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Democracy Works: A Dark Side To "Laboratories of Democracy"

Virginia Eubanks
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The phrase "laboratories of democracy," coined by former U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, is typically used to describe experiments with new social and economic policies that occur at the state level — things like voting systems and public financing of elections. This week's episode explores a different side of that approach when state and local systems are used to disadvantage poor communities and prevent people from accessing social services.

Virginia Eubanks examines the relationship between technology and society in her book "Automating Inequality: How High-Tech tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor" and joins us this week for a discussion about who matters in a democracy and the empathy gap between the people who develop the technology for social systems and the people who use those systems.

Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is also the author of "Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age"; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of "Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith." Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in Scientific American, The Nation, Harper’s, and Wired. She was a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a 2016-2017 Fellow at New America. 

Eubanks will present the Richard B. Lippin Lecture in Ethics for Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute on Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. The virtual event is free and open to the public; register here.

Jenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute's external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach.
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