Opening the Black Box - Challenging Algorithms

Julia Velkova (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


In recent years, we have witnessed an escalation of fears related to the rise of
algorithmic governmentality in highly digitalised societies. Some of the major
concerns lauded by scholars, journalists, and citizens alike, revolve around the
isolation of the digital public spheres through social fragmentation generated by
algorithmic logics; the reproduction of biases against race, gender and class in
machine learning; and the suppression of ethics in favour of commercial logics
based on politics of satisfaction and normalisation of the average. Most of these
concerns emanate from an assumption of algorithms as “black boxes” (Pasquale)
that causes a crisis of knowing of and acting on the all-more pervasive algorithmic
logics of control. This paper sees a need to reframe the scholarly and public
debate around these issues and to reassert the agential and political capacities of
media users, demystifying the black box and with it reducing the sense of fear of
algorithmic governmentality. It formulates three propositions for how to do so.
First, following Bucher, the paper argues for an epistemological reframing based
on destabilising the focus on the technicality of algorithms and shifting attention
on their embeddedness in practice. Second, when moving to practice, it prompts
the need to re-emphasise the capacities of everyday media users for changing
and challenging the algorithms, and offers an empirical example of how this can
be done through media practice, not through code. Third, theoretical work on
repair and algorithmic labor is further helpful to consider the instability and
impermanence of machine learning and algorithmically constructed governance
by highlighting the processes of human maintenance, disruption, decay and
decommissioning of algorithms. Altogether, these three propositions aim to
create a renewed framework for theoretical and empirical enquiry that proposes
more hopeful paths of managing the machinic.
Period19 Sep 201821 Sep 2018
Held atLeuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational