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Counter-hegemonic Computing: Toward Computer Science Education for Value Generation and Emancipation

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Students' lives, both in and out of school, are full of different forms of value. Wealthy students enjoy value in the form of financial capital; their fit to hegemonic social practices; excellent health care and so on. Low-income students, especially those from African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, often lack access to those resources. But there are other forms of value that low-income students do possess. Most examples of what we will call Counter-Hegemonic Practice (CHP) in the African American community involve some mixture of Indigenous African heritage, contemporary innovation in the Black community, and other influences. Moving between these value forms and the computing classroom is a non-trivial task, especially if we are to avoid merely using the appearance of culture to attract students. Our objective in this paper is to provide a framework for deeper investigations into the computational potentials for CHP; its potential as a link between education and community development; and a more dignified role for its utilization in the CS classroom. We report on a series of collaborative engagements with CHP, largely focused on African American communities.
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Counter-hegemonic Computing: Toward Computer Science
Education for Value Generation and Emancipation
RON EGLASH, School of Information, University of Michigan
AUDREY BENNETT, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan
LAQUANA COOKE, English Department, Westchester University of Pennsylvania
WILLIAM BABBITT, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
MICHAEL LACHNEY, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education,
Michigan State University
Students’ lives, both in and out of school, are full of dierent forms of value. Wealthy students enjoy value
in the form of nancial capital; their t to hegemonic social practices; excellent health care and so on. Low-
income students, especially those from African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, often
lack access to those resources. But there are other forms of value that low-income students do possess. Most
examples of what we will call Counter-Hegemonic Practice (CHP) in the African American community
involve some mixture of Indigenous African heritage, contemporary innovation in the Black community,
and other inuences. Moving between these value forms and the computing classroom is a non-trivial task,
especially if we are to avoid merely using the appearance of culture to attract students. Our objective in
this paper is to provide a framework for deeper investigations into the computational potentials for CHP; its
potential as a link between education and community development; and a more dignied role for its utilization
in the CS classroom. We report on a series of collaborative engagements with CHP, largely focused on African
American communities.
CCS Concepts: • Social and professional topics Professional topics;
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Justice-centered computing, counter-hegemonic, music, video games,
making
ACM Reference format:
Ron Eglash, Audrey Bennett, Laquana Cooke, William Babbitt, and Michael Lachney. 2021. Counter-
hegemonic Computing: Toward Computer Science Education for Value Generation and Emancipation. ACM
Trans. Comput. Educ. 21, 4, Article 29 (October 2021), 30 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3449024
This work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation STEM+C grant #DRL-1640014, University of Michigan,
West Chester University of Pennsylvania, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Michigan State University. All opinions
stated or implied in this document are those of the authors and not their respective institutions or the National Science
Foundation.
Authors’ addresses: R. Eglash, School of Information, University of Michigan, 105 S. State St. Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285;
email: eglash@umich.edu; A. Bennett, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan; email: agbennett@
umich.edu; L. Cooke, English Department, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, 720 S. High St. West Chester, PA
19383; email: LCooke2@wcupa.edu; W. Babbitt, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 8th
Street, Troy, NY 12180; email: babbiw2@rpi.edu; M. Lachney, College of Education, Michigan State University, 620 Farm
Lane, Room 513D, East Lansing, MI 48824; email: lachneym@msu.edu.
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https://doi.org/10.1145/3449024
ACM Transactions on Computing Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, Article 29. Publication date: October 2021.
29:2 R. Eglash et al.
1 INTRODUCTION
The inclusion of cultural and social dimensions in CS education, often referred to as Culturally
Responsive Computing (CRC), spans a wide range of content and techniques [76]. This includes
the use of vernacular knowledge such as hip hop [66]; the use of Indigenous knowledge such as
weaving [85], the use of cultural aesthetics [40], the use of socially relevant problems [75], and
so on. In some cases, CRC resembles what Baker et al. call the “operationalization of culture” [2].
This approach models culture as a problem in human computer interaction (HCI) in which we
optimize the “t” between individuals and information systems. There are indeed cases in which
treating culture as a personal attribute, modeled such that the learning system is customized for t,
can be benecial. But such frameworks may miss issues of power and social justice in computing
education. The purpose of this paper is to provide an alternative framework, one that puts the
relation of culture to the broader implications of CS education at the center. We term this counter-
hegemonic computing.
In this introduction we detail three principles for dening counter-hegemonic computing. The
rst is having two levels of analysis (individual and social). The second principle is the inclusion
of both negative and positive frames of reference (not just what biases to avoid, but also what
CS should actively promote). The third principle examines what we term Counter-Hegemonic
Practices (CHP), which ranges from Indigenous cultural heritage to contemporary vernacular
innovations, to other forms of resistance and alterity. This principle describes the use of computing
for emancipating CHP value, nurturing its potential computational dimensions and their possible
contributions in schools, communities, and beyond.
Next, we build out some basic theory for understanding and engaging with relationships be-
tween CHP and CS education. We focus on the question: Why are CHP forms of value often so
dicult to incorporate into CS education, in comparison to their hegemonic counterparts? Af-
ter considering alternative hypotheses, we posit that understanding counter-hegemonic algorithmic
structures may require a dierent approach than those of hegemonic origin. We introduce three re-
search questions about understanding these structures and describe in general terms how we have
used ethnocomputational methodologies to address them.
The main body of the paper then illustrates those methods, using three case studies of the re-
lations between African American CHP and computing education: 1) a theoretical, historical, and
empirical overview of the computational dimensions of Black music; 2) an empirical study and
analysis of the CHP of Black youth in video game design and education; and 3) a set of investiga-
tions of Black CHP in maker communities and classroom activities. We end by using these three
cases to answer our initial research questions and support our hypothesis that translating CHP
into computing education requires its own theories and methodologies that can interact with, but
are uniquely distinct from, those of hegemonic origins.
1.1 Two Levels of Analysis in Counter-hegemonic Computing
In their cultural t approach, Baker et al. [2] begin with the inability of facial recognition systems
to see non-white faces:
The risk of lower model quality for some groups is not unique to education. For
example, Buolamwini and Gebru evaluated several commercial facial recognition
systems, nding that classication accuracy was signicantly worse for people of
color and even worse for women of color... (p. 1) [16].
Other scholars have questioned the limits of this “optimal t” level of analysis. Ruha Benjamin,
remarking on the same study, asks “what does it mean to be included, and hence more accurately
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:3
identiable, in an unjust set of social relationships?” [5] (pg. 124). She goes on to explain the ways
in which designing more accurate facial recognition allows “ocials to become more adept at
criminalizing Black people”. Applying a similar view to the design of CS education, we can see
that there can be two levels of analysis. The rst would simply ask about t: designing a learning
system to better t an individual’s racial or cultural identity. But the second level asks how learning
systems are formed and operated within the context of hegemonic forces, and how that might be
redesigned or transformed such that the interactions constitute a counter-hegemonic force.
1.2 Adopting Both Negative and Positive Frames of Reference in Counter-hegemonic
Computing
“How do we create an oppositional worldview. . . that exists not only as that struggle which op-
poses dehumanization, but as that movement which enables creative, expansive self-actualization?
Opposition is not enough.” — Bell Hooks (p. 15) [50]
Above we describe our rst principle of counter-hegemonic computing: the inclusion of two
levels of analysis. At one level there must be a t to the students’ learning preferences, interests
and motivations. But there must also be a second level that situates the rst in relation to hege-
mony. While it is not unusual to see such framings, they are often only oppositional or negative, in
the sense that they only tell us what not to do with the technology. For example, in their excellent
essay “It’s about Power”, Vakil and Higgs similarly suggest that our vision for ethics in CS educa-
tion should be broadened to the second level, but they only provide specics for what should be
critiqued [94]:
How does racial bias shape articial intelligence (AI) algorithms? How do theoret-
ical advances in cryptography lay the foundation for mass surveillance? Why are
engineers at Google and Microsoft raising concerns about their companies’ entan-
glements with the Pentagon and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?
Of course, Benjamin, Vakil, Higgs and others are correct when they insist that any counter-
hegemonic approach must include negative, critical analysis. But we propose that it should not be
limited to that. Unless counter-hegemonic computing can oer a positive, transformative vision,
its critiques may ring hollow. A focus on negatives and bias may make the eld less attractive to
underrepresented students. Even for majority students, exclusively negative critiques may rein-
force the stereotype that if you do go into computing, you should be expected to set aside social
justice issues.
Finally, we note that avoiding the focus exclusively on negatives should not be limited to the
technical, it should also include the social, or we risk reinforcing ethnic reication, isolation and
hostility. For example, if the only message to white students is that they should feel guilt and
shame, we risk driving them towards “white pride” movements of the alt-right. Thus counter-
hegemonic computing must also support positive social bridges and hybridities; a lively sense of
intersectional identity in the context of the entire socioeconomic ecosystem [37,54].
As an instance of such positive framing, consider George Boole, the (White) inventor of what
became Boolean algebra, the math that forms the basis for every digital circuit in existence. At age
16 he became his family’s only nancial support, and he never forgot his working class roots. He
championed causes such as an end to the 7-day working week (a benet we now call “the week-
end”). In his 1855 address to the Cuvierian Society he proposed that humanity has benetted from
global, multicultural intellectual contributions “from every nation and kindred of men that has
occupied a place in history, and with many others, of whose names and deeds no record survives”
(p. 190) [25]. He championed other forms of social progress as well, including animal welfare,
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29:4 R. Eglash et al.
education for the poor, and support for women’s causes. Yet courses in computing, mathematics,
and digital circuits that cite his foundational technical role rarely mention this aspect of his work,
nor is he cited by any social justice education materials to our knowledge. We propose that the
counter-hegemonic focus on positive frames of reference may help the inclusion of such examples.
Thus, the positive frame of reference for counter-hegemonic computing is not simply delin-
eating “the right” application of technology; it is creating a more expansive understanding of the
intersections of power, identity and possibility in the sociotechnical landscape. What kinds of re-
search might contribute to the development of a counter-hegemonic framework for CS education?
How can that research be turned into educational practice? How might counter-hegemonic com-
puting education feed back into the communities it endeavors to serve, diversifying the outputs
of the STEM pipeline, not just its human inputs?
1.3 Value Emancipation in Counter-hegemonic Computing
So far, we have described counter-hegemonic computing in terms of two principles: the need for
two levels of analysis, and the need for both positive and negative frames of reference. In this
section we introduce the third and nal principle, that of value emancipation.
Students’ lives, both in and out of school, are full of dierent forms of value. Wealthy students
enjoy value in the form of nancial capital, obviously, but also in forms of social capital such as a
network of high achieving peers. They enjoy forms of ecological capital such as a neighborhood
free of pollution and full of gardens. And wealthy students, unencumbered by nancial insecurity,
are more likely to be contemplating computer science (CS) itself as a form of value: not the
means to an end, but an enjoyable pursuit for its own sake.
At the other end of the socioeconomic status (SES) spectrum, low-income students, espe-
cially those from African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, often lack access
to those resources. But there are other forms of value—sometimes hidden, sometimes hiding in
the light—those low-income students do possess. Referred to in the literature by terms such as
counter-hegemonic [43], subcultural [48], oppositional readings [46], and so on, they are often in
evidence when a teacher says, “stop doing that and get back to work”. These value forms do not
easily align with academic structures. For example, despite the important development skills of
listening and responding that one nds in rap cypher, this type of activity is often deemed counter
to traditional classroom management [66]. To phrase the problem in CS terminology, there is no
API that can easily provide teachers and students with the means to ensure interoperability be-
tween these forms of value and the CS classroom. For the wealthy, in contrast, no API is needed:
the culture of the mainstream runs as a native application.
Most examples of what we will call counter-hegemonic practice (CHP) in African American
communities involve some mixture of Indigenous African heritage, contemporary innovation in
the Black community, and other inuences. That it lacks ethnic purity and embraces hybridity
is part of its appeal in multicultural classrooms: consider the ways that common forms of
CHP—musical forms from soul to hip hop to reggae, fashion styles, grati, Djing, breakdancing,
and beatboxing—have been eagerly engaged by youth from all ethnic backgrounds around the
world. A more subtle (and less multicultural) example would be the Black linguistic traditions
that gave rise to the magnetic cadence of Martin Luther King jr.; the subversive linguistics of rap
and spoken word; the literary tradition of signifyin’ [39], and the unique voice that constitutes
Black Twitter [13].
The existence of CHP has not gone unnoticed in educational communities; indeed, many of
the examples of culturally responsive computing cited in our rst paragraph are utilizing it. For
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:5
example, Ryoo et al. describe DietSens, a program in which mobile phones and web servers were
used to systematically collect and interpret data about issues important to them and their com-
munities, and a video game project in which students took on issues ranging from undocumented
workers to gay marriage [83]. But even in these excellent examples the computational signi-
cance of CHP itself is not examined. Allowing children to decide for themselves what to analyze
or express adds an important democratic element, but it may also limit the analysis to what chil-
dren know and understand, and thus hold back from fully contesting hegemony. What roles can
researchers play in expanding our understanding of CHP in relation to computation, in an eman-
cipatory approach to these hidden, dismissed or unacknowledged information forms?
In summary: we have dened the basis of counter-hegemonic computing in three principles:
including two levels of analysis; including both critique and positive frames of reference; and the
goal of empowering the emancipation of CHP value. We will continue in the next section by out-
lining a theory of CHP and how best to develop its relation to CS education. Next, we explain our
research questions and methods for moving between the CHP and classroom worlds. This pro-
cess requires careful attention to the similarities, dierences, and potential incommensurabilities
of epistemic systems. This is followed by three results from these engagements of CHP in the con-
text of CS education: the computational implications of Black music traditions and its development
as educational software; the developing of a “meta-tuning” framework for Black youth’s counter-
hegemonic game development; and engagements with Black hairstyle traditions in the context of
maker fabrications. Finally, we discuss how these case studies might help researchers and prac-
titioners develop forms of CS education that embody the three principles of counter-hegemonic
computing: consideration of culture at both individual and social justice levels of analysis; consid-
eration of both negative and positive frames of reference; and the utilization of CHP as forms of
empowerment. We posit that if these are carried out appropriately, CS can create a more signicant
role for CHP, one in which there are research practices formulated for the study of its computa-
tional potential, applications by which it is utilized in community development, and integration
in which CS education incorporates CHP computing research and application with the dignity it
deserves.
2 THEORY
In a recent study on integrating CHP into a high school CS education course, we found that the
teacher struggled to maintain deep connections between the cultural material (Afrofuturism for
example), and more traditional computing content throughout the course [24]. That is not true
of all cultural materials: in fact, social examples are common in CS: creating a sorting system for
party invitations, a database for a bookseller, and so on. Why does the incorporation of CHP forms
of value seem more dicult? Let us consider three hypotheses:
1. Music, dance, vocal cadence and other CHP domains are simply not possible to use in CS.
2. They are possible to use, and they tend to be restricted to White cultural references simply
due to instructor demographics (White teachers use what is familiar to them).
3. They are possible to use, but their absence is not simply a matter of instructor choice. There
is something computationally distinct about CHP that requires better understanding before
they can be applied.
The rst hypothesis claims that CHP cultural forms are simply impossible to use in comput-
ing. It’s ne to use Black speech, music and arts in the shallow sense—” create a program listing
rap artists alphabetically”—but their actual content cannot be used in ways that also innovate and
motivate CS. But examples abound in CS from White arts and music. A Boolean search for “Shake-
speare and computing” shows 35,200 hits; and “Picasso and computing” yields over 4 million.
ACM Transactions on Computing Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, Article 29. Publication date: October 2021.
29:6 R. Eglash et al.
Publications for “computation and Mozart” include computational neuroscience [55], symbolic
computing [95], interactive evolutionary computation [90], and “the Mozart eect” [53]. Dances
used to illustrate CS algorithms tend to include only European examples: “insert-sort using Ro-
manian folk dance, shell-sort using Hungarian folk dance, merge-sort using German folk dance,
select-sort using Gipsy folk dance, bubble-sort using Csángó folk dance, and quick-sort using
Székely folk dance” (p. 184) [56]. We have a contradiction: White artistic production and media
are extolled for their deep connection to CS. So, the rst hypothesis is incorrect.
The second hypothesis is that cultural forms like music and dance are indeed relevant to CS ed-
ucation, and that we ended up using European forms because of demographics: White instructors
are drawing from Romanian, German and other sources simply because we tend to use what is fa-
miliar to us. According to that hypothesis, the choice of which culture happens to be selected will
not make any dierence to CS lesson content. The European folk dance examples work especially
well for testing that hypothesis. It is true that any dance form can be analyzed for its algorithmic
structure. But the fact that there is resonance between these particular styles of dance in Europe,
and the particular kinds of algorithms that Europeans see as foundational to computing, may not
be coincidental. We posit that there are distinctive computational characteristics of CHP itself; that
CHP is not “less computational”; rather, understanding counter-hegemonic algorithmic structures re-
quires a dierent approach than those of hegemonic origin.
Thus, we favor hypothesis #3. While this is only suggestive, it opens further possibilities for
inquiry. Could the disjuncture or ill-t be attributable to a co-evolutionary process between hege-
monic forces [21]—industrialization and colonialism—and the CS and disciplines created to support
them? For example, Tedre et al. propose that “CS was born and raised in the Western world, shaped
by and responding to the varying needs of Western society.”(pg. 127) [89] How would one examine
the extent to which the kind of computing we have, and the way it is taught, has been made for
extractive economies? In what ways is the top-down regulation imposed by plantations, factories
and the prison-industrial complex, as well as colonial and settler colonial expansion out from Eu-
rope into Africa, South America, North America, and elsewhere embedded in CS technologies and
styles of thinking?
Consider, for example, that the rst widely published model for deskilling of labor was the de-
scription of the pin factory in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and that this specic example
was cited by Charles Babbage as his inspiration for the mechanisms for the rst computer [14].
Daston [22] and Gray and Suri [44] note that much of the history of computation is intertwined
with labor in this way: economic demands are reected in machine design, and machines increase
the pressure for human roles in deskilled and alienated forms. Could this be one reason that the
regulatory order imposed by the conductor of a symphony, certain European folk dances, mod-
ernist architecture, and other hegemonic cultural norms enjoy such compatible t to what we
regard as basic computing structures? CHP, we propose, might inspire other kinds of computing if
that value could be emancipated; freed to become the kinds of pedagogy, community development
and innovation that would form a generative economy [36].
That is not to say that there is no overlap between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic compu-
tational worlds. Indeed, one can read the history of computing as a pull between these top-down
and bottom-up tensions [93]. In the 1950s, computer systems were conceived as what historian
Paul Edwards called “The Closed World”: a military-inspired top-down control system [28]. It was
only with gradual reluctance that we moved to more bottom-up, collective systems: from a single
central processor to parallel computing; from single thread coding to multi-threaded; from proce-
dural to object-oriented languages; from AI as expert systems to deep learning; from the isolated
database in an elite mainframe to the sprawling polyphonic democratization of the world wide
web [47].
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:7
Indeed, Black cultural inuences can often be found in the bottom-up side of that tension. For
example, despite the fact that it is rarely mentioned in the literature, the Scratch visual program-
ming language was named for the Black socio-technical innovation of scratching records, with its
associations to “remix” in the CHP of hip-hop and the “remix” of Scratch projects [59]. But the
logo for Scratch is not a black artist on turntables, it is “Scratchy the cat”: once successfully trans-
lated, Black contributions tend to be erased and sanitized for White consumption. This combined
eect of translation/erasure of Black cultural contributions to computing is not limited to Scratch.
Consider the origins of decentralized computing work at MIT described by Stewart Brand:
A book that inspired Negroponte and the Architecture Machine Group was called
Architecture Without Architects, a provocative collection of photographs of beau-
tiful vernacular—native—buildings from all over the world. Arch Mac was fol-
lowing that thread wherever it might lead—books without authors, lms without
scripts or directors. A grander scale of research, something like a Media Labora-
tory, seemed worth attempting.... (pg 142) [12].
Many of the examples in “Architecture without Architects” are African village self-organization.
The founder of MIT’s media lab, Negroponte, did not disguise this source of inspiration at the time:
“Before venturing a machine intelligence position, I would like to examine the indigenous architect
as an archetype...” (pg. 103) [77]. Yet that connection remains invisible in mainstream accounts
of computing history e.g. [18]. There is an unacknowledged role of Black and Indigenous cultural
inuence in the democratizing side of CS tensions: once translated, the cultural connection is
promptly erased and its value appropriated.
Of course, these days “democratization” and the web are not as comfortably juxtaposed as they
were in their origins by humanitarian Tim Berners-Lee [11]. And that is true for many examples
of this tension: every time an innovation oers a computational form that could bring us closer
to a more collective, humanized, less alienating technology, there is a simultaneous dynamic in
which it is appropriated, colonized, or commodied [97]. This is one reason why increasing the
numbers of underrepresented youth in CS is so important. Who better to create the tech industry’s
next generation of bullshit detectors [9] than the community who coined the phrase “keepin’ it
real”? But CHP can go even farther: these forms provide a glimpse across the gap, a peek into
the unalienated, humanized and collectivized possibilities for alternative computing means, media
and methods. All students in CS can benet from CHP; all should be educated in ways that are
aspirational in their vision of computation for more just and sustainable ways of living. But how
do we bridge the gap between CHP and CS in our formal and informal educational systems without
appropriation/erasure? Below we present our experiments in the search for such frameworks for
CHP: attempts at eshing out the rich computational dimensions, maintaining their connection to
the cultural contexts, and returning the value in these unalienated forms back to the communities
of origin.
3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODOLOGY
Motivating the development of our methods are three research questions regarding CHP in CS
education and motivate using methods of modeling in ethnocomputing:
1. What kinds of computational potential exist in CHP; that is, how can we avoid reductive
simplications, and instead understand and interface with its rich computational beauty
and sophistication? For example, we explore how the global explosion of Black music (jazz,
blues, soul, funk, rap, reggae, salsa, dancehall, dub, mambo, motown, techno, gospel, zouk,
ACM Transactions on Computing Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, Article 29. Publication date: October 2021.
29:8 R. Eglash et al.
and calypso, to name but a few) might be understood from the view of HCI and neurocom-
putational perspectives as well as directly translated to CS lessons.
2. How can we apply this to community development, such that we are not merely masking
ordinary lessons with shallow CHP appearances, but rather facilitating its empowering
utilization? Here, we move from theoretical investigation to practical application at the
intersections of CHP and computing. Our experiments in how generative economic forms
can be facilitated by computational innovation include African, African American, Native
American, and other communities.
3. How can pedagogy bring together these concepts of the computational power of CHP, and
its potentials in community development, to increase the academic interest and achieve-
ment of students from underrepresented groups and underserved communities? Here we
examine data on projects that brought together the computational potentials and commu-
nity development of CHP as pedagogical structures for emancipating these value forms in
the classroom.
To answer these questions, we draw on our research team’s prior work in the eld of ethno-
computing, which is about the computing-culture interactions in Indigenous traditions, university
computing departments, artist studios, scientic laboratories, high-tech corporate rms, and any-
where else culture and computing intersect [31]. Ethnocomputing begins with the assumption that
there are computational aspects in all cultures, and cultural aspects in all computing. It matters
not if the device is a Navajo loom or PDP-11, what matters are the algorithmic capabilities, the
advances in understanding, and the impacts on people and the planet.
Although the name sounds similar, ethnocomputing is a distinct contrast from the “ethnomod-
eling” approach that would position western math as universal, and nonwestern as a collection
of incomplete, localized subsets (p. 75) [78]. Rather, ethnocomputing describes the interactions
within ecologies of technologies, humans, nonhumans, epistemologies, and material practices.
Ethnocomputing is thus useful as a critique of Western computing: for example, the ways that
Native American communities on the Columbia River were displaced to create hydroelectric dams
which now power and cool server farms from Microsoft, Facebook, and Google [30]. And it is
useful, as we endeavor to do in this paper, for guiding us towards new computational tools and
practices that empower teachers, students and community members towards more just and sus-
tainable mediations between concrete and abstract; local and universal; social and technical.
For approximately two decades, members of our research team have been studying the rela-
tionships between CHP and the methodological approach of ethnocomputing. Eglash introduced
the idea of fractal geometry as an Indigenous knowledge in Africa [33].1This was documented
in both African material culture (fractal architecture, metal work, sculptures, textiles, hairstyles,
and so on) and its conceptual systems (spiritual belief that the universe is recursively constructed;
life as self-generative; recursive narrative structures in myths and symbolism, etc.). To clarify: we
are not saying that advanced European knowledge merely reveals a fractal structure unknown to
the artisans. We are saying that fractal geometry is a homegrown product of Africa; that it is a
conscious, deliberate, deeply reective part of African Indigenous knowledge systems. Africans
invented fractals rst, before Europeans; indeed, the word “fractal” did not exist until coined by
Mandelbrot in the 1970s.
The fact that this does not t the colonial model of “advanced” European STEM and “primi-
tive” Indigenous societies is precisely why it is counter-hegemonic. Our gut instinct may be to
1In addition to the book African Fractals we recommend the TED talk as well as the software at https://csdt.org/culture/
africanfractals/index.html.
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object: “but they are not writing proofs and theorems on a chalkboard; they are just weaving,
painting, and sculpting these recursive shapes; asking pretty questions and philosophizing about
it.” However, that is exactly what many professional mathematicians initially said about Mandel-
brot’s work: “Some of the pictures of fractals have provoked the thoughts of Mandelbrot (who is
good at dreaming up pretty questions) ....Idont thinkthatMandelbrothasprovedanytheorems
as a result of his investigations, but that is not what he claims to do. By his own telling, he is a
philosopher of science” [58].
Mandelbrot eventually achieved grudging acceptance from STEM gatekeepers: like other inno-
vations, once they are appropriated for military-industrial priorities they are certied as legitimate
forms of computational knowledge. So, it is no wonder that CHP in its colloquial forms nds dis-
interest and opposition (until it too is ready to be appropriated without disturbance to hegemony).
As we will describe below, fractals in cornrow hairstyles have been an exciting area in which
these heritage algorithms can be developed as pedagogical CS interventions that allow translation
without erasure/appropriation.
Another member of our research team, Bennett used computer simulations of African and
African American designs to theorize and study how a Black cultural aesthetic might support
a more robust and diverse graphic design pedagogy [6], as well as resist conning Black innova-
tion to the past. Her more recent work examines grati as a case study in CHP, and the ways that
hegemonic appropriation of grati aesthetics often convert its Black cultural ties into sanitized
forms for advertising or other commodities that do not return value to the communities of origin
[7,8]. Bringing together these challenges to Eurocentric understandings of computational math-
ematics, the call for design innovations in pedagogy, and the cautions against extracting value
without returns to the community of origin, we have taken seriously the idea that the CHP can be
used to make computing education and educational technology more justice oriented.
A key tension in our work is the ability to move between knowledge practices from both worlds;
to develop “translations” between the hegemonic forms of computing and the computational ideas
and practices embedded in Indigenous and vernacular cultures. Traditionally, mathematical an-
thropologists did not think of this as translating one form of knowledge to another [57]. Rather
it was a unidirectional ow: “my Western knowledge can model their Indigenous patterns”. This
work often ignores the epistemic contexts and intentions of Indigenous communities, risking the
reproduction of colonial, primitivizing views. More recently, scholars in the eld of ethnomathe-
matics have challenged these unidirectional analyses with methods for modeling Indigenous and
vernacular cultural practices as knowledge systems [80]. It is bidirectional in the sense that the
model can represent knowledge on both sides (Western and Indigenous/vernacular). But it ap-
pears to maintain a colonial view: the local math merely “claries intrinsic cultural distinctions”
while the Western version “seeks objectivity as an outside observer across cultures” (p. 75) [80].
This bidirectional method holds up the Western version as the one true universal math; all oth-
ers are merely idiosyncratic subsets. These kinds of domain separations have implications beyond
issues of culture: consider, for example, how a CS class might celebrate the algorithmic inno-
vation of bitcoin, while leaving out any mention of its enormous and deadly carbon footprint
[88].
In contrast to the unidirectional and bidirectional methods to modeling, ethnocomputing takes
arecursive approach [59]. It begins with the idea that all knowledge is the result of interactions
between abstract ideas and material practices, and that all actors engaged in knowledge produc-
tion (from instruments to plants to humans) have agentic qualities. When we see an indigenous
knowledge system it is already a multidirectional interaction; one between human and nonhuman
agencies. The Native American agricultural focus on biodiversity, for example, is situated in com-
putationally related conceptions of randomness—the spiritual gure of the trickster; gambling in
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29:10 R. Eglash et al.
games of chance; divination, etc.—and biodiverse diets and ecosystems make possible that cultural
ourishing [29,34]. In contrast, the European focus on monocropping is situated in technocratic
frames of optimization, of squeezing as much value as possible from land and workers. Commons-
based economies like those of Native Americans prevent value extraction. The validation process
of Bitcoin’s blockchain requires such vast amounts of electricity that it is essentially privatizing
the commons, appropriating ecological resources and converting its value to crypto-capital for a
small elite.
Thus, ethnocomputing avoids the tendency to position Western math and computing as more
complete or universal. Each side has dierent sets of characteristics. Moving between those worlds
is not simply a matter of translation; it requires use of trading zones. This metaphor refers to
the ways in which dierent cultures historically carried out exchanges even in the absence of a
common language. Peter Galison used the trading zone metaphor to explain how radar was de-
veloped during WWII [38]. Theoretical physicists had no idea how to build the apparatus; radio
engineers had no idea how to theorize the functionalities needed. Their diagrams, naming con-
ventions, modes of conceptualizations were all dierent, and yet radar was indeed invented. Just
like any trading post, there were pidgins, creoles, hybrid gestures and so on that made exchanges
productive for both sides. Historical examples of trading zones include oppressive regimes (e.g.,
Native American fur trade under colonialism). But Indigenous people have their own histories,
and these include many profound examples where trade routes brought together peaceful and
egalitarian exchanges. When Jimmy Wales described the inspirations for Wikipedia, he cited Ray-
mond’s “Cathedral and the Bazaar”, which named Indigenous trading networks and cross-cultural
markets of the ancient world as models for how “a great babbling bazaar of diering agendas and
approaches” can be voluntary and productive for all.
The question is, how do we ensure that the computing exchange for CHP becomes more like a
voluntary bazaar, and less like colonial forced trade? With this in mind, we have been developing
trading zones for ethnocomputing: a series of examples and experiments with CHP, largely focused
on African American communities, that used these methods of ethnocomputational modeling to
design CS educational experiences and forms of community engagement for youth and adults. We
detail three cases to further explore the relationships between CHP and CS education: 1) a theoret-
ical and historical investigation of the computational signicance of Black music, with examples of
its application in classrooms; 2) an empirical investigation of counter-hegemonic practices in video
game design and education; and 3) an empirical investigation of counter-hegemonic practices in
maker activities. Before getting into each case, we describe the data used to explain each.
The rst section of our results, “Black music and counter-hegemonic computing”, begins with a
theoretical analysis from Eglash and Bennett. How did the music of a small group of the enslaved
grow to overtake nearly every musical form on the planet? Rooted in historical overviews and
comparisons of Black music and digital computing, the section shows how the demarcations set
up by the professional computing disciplines give the false impression that European classical
music has the most computational relevance, and Black music the least. As a result, we overlook
the implications of Black music’s popularity and its relevance to computational mathematics,
neuroscience and other elds. Putting this to practical purpose in math and computing education
software, we describe some investigations of Rhythm Wheels, in which students can both create
and learn with these audio heritage algorithms [35]. The second section of the results, “CHP in CS
Education through Gaming”, is based on Laquana Cooke’s work as Director of the iCamp summer
academy, an interdisciplinary, project-based program that oers Philadelphia high school students’
hands-on workshops in games and web development. Drawing on her experiences designing
and implementing the academy, the section engages in readings and analyses of student-created
artifacts (largely video games) as sources for both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic value.
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Cooke shows how she employed the concept of meta-tuning as Director of the program to think
about the dierential outcomes for students as they learn computing by “tuning” designs for either
hegemonic or counter-hegemonic priorities. The nal section, “CHP in CS Education through
Making” is based on Bill Babbitt and Michael Lachney’s eorts [59,60] to highlight the expertise
and knowledge of Black entrepreneurs and cosmetologists during a library maker program called
the Generative Cosmetology Lab. This section details their processes of designing culturally
and computationally rich activities that engaged the counter-hegemonic value of the African
American Natural Hair Movement (a type of independent maker movement, in and of itself) as
a foundation for CS and engineering education. In the focus group transcript with adults who
helped to facilitate the program (or just showed up out of personal interest), they found that the
Lab’s emphasis on these CHPs allowed the program’s activities and framework to be disseminated
and further developed by racial justice groups in the neighborhood where the library is located.
4 FIELDWORK AND RESULTS
4.1 Black Music and Counter-hegemonic Computing
Like groups such as the wonderful EarSketch team [67], we have endeavored to use music to teach
computing. One way to think of that is bait: we can better tempt some students into the STEM
pipeline if we oer something they enjoy, such as creating music. But that fails to do justice to the
idea that computing already exists in the heritage culture in the forms of musical practice them-
selves. To fully grasp that idea, it is useful to contemplate other such cases. Consider, for example,
how developmental biologists, systems biologists and others now describe the genetic regulatory
network: not as merely capable of being modeled by a computer, or as metaphorically computa-
tional, but quite literally as “the genomic computer” [52]. DNA is not a rare exception; indeed,
the entire eld of computational biology is dedicated to discovering the information processing
capabilities in a variety of such cases: biochemical networks, transport networks, and carbohy-
drate networks to name a few [19]. This view of brain neurons as analog computers brings the
argument full circle, as they can inspire new AI methods (“neuromorphic computing”). Here we
make a similar argument for Black music traditions.
Extending our understanding of computing beyond laptops and mainframes has required scien-
tists to reconsider our abandonment of analog computing [92]. Contrary to common belief, there is
no theoretical reason why analog computing cannot be just as eective. Indeed, with the limits of
Moore’s law rapidly approaching, some scholars have turned to analog neuromorphic computing
as the future [23,87].
We are taught that “digital is discrete, analog is continuous”, but that is not an accurate way to
understand the dierence. If you use an oscilloscope to look at the signal from your mouse or other
digital device, you will see that the binary code is actually a digital square wave of zero volts and
ve volts. It is digital, but physically represented as a continuous signal. Conversely, the analog
system of music is composed of discrete notes. A more accurate way to think about the dierence
between analog and digital is as follows: Digital symbols conduct representation by arbitrary
assignment. We simply agree that “cat” refers to a furry animal; that $ represents money; and so
on. Analog, on the other hand, is representation by proportion [32]. The more excited I am, the
louder I get. The physical parameter changes (decibels) are mapping out the “meaning” parameter
changes (communicating excitement). That might seem like a trivial part of communication, until
you think about vocal inections like pitch, wavering, hoarseness, hesitation, and so on—an entire
universe of paralinguistic audio expression. And that is precisely what makes music so powerful,
because it taps into that part of the brain by using these analog proportionalities [32].
Holding that thought for the moment, consider the history of digital computing. If we look
at the history of UNIX, we see the evolution of almost every contemporary computer operating
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29:12 R. Eglash et al.
system. The original “research UNIX” became BSD, which mutated into Apple’s OS for your mac
and iPhone; the PlayStation OS for gaming, much of the internet backbone, and so on. Before
DOS and Windows, Microsoft began with Xenix, which was essentially UNIX re-branded. In
many cases UNIX was rewritten from scratch, so that the ideas could be used without violating
copyright. That’s the case for Minix, which provided the le system and some crucial ideas for
the Linux kernel, whose descendants run pretty much all of the internet not run by BSD. You can
see an image of the whole UNIX family tree in Figure 1below.
Fig. 1. The UNIX family tree. Aribution: Eraserhead1, Infinity0, Sav_vas – Levenez.
And here (Figure 2) is a similar evolutionary diagram for the Black music family tree. Starting
from West African roots, we have the work songs of enslaved Africans; the spiritual renaissance
of gospel; the secular mutations of blues, ragtime, swing, jazz, rock, soul, funk and rap; the
Caribbean and Latin American explosions of mambo, salsa, samba, zouk, reggae, Afro-Cuban,
reggaeton, and so on. From Coltrane and Miles to Gangnam styles; Black music is the Unix of the
global rhythmic network.
UNIX was the operating system that gave birth to all other operating systems; its metaphorical
DNA (whether directly or re-written from scratch) is part of a grand computing heritage that nearly
everyone uses on a daily basis. Why? Take away all the variations and at its core you have a fun-
damental mesh between what digital computation needs, and what system architecture provides.
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Fig. 2. The Black music family tree. By permission of Portia Maultsby.
Now we can nally ask the same question about Black music: why was it so phenomenally
successful? How is it that an obscure bunch of folk songs by the enslaved evolved into the world’s
most popular musical forms? Recall that music reaches the brain through its analog channels.
Our emotional intelligence–the limbic system in the brain; the neuroendocrine system linking
the brain with the secretion of hormones; indeed, the entire facial and bodily apparatus of aect
communication–is mostly analog. And therein lies the answer to our question. Just as Unix
entered and took over the digital ecosystem over the last 50 years, African traditions did the same
for a global analog communication system called “music” over the last 200 years. They hacked the
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Fig. 3. Student’s rhythm wheels interface using the LCM of 3 and 4. In this case the student dragged in 3
“scratch” sounds from rap and 4 clave sounds from Caribbean drumming. Both wheels will create 12 beats
total.
limbic system of our shared brains through juke joints, radio waves, recording studios and peer
to peer le sharing. Take away all the variations and at its core you have a fundamental mesh
between what analog cognition needs, and what music architecture provides. We know why that
mesh works for UNIX; we barely understand why that’s the case for Black music.
Previously we suggested that rather than dismiss CHP as a poor t to CS lessons, we explore the
possibility that it is computational in other ways not yet understood. Like hypotheses regarding
the computational power of genomic networks or neural networks: an opportunity we can learn
from; a potentially dierent way to go about computing that justies intellectual respect and
research. Some of the greatest technical problems of our era–the failure of HCI to provide plea-
surable, profound, principled integration between human lives and computational powers–lies in
the fact that the round analog pegs of our lives are constantly hammered into square digital boxes.
Perhaps the computational potential of Black music could provide new insights into resolving
that dilemma; into better meshing what analog cognition needs and HCI could provide.
The same goes for our practical approach to Black music in the CS classroom. The application
we have developed for this, Rhythm Wheels (https://csdt.org/culture/rhythmwheels/index.html)
allows students to place sounds into sections of a rotating disk (the number of wheels, number of
sections per wheel, tempo, loudness and order are all under user control, either as drag and drop
or blocks-based coding). One way teachers have used this is to teach Least Common Multiple
(LCM). For example, to make a 3-beat wheel and a 4-beat wheel stop at the same time, students
can discover (usually by trial and error) that if the 3-beat goes around 4 times, and the 4-beat 3
times, then both are playing 12 beats and they stop simultaneously (Figure 3).
This has two consequences: rst, it makes what some might nd to be a dull math lesson vastly
more interesting. We have heard students excitedly describe “that’s just what we were doing with
the music!” The project has also been valuable in community connections. In the school where we
originally developed this (upstate NY), there was a large number of students with Latin-Caribbean
roots (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, etc.). But there was almost no educational connection
to that culture. The Rhythm Wheels success in math class inspired the school to seek and gain a
grant to purchase drums and drumming instruction; and the students presented their simulations
as part of the year’s closing ceremony that included drumming and dancing. But the website also
helps students understand that LCM is well known to musicians using the polyrhythmic heritage
of Black culture. You can feel when the two cycles drift apart and come back together; that is what
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Fig. 4. the African rhythm D(3,8) in rhythm wheels (dash indicates silence).
gives the music its “hook”. Several scholars have noted the resonance between these intertwining
polyrhythms–in particular the role of call-and-response vocals–and the egalitarian basis of
Indigenous societies that requires both voluntary agency and coordination (e.g. Oloa-Biloa [78]).
We have reported elsewhere on the success in using Rhythm Wheels as part of computing
classroom activities [35]. More recently we have combined this idea with animated visualization,
set to music and coded by students who then use it for expressing solidarity with movements
such as Black Lives Matter (e.g. https://csdt.org/culture/adinkra/software.html) and other per-
sonal expressions. There is also a feature which allows students to rap over the rhythms they
create (something they did spontaneously before we added it). We also continue to explore the
computational complexity of the music itself and its potential for classroom and community
contributions. Future modications will add meta-wheels for sequencing wheels. This meta level
is well known in Black music studies; hip hop historian Tricia Rose refers to it as “rupture”:
Time suspensions via rhythmic breaks–points at which the baselines are isolated
and suspended–are important clues in explaining sources of pleasure in Black mu-
sic.... These features arenot merelystylisticeects,they are aural manifestations
of philosophical approaches to the social environment.” (p. 67) [81].
Toussaint used a framework that is very similar to the rhythm wheels GUI to investigate what
he unfortunately calls “the Euclidean algorithm” (because Euclid provided something similar for
calculating Greatest Common Divisor2)[89]. He shows that a recursive algorithm that has been
used in nuclear physics to maximize distribution of energy pluses between intervals can also be
used to maximize the distribution of sounds and silences in music. Since almost every example
in his paper comes from the music ltered through the Black Diaspora (origins in west Africa,
inuences in Brazilian, Cuban, etc.) let us oer an alternative naming and refer to this as the
Diaspora algorithm. In his main example there would be three sounds distributed in a wheel of
eight beats (we can symbolize this as D(3,8)).
The representation in rhythm wheels is shown in Figure 4. He summarizes “It is shown here that
the structure of the Euclidean algorithm may be used to generate, very eciently, a large family of
2To be more precise, Euclid’s Elements (c. 300 BC), Book 7 (Propositions 1–2) shows how repeated subtraction can deter-
mine the GCD of two integers. The algorithm used by Toussaint uses repeated division, not subtraction, to simulate Black
rhythmic patterns. Thus, there is no reason that has to be named after Euclid, given that the algorithm is not the one he
described.
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rhythms used as timelines (ostinatos), in sub-Saharan African music in particular, and world music
in general”. Toussaint notes that “In some cases the Euclidean rhythm is a rotated version of a com-
monly used rhythm”. That is to say (correcting again for his reassignment of Black cultural capital
to Europe), there are usually several dierent ways of ordering the same relative intervals created
by any one solution to the Diaspora algorithm. But why do certain orders vastly predominate? Why
did the atoke bell rhythm in Ghanaian Sohu, the tresillo in Cuban drumming, and Black-inspired
rockabilly hits like “Hound Dog” all select the same order as well as distribution? How does this
order interact with higher-level cycles (our proposed meta-cycles); with simultaneous instruments
that have dierent cycles (and perhaps the same meta-cycles?). Explorations of the Diaspora al-
gorithm await both students and researchers. We envision a future in which nuclear power plants
are not the primary beneciaries, and the terminology need not refer to Euclid to legitimate itself.
4.2 CHP in CS Education Through Gaming
iCamp summer academy is an interdisciplinary, project-based program that oers Philadelphia
(Philly) School District high school students hands-on workshops in games and web development,
as well as audio and video production. The iCamp team takes a bottom-up, decentralized approach
to creating a space for youth to simultaneously contest hegemonic structures of oppression and
cultural erasure, celebrate their urban Philly and cultural heritage, and hone sociotechnical skills
as media producers and developers. As a residential program at a Predominantly White Insti-
tution (PWI), we critically (and recursively) “tune” communitarian, educational, and the social
developments of our high school students, undergrad volunteers, and instructors with the aim of
empowering all participants.
Pickering uses the tuning metaphor to describe the process by which one carries out any trial-
and-error process [79]. Someone playing a computer game will tune their responses, gradually
honing in on the winning set of behaviors. When we teach students programming for game de-
sign, we teach them to tune their game to maximize the player’s enjoyment, education or other
goals. Thus the student designer is “meta-tuning”: trying to hone in on the design that will best
facilitate the player’s tuning experience. As iCamp directors, it is our responsibility to guide the
activities towards critical resistance, radical joy, and other elements of emancipatory practice. But
that cannot be done using didactic, authoritarian demands; we must create a space in which par-
ticipants can explore (trial and error) paths towards those goals; even redening what those goals
mean along the way [79]. Thus, we are meta-tuning the meta-tuners. Henry Louis Gates identies
such nested loops in Black traditions from both African and African American communicative
structures as “repetition with revision”. He cites trickster stories in West Africa, and the role of
gures such as Nigerian trickster Eshu (Figure 5) in “doubling the double” to escape binary du-
alisms; a tradition he links to Black vernacular speech styles that fold meaning back on itself, and
other ways of nurturing emancipatory possibilities in reective Black cultural traditions [39].
Gate’s “doubling the double” [37] is also resonant with W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of “double
consciousness” [27] and Patricia Hill Collins’ “outsider within” [20]; of always working in a para-
doxical space that is simultaneously alien and citizen. This recursive nesting of critique and ca-
pitulation is especially evident in iCamp’s Video Game Design track. This track is designed to
help students develop systems-based computational and design thinking skills. Throughout the
week, students are provided with laptops and free game dev software (e.g., C2 and 3; Krita; Gimp
and Audacity) to develop their games through an iterative design process: starting with ideation,
moving through prototyping, coding, and playtesting phases. Comparing projects from iCamp’s
inaugural year in 2017 to its second year, we can see how the negotiations between hegemonic
and counter hegemonic modes–both conforming to the expectations of gaming industry, mar-
keting, and mainstream appeal as well as leaving room for subverting its techniques, goals and
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Fig. 5. Eshu doubling the double. The flute blowing at right symbolizes youth flaunting authority; the beard
at le the wisdom of age; the elaborate hair implies sexual (and social) reproduction. University of Iowa
Stanley Museum of Art.
methods—illustrate how a meta-tuning trajectory negotiates changes in the organizational infras-
tructure and pedagogical practices during the camp.
This evolution began with our piloting and early commitments to a client-centered approach
in 2017. We were informed by prior work on mentorship models for learning though studio expe-
riences, such as Sheridan’s emphasis on emergent leadership roles [86], and the development of
professional skills for future employment opportunities. But our main focus was a client-centered
approach arising from prior research in design-based youth programming. This situates youth
design practices within real-world project scenarios for “client-facing deliverables” [84]. To do so
we partnered with Philly-based nonprot organizations, who pitched their frameworks for change
(their goals and strategies in bettering the community) to our campers during our opening day.
Thus in 2017, student ideation was directed towards the ways in which neighboring organiza-
tions were tackling local community issues. Most students had never designed or coded games
before, but struggles in designing games for social change were productive challenges, as students
negotiated their desires to develop bug-free games that were also socially conscious. For example,
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29:18 R. Eglash et al.
by day 3 most games mimicked AAA games (mainstream big budget successes), with an emphasis
on jump-and-run or top-down puzzle games like Mario and Zelda.
The day-to-day design activities put far more time into code-specic trial and error learning
than reecting on social justice implications or the means for incorporating that into the designs.
Student-guided inquiries adjusted pedagogy: for example, students wanted to tweak their collision
detection algorithms for other features, such as health and hit points. We conducted just-in-time
debugging workshops, remixing resources they found online for feature design. Thus, social justice
values tended to take a back seat to the technical aspects, but we wanted to support the students’
own sense of priorities and were successful in getting the alpha game versions to our partner-
clients in time for playtesting.
The Advocate Center’s after-school youth provided an especially detailed body of feedback. For
example, a Zelda-like puzzle game, TheAppleofMyEye(see Figure 6), received positive reactions as
“a cool game”; however, they did not like the “(graphic) blood,” and saw no connection of the game
to real social issues like “college prep and success journey.” For The College Game, the Advocate
Center testers noted that they “loved the look of the game,” especially how the “protagonist is a
person of color” and that it reminded them of Mario Brothers.
On day 5, iCampers analyzed the feedback and revised their games for nal versions. Images
below are the snapshots of the nal versions of both games. Both games embodied sophisticated
algorithms (various features such as level design, win-states/lose-states, health meters, and NPC-
movements), maxing out Construct 2’s free version of 100 lines of code. However, even after these
revisions, the social justice content was rather supercial. The client’s message was an after-
thought, and the primary focus was to replicate the production values of commercial games (see
image 6below).
Fig. 6. iCamp 2017 examples, showing an emphasis on hegemonic design appeal: The Apple of My Eye (le);
The College Game (right).
For example, the Apple of my Eye game had all original graphic art and animation, with an origi-
nal rst-person shooter narrative. After playtesting, the designer simply removed the gun from the
protagonist’s hand, overlaying the image with a book, and replaced images for all the sprites that
had bullets and guns with apples. Their tuning process appeared to be not only guided by hege-
monic appeal, but perhaps even amplifying it, as the appearance of any stereotypical elements of
commercial games became the impetus for more of the same.
In iCamp 2018, we sought to re-engage the tensions between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic
framing. In our post-mortem meeting after iCamp 2017, the sta reected on the lack of social
justice strengths in games and drew connections to their passion projects, i.e., other DIY media
projects they worked on throughout the week. These passion projects consisted of “music videos,”
project bloopers and other PSAs that celebrated the rich culture of Philly. For 2018, we revised the
client-based model to a “community-as-client” approach; thus, repositioning the iCampers them-
selves as among the clients. This meta-tuning aimed at oering a more reective experience, mak-
ing room for what appeared to be a set of pre-existing counter-hegemonic aesthetics, motivations
and practices. These CHPs might be deemed inappropriate for a formal social justice organization
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Fig. 7. iCamp 2018 early stages of “iCamper-community-as-client,” Hashtag Activity.
but had a rich set of personal meanings for student designers, and thus needed to be engaged on
their own terms, rather than used in an instrumental way to serve the (albeit morally admirable)
purposes of external groups.
Through this “iCamper-community-as-a-client” approach, pre-production began with a large
“Hashtag Identity” ideation activity asking all media track iCampers to write identiers, share
with a partner, and then report out to the group. The clustering of identiers helped iCampers
give each other shared recognition as reective thinkers and doers and empowered them to create
a collaborative space for (peer-led) just-in-time feedback (Figure 7).
One game that stood out as an exemplar for CHP computing was Conviction, focused on Black
incarceration rates. The student intentionally wanted it to be abstract and resisted everyone’s
attempt to have him add in imagery, character design, and so on (Figure 8). That is not to say it
is impossible to combine the two but supporting this student’s decision was crucial to his success
in this case. The lack of scenery and characters enabled the student to spend more time with the
algorithm itself, overturning expectations that moving away from industry standards would lessen
CS content.
In what way does Conviction embody CHP? Hegemonic practices insist on design for maximiz-
ing the commercial success of products. While games like Grand Theft Auto have capitalized on
violent fantasies of what is putatively Black authenticity [3], such extractive processes take from
Black communities without giving back. Conviction in contrast oered a deglamorization, as it
were, embodying feelings of frustration and hopelessness as minimalist gameplay. This counter-
hegemonic tradition of refusal in the face of pressures to commodify or conform has a long history.
Therese Nelson, the founder of the website Black Culinary History, points out that Black chefs such
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29:20 R. Eglash et al.
Fig. 8. Snapshots of Conviction’s game levels, demonstrating one student’s interpretation of a counter-
hegemonic approach in narration and level design. From top le: Intro, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3.
as herself often had to make a choice between lucrative careers and authentic cooking [51]. Black
experimental artists often formed collectives, such as Chicago’s Association for the Advancement
of Creative Musicians, because they refused more lucrative commercial production but (unlike the
white counterpart of experimental arts) had little academic support [65]. Math educator Danny
Martin writes that “right of refusal” needs to be a fundamental part of Black liberatory education,
given the ways that rhetoric around inclusion can mask perpetuation of dominant practices [68].
But as these examples show, resistance does not have to be rejection: in the case of Conviction,
the lack of glamourous eects created a game centered on pitting the user against a ruthless, un-
varnished algorithm. The challenge for the educator was allowing this strategy to emerge in ways
that felt authentic to the student.
Thus, the meta-tuning process described here3is one strategy for engaging the three principles
of counter-hegemonic computing. It considers levels of both “t” and hegemonic critique; it allows
for both positive and negative frames of reference; and it provides a means of emancipating hidden
or disregarded forms of CHP value. It both draws on CHP itself (by way of Gates, Du Bois, Collins),
and better supports CHP in student game design: games that included deeper consideration of con-
tent based on shared social issues; broadened learning space (among peers and online communities);
computer science literacy beyond basic coding (abstraction and code eciency); and self-led R&D.
4.3 CHP in CS Education Through Making
This next case study details a trading zone between the African American natural hair movement
and the maker movement. We called the program “The Generative Cosmetology Lab” (GCL).
Its purpose was to support informal CS and engineering education in the context of hair, cosmet-
ics, and beauty as part of a two month long teen summer program at a public library in Upstate
New York. The library is located in a predominantly African American urban neighborhood. It
was designed in collaboration with the library branch manager, two professional cosmetologists
3Meta-tuning can also be used in sinister ways; for example when the rhetoric of participation masks authoritarian agendas
[42,49].
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:21
(who were experts in natural Black hair), two high school cosmetology students, and our team of
university researchers and technologists. Together, we designed the learning environment of the
GCL to t within the larger trend of installing makerspaces and supporting the maker movement
at libraries [96]. The maker movement is composed of tinkers, hobbyists, technologists, and oth-
ers who enjoy and utilize DIY computing and fabrication technologies to design new products,
collaborate, and innovate in decentralized and bottom-up ways. Librarians, teachers, and others
have sought to leverage the learning-by-doing that takes place within maker communities and
makerspaces for STEM educational purposes [67], including CS [85].
At the same time, the GCL sought to confront tendencies for the maker movement’s domina-
tion by White, male, and middle class (i.e., hegemonic) norms and values [64]. One of the roots of
the maker movement can be found in the (relatively) ethnically homogenous Whole Earth Group.
Founder Stewart Brand argued that this homogeneity was, for him, a productive feature [62,93].
Buechley conducted a critical analysis of the pictures and representations of Make: Magazine and
found that they largely reected the cultural capital of White men [15]. As Ladson-Billings points
out, by repeatedly linking signiers of ethnic identity to certain domains, they take on a kind of
conceptual whiteness: “Conceptual categories like ‘school achievement,’ ‘middle classness,’ ‘male-
ness,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘intelligence,’ and ‘science’ become normative categories of whiteness” (pg. 9) [63].
To challenge the conceptual whiteness of the maker movement, our goal was to design the GCL
around CHP that would be relevant to the local community that the library served. We did this by
building on the CHP of what is often referred to as the African American natural hair movement.
To understand what it means to approach maker activities in terms of CHP, we can start with
Kobena Mercer’s Black Hair/Style Politics [74]. He points out that Black styles such as the Afro
are often referred to as “natural”, but they are actually just as carefully produced, with as many
products and grooming activities, as any other. By disguising choices with appeals to what is more
natural, we capitulate to hegemonic forces (such as those banning LGBTQ as “unnatural”). Mercer
urges us to understand Black hair styles in all forms as the freedom of Black people to express
themselves in ways they see t. In other words, the Black “natural” hair movement in the U.S. can
itself be understood as a kind of maker movement, with all the implications of DIY innovation and
relevance to grassroots entrepreneurship. It is not one derived from a legacy of White hobbyists,
but rather grounded in the counter-hegemonic freedom for people of African descent to wear their
hair how they see t, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty [17], or even
Afrocentric standards [74]. Black beauticians have long been conduits for anti-racist political orga-
nizing [41,82] and sources of local wealth generation [17]. The history of anti-Black racism in the
U.S. has many examples of hair discrimination, and this continues today [70]. Black children, for
example, are disciplined in schools for wearing locs, cornrows, dreadlocks and heritage styles [71].
Thus designing the GCL was not a matter of “connecting” Black hair CHPs to maker practices,
but rather recognizing the Black hair movement as having its own independent trajectory of
innovation history and DIY fabrication, and placing those maker practices in a mutually sup-
porting relation with the tools and techniques of the mainstream make movement. To encourage
the sense of student-led process, we organized the program as a drop-in space where they could
come and go as they pleased, with social, epistemic, and technological infrastructure to support
both physical and digital elements of testing, design, and fabrication. We organized the sessions
around three natural cosmetic activities: creating natural cosmetic products, designing cornrow
braiding patterns, and analyzing hair strength. Each of these activities included design and fab-
rication technologies (e.g., physical hair mannequins, Arduino-based sensors, a wet bench, visual
programming application, and so on). We made sure to have experts in natural hair, engineering,
and computing all in the space together. For example, our engineering undergrads worked with
local hairstylists to do a dry run of pH sensors with cosmetic products (Figure 9(a)) and brought
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29:22 R. Eglash et al.
Fig. 9. Dry run of pH sensors with hair stylists (le); DIY tensile strength of hair tester (right).
together parts so that students could create a DIY apparatus for measuring hair tensile strength
(Figure 9(b)). This ensured that we had some foresight in how young makers could best experience
modifying typical maker tools and techniques that could t the priorities of cosmetology explo-
rations. At the beginning of each hour together either a professional cosmetologist, a researcher,
or both would introduce some cultural background to the youths to orient the day’s activity.
The rst group of activities involved building and calibrating an Arduino-based pH sensor
system. While that is standard maker-activity process and technology, we then have the youths
bring in commercial cosmetic products from home or shopping. With Black cosmetology experts
in the room, this empowers a critique of the ways in which pressures of Eurocentric standards,
together with the commodication of beauty, can result in the use of damaging pH levels.
The next step is to help youth make their own natural cosmetic products, using the same pH
sensors to ensure healthier pH, based on plant oils and other organic sources over high-alkaline
chemicals (Figure 10). Finally, they then used the pH of their own natural products as part of a
mock-marketing campaign for selling their products.
The second group of activities were designed for young people to explore the scaling geome-
tries that are embedded in cornrow braid designs, rst through a physical braiding lesson on
a mannequin, and then with the culturally situated design tool, Cornrow Curves [31,60]. The
goal was for young people to use CS concepts (e.g., iterative algorithms) and math concepts
(e.g. transformational geometry) to describe both physical and virtual braids, contextualized by
some history on the scaling patterns of African braiding and its wider signicance as a source of
African mathematical ideas [33]. Figure 11 shows an example from this interface.
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:23
Fig. 10. A young person measures out ingredients for their natural cosmetic product at the GCL.
Fig. 11. Student simulation in the Cornrows Curves tool.
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29:24 R. Eglash et al.
The third group of activities allowed the students to design experiments, test apparatus and
so on to apply dierent chemicals to strands of hair, and then subsequently test their individual
tensile strength; pulling on the strand with a spring gauge or weight unit it breaks. This activity
was seen as especially important to our cosmetology and natural hair expert collaborators, who
pointed out that hair damage is a major concern at the intersections of science, cosmetology
and beauty commodication. While the hair strength gauge was not something that could be
applied to professional use, it was well suited for our educational purposes. It required students
to think about how they could collect data; to get some familiarity with what are often seen as
the masculine domain of tools like vise grips; and to look at how the DIY maker approach could
be applied in a lab-like setting.
To understand the repertoire of approaches in the GCL, we need to consider how the usual
process of makerspace fabrications typically falls into two modes. In what Berland calls tinkering
mode, the focus is on seeing what can be done with some particular part or apparatus [10]. In
what Beltagui et al. call bricolage mode, one is “making do” with whatever is at hand to achieve
some design or goal [4]. In what we might call counter-hegemonic making, we are looking at
how elds of power are enacted upon a practice–in this case African heritage hairstyles–and
exploring its contours with a repertoire of maker techniques and apparatus. Weak points in that
eld of power–places where CHP value might be empowered by innovation–are the targets of
discovery and invention for counter-hegemonic making.
Because of the drop-in scheduling, there was a lot of uctuation, anywhere between 5 and 14
young people per day, but in general the goal of having a voluntary makerspace predominantly
(but not exclusively) occupied by young women of color was a success. Elsewhere (under more
controlled learning environments) we have discussed pre and post learning comparisons for this
suite of culture-based software and hardware activities [31,60]. However, in this case we were
more focused on community impacts.
Since the GCL was open to anyone, it was not uncommon for adults to stop by with children
to check us out as word of the program spread around the neighborhood. One of the adults
who showed up repeatedly–with and without her granddaughter–was a prominent local African
American activist who does anti-racist work on critical justice and prison reform. She was
particularly interested in the way we made connections between cosmetics, science, and African
contexts. On the last day of the program, she sat down with the team. First, she explained its
impact on her granddaughter: “As you know, I had my granddaughter here once with me and
then we started talking about the make-up stu. And, so she did a project, you know from coming
here, for her school. It was a big display, which she got a 100% on [applause and laughter] but it
came out of here.” Next, she described how she was going to build on the work we were doing in
another community engagement center, which she directed.
My head is spinning about how we can put all this stu together for the community.. .
we’re doing the Black Panther because that is kind of connected to it [GCL]. So, we
are going to be doing that at the library for a couple weeks to talk about issues around
Black hair and Black beauty standards and that kind of stu. So, all that came from
here.
This program began to incorporate some of the materials we had developed, in a space that had
never conducted maker activities but had a strong reputation for its grassroots social justice work.
Elsewhere other reinterpretations have led to collaborations with urban agriculture groups (with
the aim of growing plants to be used in hair products), 3D printing mannequin heads with corn-
row patterns (with the possibility of marketing a new product), and other community-oriented
innovation. Here we can see how the CHP of the natural hair movement, and the empowerment
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Counter-hegemonic Computing 29:25
of its value forms through maker exploration and innovation, allow positive racial identity
development in trading zones that were developed by and for the local community.
5 DISCUSSION
CHP’s very existence as a legitimate cultural production is often in doubt. Rose begins her history
of hip-hop by recounting a meeting in an ethnomusicology department, where the chair declared
that she must be only interested in the political dimensions of rap, since its musical attributes are
non-existent [81]. Similar dismissive comments are made regarding the non-existence of archi-
tecture and design in pre-colonial Africa; the absence of poetry in spoken word; the non-artistry
of grati; even the lack of literary value in Toni Morrison [72]. If this paper only serves to alert
instructors to the existence of this rich and complex body of cultural content, we have made some
progress. But of course the connections to CS pedagogy, guidelines for respectful use in the class-
room, and visions for returning value to communities remain paramount.
Now we turn to reviewing these outcomes for the three questions we originally proposed:
1. What kinds of computational potentials exist in CHP; that is, how can we avoid reductive
simplications, and instead understand and interface with its rich computational beauty
and sophistication?
We hope that readers will now have not only a dierent vision for the computational potentials
of CHP, but a dierent perspective on methodology and goals. The objectives are not sharpening
computational scalpels for dissecting Black culture. They are translating; nurturing the emergence
of hidden algorithmic gems; appreciating the computational dimensions as achievements of intel-
lect, resistance, and visions for sustainable living and equitable relationships. In the case of music,
we saw that these could be translated directly into algorithmic and mathematical forms. But one
cannot stop at translation, as if Western knowledge holds universal truths to which Indigenous
knowledge is but an incomplete subset. We explore the neurocomputational implications for HCI:
why did music of the enslaved, against all odds, “go viral” when other forms did not? We explore
the computational implications: how might understanding Black music in terms of the Diaspora
algorithm enable more bidirectional exchanges between cultural and computational worlds?
In the case of gaming and the Arduino-based pH sensing, the computational dimensions at rst
seem much more external. But there too, a counter-hegemonic perspective is crucial. What makes
us assume that there is a singular maker movement, with origins in White middle class hobbyists?
Why not locate equally legitimate origins in the White working class and its love of backyard
mechanics or kitchen table chefs? As we begin to examine Black hairstyles as its own DIY move-
ment, the crucial role of repertoires comes into focus. The broader the expanse of repertoires, the
more that bricolage can become a natural mode of innovation. By eschewing the usual focus on
mainstream appeal or optimization for nancial gain [64], and centering instead the priorities of
the Natural Hair Movement, repertoires that might not arise in your average makerspace, such
as experiments with organic replacements for harsh chemicals can take center stage. There are
symbiotic gains on both sides if the maker movement can adopt healthier and less ethnocentric
repertoires, and the Natural Hair Movement can leverage more from the repertoires of contempo-
rary technology.
Similarly, the gaming engagements show that Black youth can “tune” their design practices to-
wards CHP if we can properly meta-tune the learning environment. There is no need to assume
that one must replicate the kinds of heritage algorithms we nd in Black music and braiding pat-
terns, as CHP is not limited in that way. Rather, the kinds of African traditions invoked by Gates
and others in explaining Black narrative forms can be seen emerging as CHP gaming practices
if students are given the support to do so. Indeed, the reason for creating the general category of
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29:26 R. Eglash et al.
CHP is to prevent such assumptions (that culture can only emerge in modeling explicit forms of vi-
sual and audio patterns). Narrative form and computational expressions of resistance, critique and
alterity need to be able to co-exist side by side with heritage algorithms and fabrication techniques
if we are to embrace the full repertoire of CHP forms in CS education.
2. How can we apply this to community development, such that we are not merely masking
ordinary lessons with shallow CHP appearances, but rather facilitating its empowering
utilization?
One of the advantages of the ethnocomputing approach is that it forefronts anti-racist possibil-
ities. Once we stop using Western STEM as the measure of worth and allow the algorithmic and
mathematical understandings embedded in CHP to emerge in their own right, the opposition to
white supremacy and more subtle forms of hegemony can open doors to community collabora-
tion. As it moves into the classroom, local advocates can see a combination of anti-racist content,
student enthusiasm and academic engagement. In the case of music, our community connection
took place in the form of a local education grant that enabled the purchase of physical music
equipment and instruction. The case of cosmetology-based making also prospered, reappearing
in another community center because of this connection. Gaming on the other hand took a more
inward turn, as discussed below.
3. How can pedagogy bring together these concepts of the computational power of CHP, and
its potentials in community development, to increase the academic interest and achieve-
ment of students from underrepresented groups and underserved communities?
As Cooke emphasized in her description of iCamp, student motivations are not necessarily in
sync with our simplistic notions of how CHP and community aspects will intersect. The anti-
racist attributes are exciting for some students (“this LCM algorithm is just like what we did with
music!”); but not all. Community applications can be the key to engagement for one gamer; but for
others it might feel forced. Cooke’s meta-tuning framework was developed to keep instructors on
the search for ways that the computational potentials of CHP can best be nurtured as CS interests
and achievement. For example, in the CSDT website (https://csdt.org/) we recommend teachers
allow students to make their own choices for which cultural traditions they want to select. It is
not uncommon to see Black students simulating Appalachian designs, Native students making
cornrows and Latinx students working with grati [30]. CHP should be a choice, and a journey
of discovery, not an assumption about the relation between student interests and their identities.
6 CONCLUSION
Our preliminary results show promising possibilities for CHP in CS education. In scholarly lit-
erature we have shown the potential for rethinking the signicance of CHP as an alternative
foundation in communication theory, computational mathematics, and other areas. In commu-
nity development these approaches have yielded advances in sustainable architecture, energy,
health, fashion, and arts. And they have been brought together in classroom environments where
this generative approach to computing education shows improvements for student interest and
achievement in CS.
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Race and racism are defining characteristics of life in American society. Technology and other knowledge production tools are created within this racist context and generate information that, when (mis)used, worsen inequities for already marginalized people. Race after Technology takes readers on a provocative journey into technology’s role in perpetuating racism. In this book, Benjamin explores the myriad of ways in which technology reinforces systemic oppression in America, creating a digital dragnet which codes people by stigmatizing them for where they live, work, and play. Technology codifies discriminatory practices in a way that results in racist responses to social problems. It succeeds by excluding some groups from taking part in its design, intent, implementation, and results. While it strives to present with an “allure of objectivity,” the content of technology reflects the biases of its creators and the motivations of its sponsors. It twists society like a fun-house mirror where the principles of Jim Crow and the “illusion of [racial] progress” persist.
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The field of science and technology studies (STS) has recently formalized a performative category of scholarship called ‘making and doing’. Making and doing recognizes engaged and reflexive practices that help STS claims and ideas travel between social worlds by means other than academic publications and presentations. At this time, little attention has been paid to the historical conditions and epistemologies that helped to construct this category. While STS may appear to be merely exploiting the twenty-first century popularity of the maker movement, we have found that feminist and ethnographic approaches to science played historically significant roles in the epistemic formation and foundation of the movement itself. By tracing the influence of STS on the maker movement to late twentieth century collaborations between Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert, we aim to interfere in making and doing narratives by proposing to hold STS accountable for the socio-technical world-making in which it is implicated.