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.
In May 2019, the team presented an initial design brief at the HASTAC 2019 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. A working prototype is currently under development.