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Accepted Paper:

A bourdieusian robot? Mass distinction in financial services  
Zsuzsanna Vargha (ESCP)

Short abstract:

While algorithmic systems are known to discriminate on gender, skin color and other features, a more subtle and insidious way of reproducing the status may occur when algorithms suggest outcomes based on taste and habit. Can “users who liked this” ever reconfigure social-cultural positions?

Long abstract:

When algorithms suggest outcomes based on taste and habit, do they help maintain the status quo or rather, do they manage to subvert it? While the capacity of algorithmic systems to discriminate on the basis of gender, skin color and many other features has been well documented in AI research, this paper calls attention to this more subtle and insidious mechanism of social differentiation on and by digital platforms. Understanding the problematic invites us to reach back to a classical social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus. The French sociologist developed his well-known theory of social distinction by analyzing patterns in how people consume cultural products like art, and food -- much like algorithmic recommender engines do. Taste in these, he argued, maps onto one's socio-economic position and is generated by class habitus, a partly unconscious way of being in and relating to the world. The paper takes an STS lens to Bourdieu's cultural-yet-material approach to how inequalities are reproduced, by using his research methods of Correspondence Analysis as a starting point to understand the effects of personalized recommendations. How does the notion of habitus resonate with critiques of (music) streaming services and social media of locking their users into their existing universe of taste? Alternatively, do digital technologies, partly through their fragmenting "dividuation" (Lury and Day), transfigure tastes and habitus? We will question the presence and power of social distinction dynamics through the case of recommender engines used in banking services, and reflect on the role of human mediators.

Traditional Open Panel P112
Transformed social differentiation through digital transformation
  Session 2 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -