videoJanuary 14 2016

The Big Picture

Catherine D’Ignazio, Mushon Zer-Aviv

Databite No. 65

Throughout most of human history, mapping the world was a failure-ridden poetic pursuit — an attempt to visualize that which is just too close to see. Cartographers collected discrete signals and attempted to put them together into “the big picture.” What does the history of picturing the world tell us about the cultural origins of data, its representation, and the myth of big data?

Feminist scholars would say that visualizations privilege the eyes over the body, and critical cartographers would say that maps produce worlds that are intimately bound up with power. If that is so, then what might a feminist, critical ethics of design look like for data visualization? How do we start operationalizing that ethics?

Catherine D’Ignazio is Director of the Data + Feminism Lab and an Assistant Professor of Urban Science and Planning at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

She’s interested in creative ways to democratize data science for social justice and recently wrote the book Data Feminism together with Lauren F. Klein. She makes public art & design projects, writes software code & research papers, teaches urban planning and computer science students, and runs data storytelling workshops and feminist hackathons. She’s a compulsive collaborator, joiner and organizer and affiliated with the below organizations. She has also recently joined the board of directors of Indigenous Women Rising, an amazing group of Native women innovators who are working for equity in health care.

Mushon Zer-Aviv is a designer, an educator and a media activist based in Tel Aviv. His work and writing explore the boundaries of interface and the biases of techno-culture as they are redrawn through politics, design and networks. Among Mushon’s collaborations, he is the VP of UX and Design at – an insight platform merging Urbanism and algorithms; he’s the CO-founder of – a foxy design studio; – a tour of Gaza through the streets of Tel Aviv; Kriegspiel – a computer game version of the Situationist Game of War; the Normalizing Machine – exploring algorithmic prejudice; the AdNauseam extension – clicking ads so you don’t have to; and multiple government transparency and civic participation initiatives with the Public Knowledge Workshop; Mushon also designed the maps for Mushon is an alumni of Eyebeam – an art and technology center in New York. He teaches digital media as a senior faculty member at Shenkar School of Engineering and Design. Previously he taught new media research at NYU and Open Source design at Parsons the New School of Design and in Bezalel Academy of Art & Design. Read him at and follow him at @mushon.

About Databites
Data & Society’s “Databites” speaker series presents timely conversations about the purpose and power of technology, bridging our interdisciplinary research with broader public conversations about the societal implications of data and automation.