliferation of online “echo chambers,” abusive language, discriminatory algorithms and mis/disinformation by fostering critical and creative user practices and alternative paradigms for connection. It has four distinct research streams all led by Dr. Chun: Beyond Verification which looks at authenticity and the spread of disinformation; From Hate to Agonism, focusing on fostering democratic exchange online; Desegregating Network Neighbourhoods, combatting homophily across platforms; and Discriminating Data: Neighbourhoods, Individuals and Proxies, investigating the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality to big data and network analytics.

Evelyn Wan

Evelyn Wan is Assistant Professor in Media, Arts, and Society at the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University. She also conducted postdoctoral research at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society at Tilburg University. She graduated cum laude from her PhD programme with her dissertation, “Clocked!: Time and Biopower in the Age of Algorithms”, and was awarded a national dissertation prize by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation in the Netherlands in 2019. Her work on the temporalities and politics of digital culture and algorithmic governance is interdisciplinary in nature, and straddles media and performance studies, gender and postcolonial theory, and legal and policy research. Her writings have appeared in International Journal of Communication, GPS: Global Performance StudiesTheatre Journal, and International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, amongst others.

Hannah Turner

Hannah Turner (she/her) is an Assistant Professor at the UBC School of Information. She researches the historical classification and categorization of material culture; and seeks to understand the relationship between technology and the return of cultural belongings. Her first book, Cataloguing Culture (2020), is an investigation into colonial legacies in recordkeeping, documentation, and computerization in an ethnographic and natural history museum. Her more recent work looks at histories of record keeping and classification in Canadian museums. She is particularly interested in how tools and technologies of data collection rebuild colonial relations instead of ameliorate them, and focuses on institutional and community-driven projects for return and repair.