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  • Writer's pictureKendra Oliver

Generalization in design and science research

I recently read the article from Indi Young on generalization and discrimination. (Links to an external site.) Within the article, she makes a series of important points about how people make the sweeping generalization that can lead to racist or demographic-based discrimination. For the most part, I agree with her. As we mentioned in class, it is natural for humans to want to simplify that vast amount of information within the world to make decisions (generalization). Generalizations help us to make decisions quickly. However, it is when these generalizations are used to justify the actions and behaviors of large groups of people that major issues of potential discrimination arise.

She says that generalizations are the foundation of racism and other demographic discrimination. This occurs through naming a demographic such as age, race, gender, etc., and extrapolating or implying a behavior solely based on that demographic. She mentioned that often demographic statements are made in an attempt to call attention to something or to establish camaraderie or humor. Discrimination comes when you apply these thoughts you have about big groups to a specific person. The danger is treating someone or designing a product according to the generalization. I think that the approach to developing narrative-based personas, similar to the activity that we did last week, helps to de-emphasize demographic information as a factor when designing systems.

This article is very similar to arguments against using race as a biomarker in science. Race is a social construct. For health-related racial disparities, many have argued that the association of race with health disparities has less to do with the biological difference in skin color (ex. melanin, ADH, or other associated genes) and is more associated with the socio-economic factors that have resulted from racism. In other words, the demographic of race is likely inconsequential in health disparities research because it encompasses a vast amount of other factors such as income, education, culture, etc., and is, therefore, is likely more a marker for the outcomes of racism within our society.

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