12 May 2014

Coming to UVU Peace and Justice Studies this Fall: Information and Social Justice

I'm excited to be joining the UVU Peace and Justice Studies program as an adjunct instructor this fall. I'll be offering a special topics course on Information and Social Justice based on my current research. The class is limited to 24 students, so it will operate more as a seminar than a lecture. That's especially good since there really is very little work done in this area; students in the class will be building concepts and practices rather than just studying them.

Here's what we're tentatively taking on in the course.

As information has become more ubiquitous, it has also become more contentious. Issues such as privacy and control have long been recognized. Recently, however, the question of how information and the technologies that create it affect groups in society differently has begun to challenge both activists and information technologists. This course explores the ways in which information presents concerns about social justice: the distribution of resources among and power relationships between social groups. We will study particularly how surveillance and big data challenge social justice, then consider whether open data, privacy, civil rights, hacking, and citizen data science can contribute to more just data practices. Hands-on work in the course will include using Structured Query Language to build a database (you will learn to code in this course!), blogging and other participation in social media, and a major project analyzing a data system of your choice from the perspective of social justice.

If you're interested in the course, feel free to email (jeffrey.johnson@uvu.edu), tweet (@the_other_jeff, call (801.863.8993), or drop by my office (BA203f) and we can talk about the course. If you have any suggestions for topics or readings, I'd love to see them in the comments section.

Details follow after the jump.


PJST 475R-003: Issues in Peace and Justice Studies
Information and Social Justice
MWF 12:00-12:50, Environmental Technology 112
CRN: 25743


Prerequisites for the course will be waived.

Normally PJST 475R courses require that you have already completed Ethics and Values (PHIL 2050). But because this area of study is so new, no prior knowledge of either philosophy or information systems is assumed for the course; we'll start with overviews of justice, social approaches to technology, and information systems. I especially encourage students from majors related to information systems to participate. If you need the prerequisites waived, please have your advisor contact me at extension 8993.


  1. August 26 – Sept. 4: Course Introduction.
    Information as a technosocial processes; distributive and relational justice.
  2. Sept. 9 – 25: Enough about Information Systems to Get You in Trouble.
    Relational databases and SQL; non-relational databases; visual business intelligence and other information applications.
  3. Sept. 30 – Oct. 21: A Few Cases of Data Injustice.
    Big data; surveillance; data and representation.
  4. Oct. 23 – Dec. 2: Partial Solutions (and Therefore More Problems).
    Open data; civil rights; property rights; privacy; hacking; citizen data science.
  5. Dec. 4 – 11: Toward Information Justice.
    Reduction strategies; contextual integrity beyond privacy; data pluralism.


The main assignment is an analysis of a data system from the perspective of social justice. You will want to identify one fairly early in the semester to which you have reliable access. You don't need technical access to the system (though it would make things much more interesting); but you should at least have someone involved with the system that you can talk to about it. There are several options on campus that I'll help connect students to, but not enough for everyone. You will be building this project over the course of the semester, with many smaller assignments related to it that will be building blocks of the final paper. There will also be occasional technical exercises and short written assignments. I'm also open to ideas that you might have for assignments.

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