Max Tretter at the University of California, Berkeley
In the outro of the track Wir werden jetzt Stars from the leftist rap quartet K.I.Z’s early mixtape Böhse Enkelz, listeners can witness a joking exchange between two of the group’s members, Maxim and Nico. Known and celebrated for their unapologetically provocative style and socially-critical irony, the rappers delve into the socio-cultural differences between Germany and the United States. They portray America as a place replete with »ghettos«, »basketball courts«, and »blunts«, lamenting the absence of these elements in Germany – a lack they perceive as a formidable barrier to creating rap in the same vein as »over there«. While both rappers acknowledge the existence of rap in Germany, they contend that it lacks a certain something. It just isn’t as authentic and »real« as its American counterpart. This leads the two rappers to conclude that »it« – referring to rap in Germany – »just doesn’t work. It can’t possibly work!«
What Nico and Maxim observe for rap in Germany applies to other areas as well. Germany, for instance, is home to emerging anti-racist research, complete with academic chairs dedicated to African American or Antiracism and Racism Studies and researchers specializing in Critical Race Theory. Yet, for those seeking to delve in depth into issues of »race«, racism, and anti-racism, the journey inevitably leads to the United States – particularly to its more progressive and left-leaning universities. When it comes to these subjects, America, its social and cultural milieu, coupled with its academic engagement, is undeniably more dynamic and, echoing the words of K.I.Z, more »real.«
Driven by my ambition to explore the intricacies of »race« more profoundly, my path was clear: I needed to head to the USA! And eventually, this quest brought me to the University of California, Berkeley.
Now, one might ask: Wait, aren’t we part of an empathokinesthetic research project? Aren’t we primarily concerned with researching monitoring technologies for medical purposes? Why then is there a need to engage with the concept of »race«?
It’s pertinent that this question has been brought up – although I admit that it is somewhat prompted. As an associate researcher in Project E, I am primarily engaged with the ethical considerations that emerge in both the research and deployment of smart monitoring technologies in healthcare settings. When ethically evaluating how to responsibly develop and implement such technologies, the issues of »race«, along with class, gender, sexuality, religiosity, citizenship, and others, assume an utmost importance. This is because these are (some of) the social categories by which we are perceived, which shape our identity and patterns of perception, and influence how we respond to new people, practices, or technologies. Hence, in our ethical pursuit to understand how smart monitoring technologies can be developed and implemented »well« and responsibly, these are the crucial categories that must not be neglected.
Let me illustrate this a little more. Our inclination to visit a doctor often hinges on our previous encounters with medical professionals. If our experiences have been uniformly negative, having only dealt with, bluntly speaking, sadistic incompetents in white coats, we’re likely to delay our next doctor’s appointment as much as possible. Conversely, if our interactions with doctors have been quite positive, maybe because they’ve eased our pain or helped us overcome physical afflictions, we’ll be more inclined to seek medical help. A similar pattern can be observed with monitoring technologies. Positive experiences with being monitored and surveilled, where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, typically lead to a favorable view of new monitoring measures. On the other hand, negative experiences, such as being targeted for »random« security checks due to appearances or suffering negative consequences from »everyday digital traces« like higher insurance premiums or targeted advertising, breed skepticism towards new monitoring technologies.
Yet, in our society, it remains true that individuals from marginalized groups – those who aren’t white, male, heterosexual, Christian, and well-educated – more frequently encounter negative forms of surveillance and disproportionately suffer its adverse effects. This suggests that people from these marginalized groups, due to negative experiences with surveillance, might approach new monitoring technologies more critically. This hypothesis was the focus of my investigation: to assess their plausibility and to develop strategies for sensitively utilizing monitoring technologies in healthcare. Given the vast scope of examining all categories of marginalization, I narrowed my focus to the aspect of »race«, aiming to understand how »race« intersects with monitoring technologies and what practical implications arise from this relationship.
In pursuit of advancing this research within a scientifically enriching and authentically social and cultural setting, I embarked on a journey to the University of California, Berkeley. The experiences gained there were exceptionally invaluable, both academically and personally. On the academic front, research on the highlighted topic made significant strides, culminating in a paper that is now under review in a prestigious journal. Moreover, during my tenure at UC Berkeley, alongside several minor outputs, three more EmpkinS contributions were published in professional journals, addressing topics such as the changing roles of physicians in the wake of medical AI, ethical questions of the so-called »healthcare metaverse«, and the challenges posed by AI-produces certainties in medicine.
On a personal level, the experience was just as enriching. Beyond the substantial research opportunities, I had the pleasure of enjoying in the Californian sunshine, with late-summer weather extending well into November. I explored the state’s stunning natural parks and delved into the vibrant local hip-hop scene. Reflecting on the entire experience, I am deeply grateful to EmpkinS for their support of my research stay. I firmly believe that the outcomes of this endeavor have been profoundly beneficial for both parties involved.