June 6, 2019 | Humanity’s Last Stand: The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence  

Humanity’s Last Stand: The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence

Thursday, June 6, 2019

7:00 PM (registration)

UC Santa Cruz, Kresge College Seminar Room

The Right Livelihood Laureate Lecture presents

an evening with Nicanor Perlas, Right Livelihood Award Laureate, followed by panel discussion with UC Santa Cruz Faculty Anthony Aguirre (Associate Professor of Physics), Lise Getoor (Professor of Computer Science and S&J Affiliate), and Sikina Jinnah (Associate Professor of Politics).

The 21st century is the Age of Science and Technology. It is also the Age in which humanity faces a unique and unprecedented challenge. This is the challenge of Artificial Intelligence (AI). If properly developed and aligned with the values of humanity, AI will bring tremendous benefits to society. However, if AI is used inappropriately, it could undermine human civilization and, ultimately, with the emergence of Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI), lead to the extinction of humanity, in as little as 10 to 20 years. Scientists, philosophers and engineers call this latter possibility the “alignment challenge” or “existential risk” of AI. The fate of our future lies literally in our hands. In navigating the turbulent waters of extreme technology in the 21st century, two sources of hope are visible in the horizon: new more ethical developments from within science and technology itself, and the rapid and widespread emergence of societal change agents, whether they are activists in the realm of culture and civil society, visionary legislators in the realm of polity and government, or enlightened entrepreneurs in the realm of the economy and business.

For a full “deep dive” experience exploring these unprecedented challenges and possibilities, UC Santa Cruz will also host a week-long summer institute, July 8-12, with Right Livelihood Award laureate Nicanor Perlas, who received the “alternative Nobel” in 2003 for his work opposing corporate globalization.

Co-sponsored by Kresge College, Social Sciences Division, Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation, and the Science & Justice Research Center.

More can be found at: https://rightlivelihood.ucsc.edu/events/perlas.html

June 5-7, 2019 | Wrong at the Root: Racial Bias and The Tension Between Numbers and Words in Non-Internet Data

Wednesday, June 5 – Friday, June 7, 2019

Melvin Calvin Laboratory

University of California Berkeley


Sponsored by the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing and the Sloan Foundation

Artificially intelligent systems extrapolate from historical training data. While the training process is robust to “noisy” data, systematically biased data will inexorably lead to biased systems. The emerging field of algorithmic fairness seeks interventions to blunt the downstream effects of data bias. Initial work has focused on classification and prediction algorithms.

This cross-cutting workshop will examine the sources and nature of racial bias in a wide range of settings such as genome-wide association studies, social and financial credit systems, bail and probate calculations, black box medicine, and facial recognition and robotic surveillance. We will survey state-of-the-art algorithmic literature, and lay a more concrete intellectual foundation for advancing the field of algorithmic fairness.

Full schedule: https://simons.berkeley.edu/workshops/schedule/10757#

Register at: https://simons.berkeley.edu/workshops/fairness-workshop-1

June 3, 2019 | Book Release! Warren Sack on The Software Arts

Monday, June 3, 2019

3:00PM – 4:30PM (Poster)

Communications 139, UC Santa Cruz


The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019) by Warren Sack

The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019) by Warren Sack

The Department of Film and Digital Media invite you to a book party to celebrate the release of The Software Arts (MIT Press, 2019) by Warren Sack, S&J Faculty Affiliate, Professor and Chair of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz.

With his new book, Warren Sack provides an alternative history of software that places the liberal arts at the very center of software’s evolution. Sack invites artists and humanists to see how their ideas are at the root of software and invites computer scientists to envision themselves as artists and humanists.

The book is available at: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/software-arts


In The Software Arts, Warren Sack offers an alternative history of computing that places the arts at the very center of software’s evolution. Tracing the origins of software to eighteenth-century French encyclopedists’ step-by-step descriptions of how things were made in the workshops of artists and artisans, Sack shows that programming languages are the offspring of an effort to describe the mechanical arts in the language of the liberal arts.

Sack offers a reading of the texts of computing—code, algorithms, and technical papers—that emphasizes continuity between prose and programs. He translates concepts and categories from the liberal and mechanical arts—including logic, rhetoric, grammar, learning, algorithm, language, and simulation—into terms of computer science and then considers their further translation into popular culture, where they circulate as forms of digital life. He considers, among other topics, the “arithmetization” of knowledge that presaged digitization; today’s multitude of logics; the history of demonstration, from deduction to newer forms of persuasion; and the post-Chomsky absence of meaning in grammar. With The Software Arts, Sack invites artists and humanists to see how their ideas are at the root of software and invites computer scientists to envision themselves as artists and humanists.


“Warren Sack’s creative thinking across the arts and sciences has kept my cyborg on her toes, provoked again and again to test out how to reinvent practices for thinking, designing, working, and playing together for less deadly worlds. Sack’s historically attuned book investigates the folded zones linking the mechanical and liberal arts as new languages called programs have been built for emerging worlds. Rhetorics, epistemologies, and procedures are at stake in the digital media that shape and are shaped by the arts of computation. This is an important book about how things come to be in the workshops of the software arts that can never pretend to the separation of interpreting, making, and thinking.”

Donna Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of  California, Santa Cruz

May 30-31, 2019 | Indigeneity and Climate Justice

Indigeneity and Climate Justice

Thursday May 30 – Friday May 31

9:30-3:30pm – (schedule) (poster)

Arboretum Horticulture Hall II

The UC Santa Cruz Feminist Studies Department presents

a Feminist Science Studies Conference on Indigeneity and Climate Justice, organized by and Professors of Feminist Studies Karen Barad (Science & Justice Director of Teaching) and Felicity Amaya Schaeffer.

Thanks to Zoe Todd for the use of her artwork!

Thanks to Zoe Todd for the use of her artwork!

Anthropogenic climate change is the notion that human actions are the main driver of the current climate crisis. The identification of the anthropos as origin and cause of global climate change elides the fact that climate change is not, and has never been, a universal homogenous process produced by all humans and affecting all humans equally, or as if by chance, some communities more than others (e.g., because they just happen to be living in precarious places). Rather, driven by the forces of capitalism, colonialism, militarism, and imperialism, climate change has been and continues to be perpetuated by the few, while those subjected to precaritization and violence are made to disproportionately absorb the ill effects of “progress” and “development.” In other words, climate change has always been a matter of geopolitics and the ongoing precaritization of oppressed peoples, dominated lands, and other-than-human beings that are part of living landscapes. And lest we think of global climate change as a new phenomenon, a 2015 study of ice core samples reveals that European colonization of the Americas killed so many native peoples so rapidly (approximately 56 million in less than 100 years) that it cooled the Earth’s climate.

The 2019 UCSC Feminist Science Studies conference takes as its focus the theme of “Indigeneity and Climate Justice.” Climate Justice, as opposed to the more narrow framings of “environmental justice,” marks the consideration of the entanglement of ecological, cultural, social, political, geological, biological and other forces, understood as simultaneous and mutually constitutive. A shared concern among our esteemed keynote speakers is the question of how to respond to the challenges and potentials of collaborative engagements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous approaches to caring for the Earth.  We invite them to engage in conversation with each other and students, faculty, staff, and other conference participants about these pressing questions of multiple ontologies, epistemologies, and uneven responsibilities.

Free and Open to the Public.

Keynote Presentations – full schedule

From Environmental Case Study to Kin-Study: 
Weaponized Fossil Kin, Fish, Water, and Métis Legal Orders and Relationality in the Alberta Petro-Economy

Zoe Todd
Métis Scholar of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Canada
Visiting Professor of History, Yale University

Current and Future Effects of Climate Change on the Amah Mutsun Tribe: Local Steps to Take Now!

Valentin Lopez
Chairman, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

Upside Down Country

Timothy Neale
Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow of Anthropology and Geography
Deakin University, Australia

Who Has the Right to Declare the Urgency of Addressing Climate Change?

Kyle Powys Whyte
Timnick Chair in the Humanities
Associate Proefssor of Philosophy and Community Sustainability
Michigan State University

Co-sponsored by: the UC Santa Cruz Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, The FMST Baskin Foundation Presidential Chair, Humanities Division, The Humanities Institute, the Center for Creative Ecologies, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies program, Research Center for the Americas, the Science & Justice Research Center, and the departments of Environmental Studies and Sociology.

May 10, 2019 | The Futures of Critical Food Studies

The Futures of Critical Food Studies

Friday, May 10, 2019


Namaste Lounge

“The Futures of Critical Food Studies” is a collaborative event organized by graduate students Erica Zurawski and Halie Kampman with the support of the UCSC Science & Justice Research Center’s Training Program, the Association for the Study of Food and Society, and College’s 9 and 10.  The event will bring together scholars in critical food studies to share conversations on the past, present, and futures of the field with hopes to create a space to share, collaborate, and discuss the field of critical food studies through important questions that persist as anxieties in the field.

The event will focus on thinking through questions such as: What is critical food studies? Where has critical food studies been and where is it going?  What is critical about critical food studies? What are some of critical food studies current anxieties and how do we attend to these anxieties? What does it mean to do critical food studies in our current political climate? How do we practice interdisciplinarity through thoughtful engagement? How do we envision the field of critical food studies moving forward?

These questions build on already existing conversations about the futures of critical food studies while also deepening the provocations to explore possibilities for the practice of interdisciplinarity.  As one of the most innovative and internationally recognized universities for critical food studies, this event seeks to build on UCSC’s unique history in the field.

Keynote Conversant

Ashanté M. Reese Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at Spelman College

Panel Participants

Alison Hope Alkon, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of the Pacific

Charlotte Biltekoff, Associate Professor of American Studies and Food Science and Technology, UC Davis

Melissa Caldwell, Professor of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz

Madeleine Fairbarin, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Rafi Grosglik, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Davis

Julie Guthman, Professor, Division of Social Sciences, UC Santa Cruz

Elizabeth Hoover, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University

Savannah Shange, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz

Panel Moderators

Chris Lang, Ph.D. Student in Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa


Allyson Makuch, Ph.D. Student in Environmental Studies at the University of California

Santa Cruz

Emily Reisman, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Studies at the University of California

Santa Cruz

Erica Zurawski, Ph.D. Student in Sociology at the University of California Santa Cruz

Critical Listeners

Arden Rosenthal, undergraduate

Manaiya Scott, undergraduate

Gabriela Mateo-Saja, undergraduate


The Association for the Study of Food and Society, UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, College’s 9 and 10, the departments of Environmental Studies, Sociology, and the Community Studies Program.


“The futures of critical food studies” Event Report

By Halie Kampman and Erica Zurawski

Attendees included scholars in the field, graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff members, and community members


This event brought together scholars in critical food studies to share conversations on the past, present, and futures of the field, creating a space to share, collaborate, and discuss the field of critical food studies. The event focused on thinking through questions such as: What is critical food studies? Where has critical food studies been and where is it going?  What is critical about critical food studies? What are some of critical food studies’ current anxieties and how do we attend to these anxieties? What does it mean to do critical food studies in our current political climate? How do we practice interdisciplinarity through thoughtful engagement? How do we envision the field of critical food studies moving forward?

These questions build on already existing conversations about the futures of critical food studies while also deepening the provocations to explore possibilities for the practice of interdisciplinarity.  As one of the most innovative and internationally recognized universities for critical food studies, this event built on UC Santa Cruz’s unique history in the field.

Key discussions and learnings from panels:

Panel 1

Panel one began with a discussion of how the study of food is not new in the academy. It has existed in different spaces, with links political ecology and anthropology. Panelists agreed that critical food studies is an engaging field because it is an interdisciplinary space which uses food to frame a variety of issues. Food studies has served as a lens to look at broader issues including power, knowledge politics, states and citizens, social cultures, and diasporas.

When asked about the institutional histories of food studies, Julie Guthman kicked off the discussion by emphasizing how the contemporary field of critical food studies was the result of critical and introspective thought, much of which was coordinated through UCSC-led workshops, events, conferences, despite what she described as minimal institutional recognition. Melissa Caldwell spoke to her experience as the former editor of Gastronomica, noting that the journal was rebranded to include conversations on the “ugly side of food” (i.e. away from glossy print celebrations of delicious food) and towards spaces where scholars and activists interact. Charlotte Biltekoff, as the only panelist not from UCSC added that food studies at UCD raises interesting questions about the boundaries of food studies, and the degree to which it may work with or alongside fields including science and technology, biotechnology, and biology.

Panelists were asked to define and reflect on some of the current unaddressed anxieties in food studies. Madeleine Fairbairn emphasized challenges of interdisciplinarity and pointed towards the benefits of work across parallel fields, like critical agrarian studies. Guthman commented that she has seen the field change from being dominated largely by white scholars, to become more racially diverse. Changes in student demographics, interests and activism have shaped the face of the field. Guthman added that any anxieties that she feels about her place in food studies, or in the parallel field of food justice, are welcome in the sense that they indicate that more space is being claimed by people of color. In light of this, she articulated the motivation to use her privilege to make changes at institutional levels.

Panel 2

The second panel began with a conversation on participants’ current projects, and quickly got into conversations about coloniality and decolonization. Elizabeth Hoover introduced a move away from a rhetoric of “decolonization,” recognizing the impossibility of actually deconstructing institutions that are colonial in every way. She offered, instead, to thinking about “indigenizing,” moving forward in a creative way while holding onto indigenous practices. In this move, Hoover thinks about moving forward and less about looking back.

Panelists were also asked to think about accessibility, with the question, “how can critical food studies become more accessible?” Alison Alkon and Rafi Grosglik both mentioned their upcoming work on food and media, both acknowledging the ability for social media and technology to disseminate conversations in critical food studies, but also acknowledging the difficulty in being a more public facing scholar. Elizabeth Hoover added that while fears of trolling and threats on social media do exist, there is also a lot of potential around utilizing these venues to invite people to the conversation. She asked, “What is the purpose of the venues by which we reach people?” Hoover gave blogs as an example, as a way to invite indigenous communities to the conversation and feature the power of photography. This certainly was a big point of convergence in this panel, thinking about accessibility, media and community. This could be a thread to continue in the future.

Finally, this panel built on the previous panel’s conversation around scholar-activism. Alison Alkon recognized that critical food studies has a better-than-average rate of people bridging the scholar/activist divide. For her, to occupy this role is to draw questions from the community, elevate voices, and listen to the narratives that run through. All panelists seem to acknowledge that the “scholar/activism” divide and role is constantly renegotiated. At the same time, this panel began a broader discussion on tempo, by noting that activism moves must faster than academia. Alison Akon notes that deliberateness is tied into questions of “slowness,” that while academia is slow, we do need to recognize that in order to move forward deliberately, we need to slow down. Elizabeth Hoover builds on this discussion through her work on “rematriating” seeds, highlighting womens’ role around connecting seeds back to the land and the slowness with which it takes to develop these relationships.

Key discussions and learnings from keynote:

The keynote address was formatted as a conversation between Ashanté Reese and Savannah Shange, focusing on Reese’s new book Black Food Geographies (UNC Press 2019). At the request of Reese, this format created a conversational atmosphere and gave due credit to the importance of collaboration, co-labor and co-scholarship.

Reese began by acknowledging how she has been influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, who inspired her to be an anthropologist and who she admires for her embodiment of a black sense of place. The ethic of care that Hurston showed in her work serves as an example for Reese, and appropriately, the theme of care permeated the discussion and indeed even the planning of the event and prior conversations with Reese about the event.

Shange asked Reese what kinds of connections she sees between freedom and food studies, to which Reese responded that black liberation was at the center of her work. Shange followed with a question on the links between gentrification, displacement and race, asking how ethical migration may be practiced in the wake of slavery. Reese responded by emphasizing the importance of place to black indigeneity. She explained that she does not want to see black food studies or geographies through the lens of displacement, and that there is an importance to drawing attention to the claiming of space. She articulated this with a story of a time when she was walking with an elderly woman in the Deanwood neighborhood (where she did her field work), and the woman stopped when a white speculator passed and yelled “buzzard!”

These types of themes shape and guide her book, Black Food Geographies, framed around highlighting everyday narratives of individuals working for black food justice. Reese explained how she feels that we are so focused on grand narratives of freedom, that we lose sight of the importance of the mundane or hidden forms of freedom. She explained how in black studies (or in life) one can look at moments of violence in the immediate, like a police shooting, but people tend to spend less time looking at slow everyday death. In this sense, Reese highlighted the importance of attending to grief not as an individual private emotion but as a broader constant, yet also an agent for moving forward. Methodologically, she places emphasis on the types of relationships that a researcher may forage with their interlocutors. Rather than asking for or extracting stories from her interlocutors, she encouraged them to tell her stories that they wanted to tell. In this way, she recognized the importance of refusal as a form of agency. She acknowledged the theoretical foundations of refusal in indigenous work, referring to Mohawk Interruptus by Audra Simpson.

Reese spoke not only of the kinds of relationships she aimed to build with her interlocutors, but the academic genealogy that she curated. She emphasized that academic genealogy matters, and scholars in food studies have particular agency in curating their own unique genealogy as the field is still being shaped. She encouraged scholars to take their citational politics seriously, and as a practice of reading.

Reese closed with a provocation and recommendation to scholars to be as outrageous as they want, using food as a lens to study whatever broader social phenomena they seek to understand. She advocated for more conscious citational practices – #citeblackwomen – and spoke about her desire to add authors who represent a broader diasporia than the US. There exists more work to be done in food studies, she said, particularly around themes of disability, queerness, and the (multiple) souths.

Conclusion: overarching theme throughout

There were quite a few overarching themes throughout the day-long conference. These included: the analytical power of food as a lens, the ever-changing nature of scholar-activism, a call for recognition and acknowledgment of work in the field that has always been done, a call for attention to work that is under-recognized, a call for building new kinds of relationships and new ways of experiencing the field, and finally, calling for more representation and care.

A big takeaway from this event, was the benefit of the format. In rethinking the entanglement of the pasts, presents, and futures of critical food studies, we offered a new way to think about the events around these types of conversations. Ashante Reese offered a similar disruption of the sanitized panel-keynote event format by asking, “what does it mean to be an expert?” and “how does one be a keynote?” In these questions and in the format of the event, I think we were able to see a different way of relating to each other and how to be in conversation with each other. In various conversations with participants after the event, many acknowledged how powerful the conversations were and how fruitful they were for a variety of reasons: for upcoming writing projects, for thinking through the field, for engaging in new ways.

More information can be found at: https://futuresofcriticalfoodstudies.sites.ucsc.edu/

May 08, 2019 | Works-in-Progress with James Doucet-Battle

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

4:00-5:30 PM

SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

Join SJRC scholars in the SJRC Common Room for an open discussion of works-in-progress! This is a wonderful chance to engage with one another’s ideas, and support our own internal work. At this session, we will hear from Assistant Professor of Sociology, James Doucet-Battle who will discuss his book project entitled, Recruiting Sweetness: Translating Race, Risk, and Gender in Type 2 Diabetes Research, that explores the knowledge production emerging from the increasing importance of biological and racial difference in diabetes research since the genomic revolution.

James Doucet-Battle is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. His Ph.D. is in Medical Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley/University San Francisco. James’ research interests include health disparities, race, and medicine; power, subject-making, and citizenship; ethnography, political economy, grounded theory: diasporic and transnational Africa.


May 07, 2019 | Theorizing Race After Race

4:00-6:00 PM

SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

Join Science & Justice scholars for an open discussion of Theorizing Race After Race!

At this meeting, we will return to the NYT article about Reich with the implications of ancient DNA research for contemporary contestations over the category “race” with Lars Fehren-Schmitz. We will also juxtapose the Reich article with the 2018 special issue of Kalfou, “Symposium on Race and Science” by James Doucet-Battle.

May 02, 2019 | Hallam Stevens on the Starting-up of Biology

Thursday, May 2, 2019

11:00am – 1:00pm

Engineering 2, room 599

The BGI group, based in Shenzhen, China, is one of the world’s largest and most successful genomics companies. Most commentaries on BGI have focused, quite narrowly, on the organization’s ambitions for scaling-up biology into a high-throughput production line. Drawing on ethnography, performance studies, and urban studies, Hallam situates BGI’s laboratories and work within the local economic, social, political, and urban contexts within which it exists.

RSVP to the 12noon lunch by Friday, April 19. Lunch is limited to 12.  Miss the April 19 RSVP deadline? Bring your lunch and join us!

Hallam Stevens is a leading scholar of the ethics and social studies of bio information. Hallam is Associate Professor in the History Programme and in the School of Biological Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the Associate Director (Academic) of the NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity where he teaches classes on genomics, the life sciences, big data, and the history of computers as well as on food history and history of science and technology more generally. http://hallamstevens.org/

Co-hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute and the Science & Justice Research Center.

May 01, 2019 | Works in Progress with Jenny Reardon

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

4:00-5:30 PM

SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

Join SJRC scholars in the SJRC Common Room for an open discussion of works-in-progress! This is a wonderful chance to engage with one another’s ideas, and support our own internal work.

At this session, we will hear from Professor of Sociology and SJRC Center Director, Jenny Reardon who will discuss her ongoing research involving biking through the prairies and small towns of Kansas. As she explained in the podcast launching of The Sociological Review, this is a project that was designed to develop embodied knowledge of the land and to find out more about attitudes towards contemporary US politics from the denizens of the prairies. By talking about how to know and care for the land with her interlocutors, she uncovers, layer by layer the interlocking effects of globalization, financialization and environmental change on how they live their lives. Join us to learn more about the current concerns surrounding Kansas land.

Jenny Reardon is a Professor of Sociology and the Founding Director of the Science and Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Her research draws into focus questions about identity, justice and democracy that are often silently embedded in scientific ideas and practices, particularly in modern genomic research. Her training spans molecular biology, the history of biology, science studies, feminist and critical race studies, and the sociology of science, technology and medicine. She is the author of Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics (Princeton University Press, 2005) and The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice, Knowledge After the Genome (Chicago University Press, Fall 2017).  She has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from, among others, the National Science Foundation, the Max Planck Institute, the Humboldt Foundation, the London School of Economics, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and the United States Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

April 20, 2019 | “No Really, What Percentage are You?” Race, Identity & Genetic Ancestry Testing

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (705 Front St. Santa Cruz)

Free and open to the public; refreshments provided; no registration needed

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com are rapidly becoming a cultural touchstone, a mainstream phenomenon with significant implications for common notions of race and ethnicity, personal and social identity. Our public event will explore the promises and the problems of DTC genetic testing services, under the broader umbrella of racial justice and genomics.

We will explore questions arising within this new landscape of public genomics: How are people integrating genealogical knowledge (such as of their family tree) with new forms of DNA-based ancestry testing? What is the relationship between our genetic makeup and our racial and ethnic identities (and the ways we are racially classified)? What kinds of genetic ‘truths’ are being produced by these forms of commercialized science? Further, who owns, and has access to, our genetic data? What kinds of organizations are using our data, and for what purposes?

We will engage both science and art to creatively grapple with questions of race and ethnicity in this age of data-driven identities. Our event will host an art exhibit on genomics and identity; an interactive collage-making session; and an experimental type of panel called a chain reaction in which professors and graduate students working in this broad field will converse in a semi-structured conversation through a chain of dyads.

Hosted by Science & Justice Training Program Fellows:

Jon Akutagawa (Biomolecular Engineering), Dennis Browe (Sociology), Maggie Edge (Literature), Dorothy R. Santos (Film & Digital Media) and Caroline Spurgin (Education) with undergraduate fellow Diana Sernas (Mathematics). 

If you feel that genetic ancestry testing has benefited or impacted you in some way, please inquire and send anecdotes to Dennis Browe.


Chessa Adsit-Morris, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of History of Art & Visual Culture

Russ Corbett-Detig, UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering

James Doucet-Battle, UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Sociology

Ed Green, UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Biomolecular Engineering

Chris Hables Gray, Lecturer, UC Santa Cruz Crown College

Braden Larson, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology

Paloma Medina, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of Biomolecular Engineering, Science & Justice Fellow

Co-Sponsored by

The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the School of Engineering NIH Training Grant, College Nine Student Senate, the departments of Biomolecular Engineering, Education, and the Genomics Institute Office of Diversity, Oakes College Senate, and the Stuart Lab.

Rapporteurs’ Report


With the human genome first sequenced and reported in 2001 and then a final draft in 2003 – the end-goal of the Human Genome Project (HGP) – some scholars now term this post-HGP era as one of ‘postgenomics.’ (Reardon 2017; Richardson and Stevens 2015). In this postgenomic era, questions of race and ethnicity are at the forefront of both scientific debates and popular cultural movements: the recent controversy over Harvard geneticist David Reich’s New York Times op-ed in March, 2018 has scholars publicly debating the usefulness of racial categories as precise forms of scientific analysis; the public return of white nationalism(s) across many countries; as well as the use of forensic genetics to solve crimes, the growth of DNA ‘magic boxes’ in police stations, and the raising of concerns about discrimination in DNA phenotyping.

On the level of ‘personal genomics,’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com are rapidly growing into a mainstream phenomenon. They have arguably become a cultural touchstone, with significant implications for common notions of race and ethnicity, personal and social identity. The tools of genetic ancestry testing are increasingly being used for myriad projects of adjudicating one’s identity, such as conceptualizing racial/ethnic heritage as percentage points of ancestry. For example, many in the US now hope to find ‘Native DNA’ to believe they are members of a tribal nation, while tribes do not simply recognize blood quanta as the primary marker of tribal belonging (TallBear 2013); white supremacists are chugging milk; and African Americans are using personal genomics to construct meaningful biographical narratives, engaging in what Alondra Nelson terms ‘affiliative’ self-fashioning in the context of their genealogical aspirations (2016).

To grapple with the implications of some of these world-making projects, our event “No, Really, What Percentage are You?”: Race, Identity, and Genetic Ancestry Testing, explored the promises and the problems of DTC genetic testing services, under the broader umbrella of racial justice and genomics. Over the course of a 4-hour event held at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History on April 20th, over 120 community members joined the fellows along with guest panelists to explore how both science and art engage questions of race and ethnicity that are so prevalent today in this age of data-driven identities. The primary questions explored were as follows:

  • How are people integrating genealogical knowledge (such as of their family tree) with new forms of DNA-based ancestry testing?
  • Is mapping one’s genetic ancestry an act of restoring the past, or does granting a private company access to this information encourage us to commercialize our own genes, or some combination of both?
  • Does it act to uphold existing concepts of race through ancestry, or can it encourage people to see categories as being more flexible than previously thought?
  • Who benefits from these projects, and who might be harmed?
Event Activities and Outcomes

To explore these questions through various activities employing science and art, our event unfolded across two areas of the museum — the main atrium and small conference room (seated, approximately 50) — and featured a number of main attractions: 1) an art installation showcasing the work of artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg; 2) an experimental conversational panel called a chain reaction; 3) large educational posters covering aspects of the foundational concepts and science behind genetic ancestry testing; 4) a collaborative art-making and collage station; 5) and a curated playlist of videos about genetic ancestry testing. We detail each of these activities below.

1) Art Installation

Two people watch the tv screen, a table is in view with information pamphlets.

Artworks were shown near the museum entrance

Two artworks were shown close to the museum entrance and near the event’s welcome table in the atrium. Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s video work, Stranger Visions, along with a zine she co-created with Chelsea Manning and Shoili Kanungo titled Suppressed Images, were shown as a pop-up solo show. The artworks showed the process the artist performed to create 3D printed sculptures from DNA sequencing and phenotyping processes. Through this work she raises concerns about the impulse genetic determinism and the biases and limitations of these DNA phenotyping processes. Event participants displayed curiosity toward this forensic process and the critical (and critically important) questions raised by this video-artwork.

2) Chain Reaction Panel

The chain reaction is an experimental take on the panel discussion format. Seven experts served as panel participants (see below). Dyads were in conversation for approximately 12 minutes each. The format was as follows: the first and second speakers engaged in an initial semi-structured conversation on pre-selected topics for 12 minutes. Once the first conversation ended, expert 1 was asked to leave and was replaced by expert 3. Expert 2 and 3 continued the conversation for another 12 minutes. Then, expert 2 was replaced by expert 4. This process continued until all seven speakers spoke with two other speakers. Fellow Dorothy R. Santos served as the moderator for chain reaction.

Chain Reaction Panelists, Braden Larson and Paloma Medina speaking with each other in front of the audience.

Chain Reaction Panelists, Braden Larson and Paloma Medina

True to the panelists’ diverse expertise, a wide range of topics were covered during this panel, ranging from the importance of narrative through the use of DTC genetic ancestry testing (both the use of cultural narratives as a marketing tool for these companies and the constructing of identity narratives through using the knowledge gained from these tests); who uses these tests and how they, as tools of identity-making, can be used toward many different ends and purposes; the history of genetics, replete with racism and eugenics; the question of gift exchange in our society and whether certain types of genetic gifts (such as agreeing to have one’s genome sequenced for the benefits of ‘science’) fall under sacrificial exchange or egalitarian forms of exchange; the appeal of DTC ‘personal genomics’ due to people’s striving for forms of certainty rather than uncertainty about their lives and identities; the technical possibilities for what DTC genetic ancestry tests can and cannot tell us, and with what levels of certainty, about our ancestry; histories of colonialism and genocide that must be taken into account when trying to paint accurate pictures of many people’s ancestries; and the ongoing question of improving technologies, such that we cannot necessarily predict how genomic information will be used in five and ten years from now — by whom, and toward what sorts of purposes and ends genomic knowledge will be employed.

In general, feedback on the chain reaction was positive, especially by the panelists who commented that they enjoyed the open-ended and stimulating conversation. Some audience members lamented the use of jargon by chain reaction participants–if we were to hold a similar event again in the future, we might consider working with chain reaction participants beforehand to help them think about communicating in more accessible ways.

3) Educational Posters

We hung four educational posters in the museum’s atrium, designed to break down complex scientific topics explored at our event.

SJTP Fellow Caroline Spurgin standing with one of the posters hanging from the ceiling of the museum.

SJTP Fellow Caroline Spurgin

The four posters covered: modelling genetic variation; racism and genetic science; beyond Mendellian inheritance; and inferring genetic ancestry. The posters provided a foundation to engage in conversation and that would result in an invitation to engage in the Collaborative Art Project. Event coordinators were able to spark interesting conversations by asking visitors (who were reading the posters) what they thought about different parts of the posters.



4) Collaborative Art Activity

The museum’s atrium served as a wonderful focal point for the collaborative art activity. With little to no verbal instruction, visitors gravitated to the art making table and began making collages answering two prompts. The following prompts were printed and displayed on the tables and the wall hanging for community members to respond to creatively:

“To quantify means to measure or express the quantity of something. For example, Genetic Ancestry Test results quantify your genetic ancestry. In two collages, show us how you would quantify yourself and the ways you cannot be quantified. Then add your collages to the wall to be part of the collaborative art project!”

Participants contributed their collages as responses to both the prompts and the educational posters hanging in the atrium. People of all ages were able to participate in the collaborative art activity.

Paper collages strung across a red wall using twine.

Collage display in atrium.

5) Curated Video Playlist

In the small conference room, prior to the start of the chain reaction panel, short, accessible videos on genetic ancestry testing played on loop as visitors sat waiting for the panel to begin. Videos included a newly released educational video by Vox: What DNA ancestry tests can – and can’t – tell you; A provocative and satirical ad for AeroMexico Airlines for ticket discounts based on DNA test results; and informative, humorous videos, including one by BuzzFeedVideo: Ethnically Ambiguous People take a DNA Test; and a CBC News video called Twins get ‘mystifying’ DNA ancestry test results (Marketplace). The idea of curating the videos involved showing, first, a breakdown of the science involved, and second, some moral, ethical, and cultural questions raised around using DNA ancestry test results to rethink one’s ancestry.


This event served to engage the multi-layered discussion of genomics, race, and ancestry by providing students and the general public with the means and tools to become more informed and to think critically about this timely subject. We achieved our goal of facilitating an interdisciplinary discussion between art, science, and science education. We could also have had a more diverse range of experts on the panel since the majority were from the Biomolecular Engineering department. It may have been advantageous to include more social scientists and humanities scholars. This observation was made by a community member and the fellows made certain to listen to this visitor’s concern of lack of disciplinary diversity on the panel. Yet they, along with other visitors to the museum and students from the university, commented on the informative and engaging nature of the event. We realized after speaking with many event participants that we could have created a take-away bibliographic resource. We sparked the curiosity of many visitors and, we think, let people leave with many questions for further reflection, but we could have provided a more concrete list of relevant resources.

One line of future inquiry that arose from this event is the challenge of trying to understand the moral and ethical questions that are continuously arising as genomic technologies improve. As practices of DNA phenotyping are on the rise and the spectre of novel forms of genetic discrimination continues to haunt the fields of genetics and genomics, how can we, as members of a multitude of larger collectives, continue to ask relevant questions and remain pertinent in thinking through complex issues spanning science and race, identity and ethnicity, and the intertwining of genealogical and genetic ancestry?


Nelson, A. (2016). The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. Beacon Press.

Reardon, J. (2017). The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice and Knowledge After the Genome. University of Chicago Press.

Richardson, Sarah S. & Stevens, H. (2015). Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome. Duke University Press.

TallBear, K. (2013). Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. University of Minnesota Press.