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IU professor wins $625,000 MacArthur Fellowship ‘genius grant’

Mary Gray — an anthropologist and media scholar — has been named one of 21 recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship.
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Posted at 12:52 PM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-16 12:56:05-04

BLOOMINGTON — Mary Gray — an anthropologist, media scholar, principal researcher, and author — has been named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. Gray is an associate professor of informatics at Indiana University, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and a faculty associate at Harvard University.

Otherwise known as the "genius grant," the MacArthur Fellowship is awarded to those who are "leading minds in a diverse array of fields, including science, art, technology and social justice."

Gray was one of 21 recipients this year to receive a $625,000 no-strings-attached award. Recipients are awarded the money based on their creativity and "promise for future advances and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work."

The IU professor was recognized, in particular, by the MacArthur Foundation for investigating how the digital economy transforms labor, identity, and human rights.

Gray focuses on how technology transforms people's lives in both contract labor and LGBTQ youth — two worlds of research she cares deeply about.

"My identity and experiences as a queer person fundamentally shape my research," Gray said in an article for Advocate.com. "I study the lives of people at society’s margins because they teach us the value of pushing against boundaries and norms. I never imagined that I would be recognized in this way. But my hope is that by recognizing and valuing LGBTQ+ scholars the MacArthur Foundation emboldens and expands what’s possible for everyone."

Gray, who recently co-authored a book called "Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass," plans to use the money from the MacArthur Fellowship to look at the digital economy and the potential to shape more inclusive digital futures, especially as it applies to the COVID-19 work world.

"Everyone who is working from home now could learn from people who have been doing it for years," Gray said. "I want to take what we know about the social and technical possibilities of managing and supporting others and apply it to areas such as contact tracing and beyond."

Gray is the first person from IU to receive a MacArthur Fellowship since 2003.

"Indiana University, as a home, is one of the best places to be if you do interdisciplinary work," Gray said. "The intellectual room to roam that IU has built over centuries is unparalleled."

In a tweet announcing the award, Gray said she "still can't believe I'm in this mix."

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