Welcome! The Sawyer Seminar is back for Fall 2022 with a series of events.

CONFERENCE: Achieving Health Equity in a World of Data

Register here: https://hopkinshistoryofmedicine.org/events/achieving-health-equity-data-conf/

Digital Health, defined by the FDA as including “categories such as mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine” has the potential to empower patients to make better decisions about their own health while facilitating prevention, providing early diagnosis, surveillance, management and prediction of chronic conditions. New health technologies also help clinicians improve health outcomes through greater access to and use of patient data. At the same time, digital health poses a risk of reinforcing racial disparities in healthcare through algorithmic bias, digital redlining, tacit racism in clinical documentation, unrepresentative data, and the lack of diversity in the decision-makers and users of health informatics applications. Added to this, the potential compromise of patients’ privacy, the lack of health data integration, data overload issues, security concerns, and limited or inefficient data visualization are upstream and downstream obstacles to digital health’s potential to transform healthcare. Combined with technical anxiety and slow adoption of digital health innovation, these myriad factors limit the capacity of digital health to facilitate health equity. 

Grappling with the problem that race and racism poses for digital health, and the great potential that digital health represents to reduce or exacerbate existing health disparities, requires discussion and inquiry across several domains of technical expertise, clinical experience, and critical humanities and social sciences. This conference aims to serve as a forum to engage with the opportunities and challenges/risks? of digital health and health informatics from historical, ethnographic, ethical, economic, and pragmatic perspectives. It invites submissions from a variety of methodological, theoretical, and multidisciplinary perspectives. Theoretical work that engages critically with the debate about the promises and pitfalls of digital health in the context of race and health equity are particularly welcome. We also welcome proposals for “hands-on” data sessions and workshops, as well as submissions (talks and hands-on sessions) from students, practitioners, IT professionals, and those employed in industry.


Book Symposium: Slum Acts (Veena Das)

Please join us on September 16, 10am-1pm at 426 Mergenthaler to discuss Veena Das’s book Slum Acts with her.  Joining us for the book discussion will be a rich array of speakers.  This event is being sponsored by the Sawyer Seminar on “Precision and Uncertainty in a World of Data.”  The event is in person only and no rsvp is required. 

Speakers Bio:

Dilip Gaokar is Professor in Rhetoric and Public Culture and the Director of Center for Global Culture and Communication at Northwestern University. He is also the Director of Center for Transcultural Studies, an independent scholarly research network concerned with global issues. He was closely associated with the journal, Public Culture, serving as the Executive Editor (2000-2009) and as Editor (2009-2011). Gaonkar has two sets of scholarly interests: rhetoric as an intellectual tradition, both its ancient roots and its contemporary mutations; and, global modernities and their impact on the political. He has published numerous essays on rhetoric, including “The Idea of Rhetoric in the Rhetoric of Science” that was published along with ten critical responses to the essay in a book, Rhetorical Hermeneutics: Invention and Interpretation in the Age of Science, edited by Alan G. Gross and William Keith (1996). Gaonkar has edited a series books on global cultural politics: Globalizing American Studies(with Brian Edwards, 2010), Alternative Modernities (2001), and Disciplinarity and Dissent in Cultural Studies (1995). He has also edited several special issues of journals: Laclau’s On Populist Reason (with Robert Hariman, for Cultural Studies, 2012), Cultures of Democracy (for Public Culture, 2007), Commitments in a Post-Foundational World (with Keith Topper, 2005), Technologies of Public Persuasion (with Elizabeth Povinelli, 2003), and New Imaginaries (with Benjamin Lee, 2002). He is currently working on a book manuscript on Modernity, Democracy and the Politics of Disorder.

Jinee Lokaneeta  is a professor in political science and international relations. Her areas of interest include law and violence, political theory including critical and feminist theory, global human rights, and interdisciplinary legal studies. She is the author of Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India (2011) and co-editor, with Nivedita Menon and Sadhna Arya, of Feminist Politics: Struggles and Issues (2000). Jinee’s most recent book is titled The Truth Machines: Policing, Violence and Scientific Interrogations in India (University of Michigan Press, 2020) that theorizes the relationship between state power and legal violence by focusing on the intersection of law, science and policing though a study of forensic techniques. She has published in journals such as Economic and Political Weekly, Law, Culture and the Humanities, Studies in Law, Politics & Society and Theory & Event.

Chowra Makaremi is a tenured researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. Her research focuses on issues of security, migration control, the anthropology of law and the state, the ethnography of violence and processes of subjectivation at the margins. She completed her PhD in anthropology on the detention of undocumented migrants in France, based on the ethnography of an airport detention center, where she worked as a legal consultant for asylum seekers. She also led researches on delinquency courts in France reflecting on issues of race and class in the justice system, policies of delinquency repression, punishment and the moral economy of adjudication. Since 2011, her researches focus on post-revolution Iran in an historical anthropology perspective, looking into the genealogy of State violence, apparatuses as well as lived experience and memories of repression. She has co-edited (with C. Kobelinsky) Locked Outside: Alien Confinement in Europe (Le Croquant, 2009); (with C. Calzolaio and P. Colombo) Political ethnographies of violence, (Cultures & Conflits no. 103, 2016). She is the co-author (with D. Fassin et alii) of At the Heart of the State: the Moral World of Institutions (Le Seuil 2013/ Pluto, 2015); and the author of Aziz’s Notebook. At the Heart of the Iranian Revolution (Gallimard 2011/ Yoda Press 2013). 

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology. He holds a joint appointment in the EALC and Anthropology departments. He is also a non-resident long-term fellow for programs in anthropological and historical sciences and the languages and civilizations of East Asia at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala. Puett joined the Harvard faculty in 1994 after earning his M.A. (1987) and Ph.D. (1994) from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His interests focus on the inter-relations between religion, anthropology, history, and philosophy. In his research, Puett aims to bring the study of China into larger historical and comparative frameworks. He has published many articles on early Chinese history (c. 1200 B.C. – c. 755 A.D.), and on classical Chinese ritual, social, and political theory. Puett is the author of The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China (Stanford, 2001) and To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China (Harvard, 2002), as well as the co-author, with Adam Seligman, Robert Weller, and Bennett Simon, of Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (Oxford, 2008). Puett has received multiple awards for his teaching and advising. In 2013 Puett was one of five named Harvard College Professors in recognition of his dedication to undergraduate education.  Since 2012 his General Education course, “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” has been the third most enrolled undergraduate course at Harvard.

Anna Wherry is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She also holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and is a barred attorney in Maryland. Her research interests include the anthropology of law and violence, policing, gender and kinship, and militancy in the Americas. Her doctoral research follows former FARC militants’ legal cases in Colombia as they move between the transitional and criminal courts, examining how courts distinguish political crimes of war from ordinary, non-political crimes. This research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Fulbright Commission, emerged from her legal work as a post-graduate Bernstein Fellow at Yale Law School’s Center for Human Rights (2021-2022). In this capacity, she advised the legal team for former FARC militants with cases at Colombia’s transitional court, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), on international criminal law and U.S. criminal and sanctions law. Anna also holds two master’s degrees from the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre and the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Social Anthropology, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar. 


Sawyer Seminar: Precision and Uncertainty in a World of Data

The Sawyer Seminar on Precision and Uncertainty in a World of Data is organized by the Departments of Anthropology and the History of Medicine and the Center for Medical Humanities and Social Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Throughout its two-year run (2019-2021), the Seminar will explore questions around what kinds of ethical and social issues are new about our Big Data moment, what has carried over from the past, and what kinds of methods and approaches might help us extend our understanding of this moment’s specificity.

On this website, you can find more information about the Seminar directors and staff, our schedule of events, notes on our past events, and resources that help explore data and society. We hope for this website to serve as an archive for what we have learned over the course of the Seminar, as well as a gateway for resources on data and society that will outlive the Seminar’s run. We encourage you to check out our latest events, projects, and commentary below:


Sponsor Institutions:



Header Images (Art Works) Credit:

Rachel Ara. “This Much I’m Worth (The Self-evaluating Artwork): Korean Version” in Vertiginous Data at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea. Photo taken by Sumin Myung.

Sylvee Kim. “Trinity: Finance-Credo-Spirituality” in Vertiginous Data at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea. Photo taken by Sumin Myung.

Danilo Zamboni. “PerspectivischeExplosionszeichnung” in Zugang für Alle: São Paulos Soziale Infrastrukturen at Pinakothek der Moderne, München, Germany. Photo taken by Sumin Myung.

Nam June Paik. “Video Chandelier No. 1” at Nam June Paik Art Center, Seongnam, South Korea. Photo taken by Sumin Myung.

Soyo Lee. “TV Garden: Notes” in Ecological Senses at Nam June Paik Art Center, Seongnam, South Korea. Photo taken by Sumin Myung.