Digital Practices for Safety

This project will collect and publish stories from San Antonio women about their use of digital technologies to keep safe while moving about the city. These stories will be published in an online, open-access repository and made accessible to the public. This project emerges from the need to better understand how digital technologies—used for safety—shape mobilities, perceptions of safety, and actual safety in urban spaces. It also responds to material and social conditions within San Antonio that impact women’s mobilities and their sense of personal safety.

Faculty Fellow / PI, Dr. Ragan Glover | Assistant Professor of Communication, UTSA Student Fellow, Victoria Riojas | Graduate M.A. Student in Communication, UTSA Advisor, Dr. Melissa Stone | Assistant Professor of English, Appalachian State University.

In recent years, many people have adopted digital technologies for safety (e.g. safety apps, location tracking devices) as a way to engage safer mobilities. These technologies are relatively new, emerging only in the past decade. As such, little is known about how these technologies become integrated into mobilities and existing safety practices. Some scholars have examined the potential user benefits of these technologies (Dimond et al. 2013; Maxwell et al. 2020; Viswanath & Basu, 2015). On the other hand, very few studies have examined users’ perceptions and practices associated with the use of digital technologies for safety (exceptions include McCarthy et al., 2016). This repository arose out of this gap in the literature, aiming to contribute an understanding of the embodied and emplaced practices of women, who use digital technologies for safety.

This repository will serve as a primary source for studying both women’s mobilities experiences and the use of digital technologies for safety. It will contribute to existing scholarship in the areas of mobilities studies, mobile communication, women’s studies, and urban studies. It will offer nuance to existing accounts, which have emphasized the benefits of digital technologies for safety while excluding discussions of potential risks.

As an open-access, public resource, the repository will improve community awareness about issues impacting women’s mobilities in the San Antonio metropolitan region. The project does not aim to identify “safe” or “unsafe” locations. Instead, it will offer an understanding of the complexities that shape women’s mobilities and safety practices as they move through urban spaces. The information may be used by community leaders, city officials, and policymakers to implement changes to public safety. 

There are two primary inspirations for this work.

First, Joan McAlister and Joshua P. Ewalt's article "“New Materialities and Precarious Mobilities" provide a theoretical foundation for this project. They suggest that by studying new materialities and mobilities together, we might become attune to "new forms of safety and precarity that follow from the differential distribution of movement.” Following their work, our project considers the power relations that emerge through negotiations of identity, space/place, (im)mobility, and mobile media technologies.

In addition, Mimi Sheller's work on gendered mobilities has been important to our thinking. Specifically, she notes that men and women have always had different patterns of access to travel and movement. This idea has been key because it helped us to historically frame these seemingly new mobile practices for safety. In our early thinking on this project, we used a historical framework to understand how these "new" technologies remediate existing practices for gendered mobilities.