digital labor & research under neoliberal conditions

There are two exciting events coming up! (Unfortunately at the same time)

The first one is the digital labor conference in NYC organized by Trebor Scholz and his team. It’s taking place at the New School and critically examines emerging forms of labor in digital environments – ranging from crowdsourced mini tasks for a few cents (e.g. Amazon Mechanical Turk) to mundane forms of labor performed by social media users on a daily basis (e.g. Facebook). Here’s the program. I’m on the panel “search, data flows and vertical extraction” and will be part of the final reflections. I’m pretty sure that’s gonna be a cool conference! :)

The second event is a workshop organized by Helga Köcher and colleagues in Vienna. It aims at bringing together researchers interested in exploring and critically examining the growing economization of research practices and knowledge creation. It’s ambitious (utopian) goal is to create an interdisciplinary scientific advisory board for the European Union. In a first step, however, it wants to interest researchers from various disciplines, discuss implications of the neoliberal paradigm in academia, and (hopefully) develop strategies to overcome the dilemma. More information on the workshop here.

This is my written input to support the project, while physically being in NYC:

Publish or perish
I do research on new media (Google & co) in sociopolitical contexts. Capitalist dynamics are central, but the stabilization of “service-for-profile” business models in social practices (our own behavior) too. Similar dynamics may be observed in present knowledge societies. Contrary to data, publications are accumulated; contrary to capital, CVs, projects and jobs are generated – so the hope. Publish or perish has become a familiar expression. Peer-review publications, impact factors, citation indexes dominate our everyday life; especially at the beginning of the career. That is how one gets socialized in an academic system that prioritizes quantity instead of quality. As a consequence, knowledge production gets structured in smaller and smaller, “project-oriented” portions. Implications go right into the heart of the epistemic core of science, but also of our research life. They create a research reality that provides neither security, nor satisfaction. Short-term contracts and the lack of career perspectives fuel the hunt after publications and mechanisms of self-exploitation. But why don’t we step out of the treadmill of an academic enterprise that discharged knowledge and truth long ago? That makes us to accomplices of a neoliberal system oriented towards economic factors and getting rid of surplus workforce? Because we still believe in this system that promises us prizes and professorships if we work hard enough? But aren’t these hopes inherent in the system; part of a competitive society that rewards the strongest (or the fastest quickly packing their stuff to start a job at the end of the world; without heavy luggage such as family or kids)? And what happens if the system fails and doesn’t provide us with gratification for our efforts? Individual risk? I would call that into question. I hope the workshop will help to explore these questions and socialize the supposedly individual risk to some extent.

I’d love to hear what you think about the increasing economization of both research & researchers!!

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more to read

What a nice start of the day: The sun is out (after days of rain). A nice cup of coffee & a package on my desk from De Gruyter. It’s the brand new edited volume:

I’m really looking forward to reading it since it not only contains contributions on search engine use and the filter bubble, but also articles on the regulation of search engines and alternative tools; issues I’m dealing with in my current project too. Thank you Birgit Stark, Pascal Jürgens et al. for putting together such a great volume!

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summer break

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happy birthday ITA

Yesterday my home institution (ITA, ÖAW) celebrated its 20th anniversary! The big party took place in the “Festsaal” of the Austrian Academy of Sciences – a truly bombastic and pretty Viennese location. The evening was composed of Michael Nentwich talking about ITA’s history & future, panel discussions with ITA researchers, policy makers, and colleagues from German and Swiss technology assessment (TA) institutions, as well as Renate Mayntz talking about limits and challenges of TA procedures. The music was arranged and performed by Richard Eigner aka Ritornell:

The party is followed by a two-day conference, the annual NTA/ TA conference, which is taking place today & tomorrow. This year it is concerned with the rising EU policy buzzword “responsible research & innovation” (RRI):

„Responsible Research and Innovation“ (RRI) ist jüngst zu einem wichtigen Schlagwort der EU-Forschungspolitik geworden. Das Ziel: Technische Innovationen sollen sich an ethischen und gesellschaftlichen Erfordernissen orientieren und nicht allein durch kommerzielle Interessen bestimmt sein. RRI verlangt nach einer systematischen und frühzeitigen Einbindung von Technikfolgenabschätzung (TA) in Innovationsprozesse. Besondere Bedeutung erhält der Einsatz partizipativer Verfahren. Schließlich sollen sich technische Innovationen an deliberativ entwickelten Konzepten für eine wünschenswerte Zukunft orientieren.

The quote is taken from the ITA website; please go there for further information.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ITA!!! & all the best for the next 20 years!

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STS graz & SOTQ reader

This week I spent two sunny days in Graz to attend the STS conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies”. Doris Allhutter and I organized a panel on the “politics of ICTs”, which turned out to be really interesting! Great presentations, great topics, great participants. Also, we discovered quite a number of overlapping issues and shared interests, which is not always the case with regard to conference panels. I particularly liked the presentations on the material/ technological dimension of ideology and gender relations, sociotechnical/ digital work practices and cultural specificities, and questions on power relations in design practices of ICTs. Anne Dippel struggling with computer problems while talking about bugs in the CERN software and how they affect physicists’ work practices was just one highlight of our panel ;) I still hope Doris and I will manage to put together a special issue on the fascinating co-emergence of social and digital cultures.

The second highlight of the week was the arrival of the Society of the Query Reader (eds René König & Miriam Rasch; Institute of Network Cultures (INC) reader #9). It’s great to see my contribution on big search and its alternatives in such a nicely designed book. Didn’t the conference designers even get an award for the beautiful flyers, badges and stuff? Anyway, the reader is a wonderful compilation of essays on corporate search engines and alternative styles of search. If interested, you can order or download the book for free (!) more information here..

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please sign..

..the following petition. It’s really important for researchers like me, who are highly dependent on external funding! Thanks!

From their website:

The budget negotiations between the Ministry of Science on the one hand and the Ministry of Finance on the other hand have apparently reached a stalemate. Despite every understanding for the necessity of consolidating the federal budget, priorities need to be set and the austerity trap must be avoided.

The minimum budget request by Federal Minister Mitterlehner for the performance agreements for the years 2016 to 2018 amounts to Eur 1.6 billion.

This sum is below what is required by the increased international competition, but under these conditions the universities would be put in a position to keep up their operations, improve study conditions and FWF as well as the Austrian Academy of Sciences would be given a trusted minimum basis to provide more means to basic research.

We, researchers and teachers at Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences, at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and in other non-university research institutions, students, members of professional societies and of science policy bodies, further supporters from civil society, economy and arts as well as colleagues from the international scientific community welcome and support this indispensable minimum request for public funding of science as Austria needs Science and Science needs public funding.

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defining algorithmic ideology

This was an awesome publication process! I submitted the article in 2012, just before Liam was born. Assuming the review process would take forever, as it usually does, I thought submitting the paper before giving birth is very clever. Unexpectedly the reviews were back even before the child arrived. However, as I was pretty busy since then I resubmitted the paper only one week ago. What happened then was really amazing. I sent back the article on February 11, 5.05pm. I got the letter of acceptance from the editor, Christian Fuchs, at 10.57pm. The paper was edited, layouted and published the next day, February 12, 12.02am. This is very exceptional!!! And very satisfying too :) There is nothing more tiring than time periods of months and years between the date of acceptance and the date of publication. So I really like to thank Christian for this speedy handling of my paper! & I highly recommend publishing in his journal TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique!!! (Besides, what other journal recommends listening to a “non-commercial indie rock-online radio station” on its homepage?)..

Here’s the abstract and link to my article “Defining Algorithmic Ideology: Using Ideology Critique to Scrutinize Corporate Search Engines”:

This article conceptualizes “algorithmic ideology” as a valuable tool to understand and critique corporate search engines in the context of wider socio-political developments. Drawing on critical theory it shows how capitalist value-systems manifest in search technology, how they spread through algorithmic logics and how they are stabilized in society. Following philosophers like Althusser, Marx and Gramsci it elaborates how content providers and users contribute to Google’s capital accumulation cycle and exploitation schemes that come along with it. In line with contemporary mass media and neoliberal politics they appear to be fostering capitalism and its “commodity fetishism” (Marx). It further reveals that the capitalist hegemony has to be constantly negotiated and renewed. This dynamic notion of ideology opens up the view for moments of struggle and counter-actions. “Organic intellectuals” (Gramsci) can play a central role in challenging powerful actors like Google and their algorithmic ideology. To pave the way towards more democratic information technology, however, requires more than single organic intellectuals. Additional obstacles need to be conquered, as I finally discuss.

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momentum quarterly

I’m on the editorial board of “Momentum Quarterly – Journal for Societal Progress” now! MQ is a bilingual and peer-reviewed open access journal publishing both scientific and more practical articles at the intersection of science and politics. So if you have a paper that fits this profile send it along, I’d be happy to send it out for review! For more information on the journal and previous issues please go to the MQ website. Thanks to Leonhard Dobusch and his co-editors for their trust!

The journal is closely related to the Momentum Symposium taking place in scenic Hallstatt every year. The next conference is concerned with the topic emancipation and will take place from 16-19 October 2014. Hope to see you there!

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google & alternative search

A preprint of my Society of the Query #2 article has been published in the ITA manu:scripts series. The article is related to the talk I gave at the SOTQ conference in Amsterdam, November 2013. It’s concerned with the ideology of Google and alternative search engines. A final version of the paper will be published in the Society of the Query Reader edited by René König and Miriam Rasch (Geert Lovink as editor of the Institute of Network Cultures (INC) Reader series; spring 2014). I’d like to thank the conference participants, Georg Aichholzer as editor of the ITA manu:scripts series, and both the reviewers of the INC reader and the ITA manu:scripts for their helpful comments and feedback. That’s the abstract:

Google has been blamed for its de facto monopolistic position on the search engine market, its exploitation of user data, its privacy violations, and, most recently, for possible collaborations with the US-American National Security Agency (NSA). However, blaming Google is not enough, as I suggest in this article. Rather than being ready-made, Google and its ‘algorithmic ideology’ are constantly negotiated in society. Drawing on my previous work I show how the ‘new spirit of capitalism’ gets inscribed in Google’s technical Gestalt by way of social practices. Furthermore, I look at alternative search engines through the lens of ideology. Focusing on search projects like DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, YaCy and Wolfram|Alpha I exemplify that there are multiple ideologies at work. There are search engines that carry democratic values, the green ideology, the belief in the commons, and those that subject themselves to the scientific paradigm. In daily practice, however, the capitalist ideology appears to be hegemonic since 1) most users employ Google rather than alternative search engines, 2) a number of small search projects enter strategic alliances with big, commercial players, and 3) choosing a true alternative would require not only awareness and a certain amount of technical know-how, but also effort and patience on the part of users, as I finally discuss.

That’s the link to the full article. I would love to hear what you think about it!

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first words

liam is typing (really quickly)..

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