Scholars rely on digital tools to search for publications relevant to their areas of research and teaching. Yet most search tools are based on principles of keyword or concept matching, ranking results by popularity and similarity. Such tools can reflect biases and inequalities, reproducing patterns of exclusion and marginalization. What might it look like to build a search tool that instead privileged values of epistemological pluralism and critique?

In 2018, the MIT-SenseTime Alliance awarded a grant to a project team led by Cultural Anthropology editor Heather Paxson to design and prototype such a tool, in partnership with the Society for Cultural Anthropology. The working name for the tool is Relata, inspired by feminist scholarship on the construction of meaning through relations. It builds on independent research by Rodrigo Ochigame, a doctoral student in the Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. The Relata team includes project manager Marcel LaFlamme and MIT students Lilia Poteat, Elena Sobrino, and Jamie Wong.

The team is in the process of crowdsourcing metadata about relations among publications, literatures, and authors in anthropology. The data will power an experimental search tool to be launched in stages on this website, with both human- and machine-readable outputs. In the future, the SCA hopes to incorporate Relata’s custom rankings into our own site search.