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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merry xmas!

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politics of icts

For all STS people out there! My colleague Doris Allhutter and I are organizing a panel for the STS conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies” taking place in Graz (Austria) next year (5-6 May 2014). Our session focuses on the “Politics of ICTs” since we think that’s an important issue for STS scholars! Now we’re hoping for interesting papers concerned with tight entanglements between ICTs and politics/ socio-political cultures/ practices/ discourses and identity – that’s where you come into play! ;)

Further details on the abstract, deadline (31 January 2014), conference venue etc. may be found here. That’s our call for papers:

– Special Session 7: The politics of ICTs
(Doris Allhutter & Astrid Mager, Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) emerge along with hegemonic discourses, socio-political cultures, everyday practices and identities. Search engines, social media, wikis, open access portals, semantic software, surveillance tools, and code in a wider sense, are created not only by programmers and technical people, but also negotiated in wider society. Policy makers, law, media discourses, economic rationales, cultural practices, computational infrastructures and algorithmic logics are all taking part in the negotiation of ICTs. At the same time, they also create, stabilize and change cultural meaning, socio-political relations and materiality. ICTs and social power relations thus co-emerge.

Our panel welcomes both theoretical and empirical papers on practices of software design, power relations and material dimensions, socio-political implications of ICTs. Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

•          How are ICTs negotiated in design practices and wider socio-political frameworks?
•          What actor-networks, practices and arenas are involved in the creation of ICTs?
•          How are norms, values, and hegemonies inscribed in algorithms, code and software?
•          How are power relations enmeshed in such infrastructural materials?
•          What politics (e.g. gender relations, race biases, commercial dynamics, ideologies) do ICTs carry?
•          How can we investigate the micro-politics of artefacts?
•          What social, political, economic, cultural implications and challenges do ICTs cause?
•          How can we open up, investigate and renegotiate the politics of ICTs?
•          How can we work towards value-sensitive design and responsible innovation in ICTs?

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society of the query #2

The society of the query conference (Amsterdam) has sadly come to an end. It was a truly great event! Thanks to Geert Lovink, René König & Miriam Rasch for having made it happen! For all of you who missed the exciting discussions on the Google domination, search beyond borders (China, India etc.), artistic projects, search in context, the dark side of Google, or the filter bubble: there’s quite some material circulating online, e.g. abstracts to all sessions & talks, blog posts of all talks, links to alternative search engines, loads of pictures, and, finally, there should be videos of all talks coming up soon, so stay tuned! & here they are!

I was in the Google domination session btw together with Dirk Lewandowski, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and René König (moderator); talking about big search and its alternatives, which was fun :)

Society of the Query #2

photo credits: society of the query (Martin Risseeuw)

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momentum13. technology & regulation

Last week I had the pleasure to take part in the Momentum13 symposium. Momentum is a conference series that aims at bridging the gap between the sciences and politics. Initiated by the EU politician Josef Weidenholzer and Barbara Blaha its main purpose is to integrate critical research, leftwing politics and practical experience to think about issues such as “progress”, the motto of this year’s conference. The 3-day event was organized in tracks focussing on various topics including gender equality, social movements, arts & culture, the future of work and politics, and technology & regulation – the track I moderated together with fukami; partly on a huge terrace by the lake with a decent glass of wine.. thanks for that! :)

In our track we had heated debates on small technical details such as internet ports and exploit regulations and big societal questions relating to privacy, democracy and the future of the internet. But these two aspects, of course, closely relate to one another. Seemingly small technical decisions on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a particular piece of code have largescale political consequences in terms of IT security and the stability of infrastructure we’re using day by day. And vice versa, broad societal developments and power relations influence the construction of information technology and the way the internet looks today. In a capitalist age for-profit companies like Google, for example, figure as central driving force in terms of technology development. The integration of more and more services in the web browser, for example, results in a black-boxing of technology. The less you understand your tools, the more dependent you are on their creators. Or, as fukami put it: “If you can’t break it, you don’t own it”.

This, however, causes a couple of questions: Do we all need to learn programming to use the computer? (or how else would we be able to “break it”?) Or isn’t it the role of politics and law to set limits where limits are needed (e.g. data protection and the exploitation of user data by big US-American companies) and to protect us from harmful technology? Or is that an illusion in post 9/11 societies where extensive surveillance has become a central interest not only of companies, but also of nation states around the globe? And what can we do about all that? How can we regulate Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies that increasingly shape our information universe, social relations, and political discourses, as we’ve seen in our track in presentations on Twitter politics and data journalism? What role can technology funding play in regard to the steering of information technology? How can we make legal practices more transparent or measure – and promote – open data strategies; or “open everything”? What kind of copyright is feasible in times of file-sharing platforms and how can data protection be secured in companies aiming at full-scale observation of employees? How can we manage risks? Those types of questions were discussed in our track. However, those are also the types of questions that future decision-making processes in the field of technology and society will be concerned with. Negotiations of the new EU data  protection law, for example, will serve as an interesting test case for future technology development and socio-political agendas. How this negotiation process will end remains to be seen. That both lobbying on parts of internet businesses and the NSA scandal will be crucially influencing the reform process seems to be clear by now. Or, to cite fukami again, “we should thank Snowden” since his leaks have not only shaken up civil society, but EU policymakers too (hopefully!).

Our track discussions were accompanied by good food and great evening events, such as the keynote by Robert Pfaller or the book-reading by Kathrin Passig. Unfortunately, I missed the huge party that took place Saturday night and the Sunday evening matinee. But I’m sure that was fun too! Next year’s conference will be focused on “emancipation”. I highly recommend going there! (and not only because of the scenic location). More information can be found on the Momentum website (including info on the journals Momentum Quarterly and Momentum Policy Paper).

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it’s the network, stupid

Yesterday I was on a panel discussion on surveillance organized by quintessenz and emergence of projects. It was a lively discussion, which left me with more open questions than answers though. Reinhard Kreissl (sociologist of law and criminology) and Markus Kainz (quintessenz, moderator) easily agreed on the bad guys (usual suspects like the state, government, Google, Billa) and identified civic disobedience as an appropriate way to fight surveillance. Practical examples of such guerilla activities were swopping Billa Vorteilscards or defrauding the population census (by reproducing sheets and feeding them with wrong data). Even though I like the idea of creating a critical mass of disobedient citizens to mess with statistics, I think it’s not that easy anymore in times of digital surveillance. Cheating with sheets of paper and swopping discount cards is easy compared to messing with big data and algorithmic logics. The reasons for that are multiple:

First, digital surveillance is almost seamless. As Markus put it: “We are surveilled not once or twice, but various times”. Combinations of data from cell phones, surveillance cameras, credit cards, and digital tools like search engines and social networks make it hard to escape from your own data body. The data points we leave are simply too many and too heterogeneous. Here, I agree with Manfred Kreissl: “We are leaky containers”.

Second, most individuals do not have the knowledge and technical know-how to mess with such complex digital networks. And why should they? Most people, the majority, most probably, is pretty happy with how things are. They get discounts with their Billa card, they get free – and pretty good – online services from Google & co, they have become used to or even grew up with extensive surveillance and advertising so that they don’t care anymore. That does not necessarily mean that people agree with all these data collections, it just shows that people take on a pretty fatalistic attitude in their daily lives. And yes, some people don’t care at all or simply like contemporary consumer culture – just like one of my interviewees, working in human design and engineering, phrased it: “I think the driving force behind this information economy is our, kind of, probably, possibly a little bit unhealthy desire to just keep consuming, and communicating, and producing at such a frenzy rate.” (Mager 2012: 10)

And, finally, even if people are discontent with the current surveillance state, why should it be the responsibility of the individual to fight a system that even politics and regulations seem to face with powerlessness? And how could we even step out of these powerful networks of surveillance? A quote by Scott Lash came to my mind when cycling home from the discussion: “The point that this book has tried to make is that we can no longer step outside of the global communication flows to find a solid fulcrum for critique. There is no more outside. The critique of information is in the information itself.” (Lash 2002: 220). Lash’s Critique of Information may be seen as an explanation for the digitization of political action. Even politics has become a matter of mouse clicks. Signing an online petition, liking a political group, sharing a critical initiative, all that is political engagement these days. The good thing though, and I think that’s something we should not forget, is that also new social movements are emerging from these activities, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring (whether successful in the end or not), or Uni Brennt have (also) been organized online and have ended on the streets.

So what I’m trying to say, I guess, is that things are more complicated than they seem at first sight. Of course, surveillance states, Google, Billa and other players are spying on us and (ab)using our data and that’s bad. No doubt about that. Blaming them, however, is not enough in my view. Rather, it’s important to understand power relations and dynamics that are stabilizing them. Political decisions, media debates, but also our own behavior that is essentially feeding their power. Only then proper ways out may be found. Ways out that may even be digital. Times have changed since 1968 and so have we.

image © http://commons.wikimedia.org
Lash, Scott (2002) Critique of Information, London: SAGE
Mager, Astrid (2012) Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines, Information, Communication & Society, 1-19

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