Divergent Spaces

Digital platforms, gentrification, and neighborhood organizing during COVID-19 in NYC

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jordan Kraemer

Funder: Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Just Tech COVID-19 Rapid-Response Grant

Urban social and economic disparities have come out in sharp relief in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, marked by new political organizing and large-scale protests over racial and economic injustice. These mobilizations are taking place across social and mobile technology platforms, such as neighborhood mutual aid and support groups, in ways that are unprecedented. But practices on mobile apps and social media often reproduce existing inequalities. This project examines how emerging technologies contribute to divergent experiences of urban space in gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn, through participatory research with groups in Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights. Conceptually, it draws on approaches from anthropology, cultural geography, and feminist technology studies to understand how intersections of race, gender, and class take place on and through technology. Historically, both technology and public space have constituted white, masculine, middle-class domains. How are current technology platforms enabling or challenging existing structures of power, such as neighborhood groups on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Whatsapp or community organizing on Slack and Instagram? Methodologically, the project is grounded in digital ethnography, bringing the established tools of anthropological fieldwork to online, digital spaces. The research includes remote participant-observation and open-ended interviewing with organizers and participants in neighborhood and community groups including mutual aid groups, neighborhood associations, business associations, and activist organizations. The findings will offer insight for participants, technology designers, and policymakers into how technology practices produce multiple, divergent experiences of urban space that challenge but also re-create inequality.

Jordan Kraemer’s Biography:

Jordan Kraemer is a media anthropologist and digital ethnographer studying emerging technologies from critical and feminist perspectives. She is currently studying digital technologies and public space during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, and recently completed a book on social and mobile media among an emerging middle class in post-unification Berlin, under review at Cornell University Press. She teaches courses on queer and feminist STS at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering and was previously a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Humanities. In addition, she consults for nonprofit organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and Civic Signals, and writes and speaks on identity, representation, and precarity in the knowledge economy.

Timeline: December 2020 — May 2021

Contact: Dr. Jordan Kraemer, jk5773@nyu.edu

Terra Incognita Research

The Terra Incognita research project is a study that sets out to learn more about the emergence of NYC’s digital public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study will be conducted by Dr. Mona Sloane (Principal Investigator), and Dr. Jordan Kraemer, (Research Lead), and five experienced graduate student researchers. 

Individuals who agree to be in this study are asked to do the following:

  • Take part in an interview with one representative of the research team about their digital engagement in your local community
  • Allow their online interactions and activities to be observed and recorded or saved by one or more members of the research team. Researchers may observe social media posts and comments, personal profiles, follow blogs or other online presence, view online photos or videos, and communicate with participants through instant messaging or other electronic communication systems.

Participants will also have the opportunity to participate in recording your own daily activities, either through:

  • A “mobile ethnography,” where participants take photos and videos of their daily life with their own phone or other devices and share them securely with the researchers, or
  • A time diary participants complete over at least one and up to seven days of your online activities (according to your availability and preference).

Participants will be audio recorded. Participants may review these recordings and request that all or any portion of the recordings be destroyed. Participants’ online interactions will be observed and in some cases, researchers will take screenshots or captures.

Interviews will take between 60 minutes and 120 minutes. Participation in participant-observation will take place whenever participants would normally spend time online. Participation in the mobile ethnography or time diary will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes per day the individual participates, according to availability. 

There are no known risks associated with the participation in this research beyond those of everyday life or potential breach of confidentiality. The research team is taking appropriate measures to prevent a breach of confidentiality. Confidentiality of your research records will be strictly maintained by electronic records (i.e. audio files of the interviews and interview transcripts) being encrypted and stored in a password-protected folder on a password protected computer. Names will be removed from audio files and digital transcripts. Audio files and digital will instead be given codes. The code sheet linking participants’ names with codes will also be an encrypted file stored in a password-protected folder on a password protected computer. Only researchers directly linked to this project will have access to the research data. Your information from this study will not be used for future research.

The purpose of this study is to research the ways in which communities make up for the lack of physical public space during the pandemic. Although participants receive no direct benefits, this research may help the investigators understand how digital spaces are serving—and falling short of—the physical spaces they were meant to replace. 

Participation in this study is voluntary. Individuals may refuse to participate or withdraw at any time without penalty. For interviews, questionnaires, or surveys, participants have the right to skip or not answer any questions you prefer not to answer.

If there is anything about the study or your participation that is unclear or difficult to understand, if you have questions or wish to report a research-related problem, you may contact Dr. Mona Sloane at mona.sloane@nyu.edu, or Dr. Jordan Kraemer at jk5773@nyu.edu.

For questions about your rights as a research participant, you may contact the University Committee on Activities Involving Human Subjects (UCAIHS), New York University, 665 Broadway, Suite 804, New York, New York, 10012, at ask.humansubjects@nyu.edu or (212) 998-4808. Please reference the study # (IRB-FY2020-4461) when contacting the IRB (UCAIHS).