Wednesday 11 November 2020

Techno-solutionism and the standard human in the making of the COVID-19 pandemic

Stefania Milan introduces her commentary "Techno-solutionism and the standard human in the making of the COVID-19 pandemic" in Big Data & Society 7(2), First published: October 20, 2020.

Video abstract

Text abstract

Quantification is particularly seductive in times of global uncertainty. Not surprisingly, numbers, indicators, categorizations, and comparisons are central to governmental and popular response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This essay draws insights from critical data studies, sociology of quantification and decolonial thinking, with occasional excursion into the biomedical domain, to investigate the role and social consequences of counting broadly defined as a way of knowing about the virus. It takes a critical look at two domains of human activity that play a central role in the fight against the virus outbreak, namely medical sciences and technological innovation. It analyzes their efforts to craft solutions for their user base and explores the unwanted social costs of these operations. The essay argues that the over-reliance of biomedical research on “whiteness” for lab testing and the techno-solutionism of the consumer infrastructure devised to curb the social costs of the pandemic are rooted in a distorted idea of a “standard human” based on a partial and exclusive vision of society and its components, which tends to overlook alterity and inequality. It contends that to design our way out of the pandemic, we ought to make space for distinct ways of being and knowing, acknowledging plurality and thinking in terms of social relations, alterity, and interdependence.

Keywords: COVID-19, calculation, whiteness, contact tracing, decolonial, pluriverse