Accepted paper:

Exploring algorithmic futures: mixing fieldwork, fragmented narratives, and critical code studies


Annette Markham (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnographic methods for exploring digital culture can be combined creatively to embrace complexity. This paper examines the everyday experience, enactment, and framing of ‘control’ by juxtaposing narrative accounts from human and nonhuman actors, such as code, algorithms, and information flow.

Paper long abstract:

This paper begins with the assumption that algorithms function in powerful ways to mediate experience. Inspired by Haraway's theories on human and nonhuman relations and actor network theory, I explore how algorithms, code, information flow, selfhood and identity-for-others tangle in interesting and unexpected ways. This paper is part of an ongoing ethnographic and phenomenological study of algorithmic life. Part of the goal of this work is to how we can begin to talk about these technological/human relationships in ways that complicate and yet illustrate more clearly key performative elements of these relationships. As a way of thinking through possibilities and challenges of an anthropology of media futures, this paper focuses on the concept, practices, and experience of control. What does 'control' mean in the 21st Century of networked sociality and digital information tangles? Starting with simple human-experienced moments in everyday life that might be described as having implications for 'control,' we follow the perceived or actual causal chain of actions and outcomes. I offer a series of representations, intended as figurations that can help us think through various working patterns of control, including beliefs about control, affective elements of control, enactments of control through specific code operations such as algorithms, making sense of perceived or actual loss of control, and consequences of maintaining an ambiguous stance toward the notion and operation of control within techno-cultural contexts. I believe this is a useful analytical move toward thinking about media anthropology through the notions of potential, paradox, and becoming.

panel P065
Media futures: media anthropology of, for and through the notion of 'future' (Media Anthropology Network)