Starting with an informal 2017 workshop on algorithm ethics, building into a 2018 course on platforms and infrastructures, MASTS (“Media as SocioTechnical Systems”) has grown into a 25+ person collective of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty from seven USC schools (Communication; Journalism; Letters, Arts & Sciences; Engineering; Cinematic Arts; Public Policy; Law) building interdisciplinary knowledge and action on sociotechnical controversies. Last academic year we focused on the science and politics of facial recognition—how engineers design it, universities use it, journalists cover it, companies commodify it, spies try to beat it, social movements resist it, and popular culture tells stories with and about it. This year, we are focusing on sociotechnical controversies at the intersection of media technologies, pandemic forces, and social justice.
Through a mix of project salons, skills sharing, guest speakers, and movie screenings, MASTS has become a unique, cross-school, interdisciplinary space for asking questions, building knowledge, and taking action. Fueled by a commitment to see and shape media technologies through multiple perspectives and diverse practices, and driven by deep investments in social justice, MASTS is an infrastructure for convening people, building community, shaping intervention, pushing debate, forging collaborations, and hacking the university.