FWF party

IMG_0104Two days ago, at the international women’s day, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) invited all Firnberg- and Richter-project leaders to a party. It was the official certificate award ceremony that celebrated all successful applicants of 2016. Of course, there was food, drinks and live music too! And lots of children since the balance of family and career is one of the goals of these fellowships. Liam was a little annoyed by the talks though, but he appreciated the nice music.. 😉

Firnberg Richter Feier 2017, Wien 08.03.2017 Foto: Michèle Pauty

Firnberg Richter Feier 2017, Wien 08.03.2017 Foto: Michèle Pauty

I got my certificate for my project “Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions and values in the shaping of search engines”. Here‘s a short summary at the ITA website. 

And here’s the link to more party pics on the FWF website.


I’m so (so so so) happy that my project “Algorithmic imaginaries. Visions and values in the shaping of search engines” will finally come true! After a really long application process the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) decided to fund this awesome habilitation project! You’ll find the abstract below; more information will follow once the project has started (November 2016 since I’m still on maternity leave). For all of you who have projects under review (or rejected already): don’t give up! It’s a nerv-wrecking process, but if you finally manage to succeed, it’s all worth it!!! (Of course, in times like these peer review has become some sort of strage academic lottery, which does not make the practice any better..)

Algorithmic imaginaries.
Visions and values in the shaping of search engines

Search engines like Google are developed in the US-American context, but are used around the globe. Their business models are based on user-targeted advertising. They collect user data, turn it into user profiles, and sell them to advertising clients. Since the NSA affair practices of user profiling are critically discussed; especially in European contexts with diverse data protection laws, historically shaped notions of privacy, and very different tax systems. The ongoing reform of the EU data protection legislation is an important arena where tensions between global search engines and European policy visions and values can be observed. Besides, European search engines emerge that aim to provide users with alternative styles of search. Some are explicitly developed as a European competitor to US-based search engines (Quaero or Independent Web Index). Others are developed in Europe, but draw on other value-systems to distinguish themselves from big search engines, such as respecting users’ privacy (e.g. Ixquick), protecting the environment (e.g. Ecosia), or creating a non-commercial search engine owned by the public (e.g. YaCy).

This poses important questions: What motivations, value-systems, and visions guide the development of European search engines? How are these imaginations translated into sociotechnical design practices? What power struggles, negotiations, and compromises may be observed? How do place and cultural context matter in the design process? Researchers in Science and Technology Studies (STS) investigated the politics of search engines, the relevance of algorithms, and internet governance. What is missing is an in-depth analysis of the shaping of search engines in specific cultural contexts and the role shared value systems and visions play in it. Rooted in the discipline of STS the suggested habilitation project will fill in this gap by investigating design practices of European search projects using a case-study approach (qualitative interviews, workshops, ethnographic observations).

Results from this analysis will be compared to and cross-analyzed with results from my past research on capitalist ideologies driving global search engines like Google and my present research on visions and values guiding European search engine governance. This overall analysis will result in a typology of algorithmic imaginaries, which describes visions and values in the development and governance of search engines in global, European, and local contexts. It will show how search technologies and society co-emerge in specific economic, political, and cultural settings. The primary focus on European contexts is a particular strength of the project since tensions between global search engines and European governance structures and search projects are growing, but have not been systematically studied yet, both in the field of STS and internet research.

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.

merry xmas to myself!!!

Just before xmas I got the great great news that my 2-year research project “Glocal Search. Search technology at the intersection of global capitalism and local socio-political cultures” got funded by the Österreichische Nationalbank (OeNB). YAY. I’m really looking forward to 2012 now, where I’ll be in Vienna again!!!!! More information to follow.. stay tuned!

goodtosee #8: academic role model

I’ve been thinking about my job lately. And my life. Or how to bring the two together more specifically. The “work-life balance”, as they call it nowadays. Looking around me I see young academics struggling to get their papers out, to find jobs, or to acquire research money. They work hard to make all that happen. The underlying assumption that keeps them going – that keeps us going – is the harder you work, the more rewarded you’ll get. Lately, however, I started doubting this assumption. In an academic world of scarcity it has become hard to succeed. Budget cuts, closing down of university positions, and a growing dependency on peer-reviewed journal publications and external research grants have created a bottleneck that is harder and harder to pass through. Not every ambitious scholar will make it, no matter how hard s/he works. Does that make me sound like a frustrated scholar? Yes, it does, but I share the frustration with the world. See what I found amongst the first results of the Google image search for “postdoc”:

Image credit: dentcartoons.blogspot.com

However, it also makes me a realistic researcher. And it opens up the chance to act upon that reality. Instead of sacrificing more and more bits of my life to the career, it made me think about life in and of itself. (What might be related to the fact that I’m growing older too, but that’s a whole different story). What is important in life? Why do I get up in the morning? What keeps me going? The job is certainly an important part in my life. I love my job. I love writing, going to conferences and sharing ideas with my fellows. I want to continue doing that. But not at any price. Look at this one, that was the second hit in the image search:

Image credit: scienceblogs.com/

Not if it requires working oneself to death, “writing like a madman”, as a colleague of mine put it once, and living in places I do not necessarily want to be – far away from my boyfriend, friends, and family. That may sound very naive, but it may also sound very healthy. I do think that my job should be organized around my life and not the other way round. Isn’t that interesting that the latter has become the standard practice though? That it has become normal to go wherever a job opens up or a fellowship is offered to you? – even if it’s just for one or two years? Without having the certainty – or even possibilty – to get a permanent position (ever)? That seems more and more insane to me.

That is why I try to focus on life from now on. What does that mean? I have no idea, but it feels great! And I’ll find out along the way, I guess. A good starting point for now is a sentence I’ve recently read on Norman T. White’s website. Below his name he says “celebrating 42 years without a full-time job”. (Further below he says “we fix toasters”).

In any case, I’ve met Norman a couple of weeks ago in Vienna. He is a well-known pioneer in robotics living in Toronto. He creates a lot of cool stuff including a “helpless robot”, a “sumo robot”, a tool for “arm wrestling over distance”, and many other “clearly pointless and useless” objects. I only met him briefly, but I perceived him as a creative thinker and a fun guy to have around. And he seems healthy and happy with life. That’s why I take him – and his anniversary – as a role model or spirit to follow. And everyone is welcome to join!

nasty peer-reviews or “never enough”

If you’re an academic you most probably know these nasty peer-reviews rejecting your hard work. These reviews written by your „peers“, who are supposed to make a responsible decision, but use their powerful role to let off steam instead. Reviews that constist of a couple of lines without a single in-depth argument about the value of your work or lack of thereof. These are disappointing. Especially for someone like me, who takes a lot of time to write a thorough review (somewhat naive and not sufficiently familiar with the academic game yet).

However, these are even more disappointing in the context of our changing academic/ research landscapes. The more dependent (young) researchers get on these reviews – not only in terms of getting their articles published, but more importantly in terms of getting research grants and jobs – the more weight these reviews and the people writing them get. In a time of economic crisis and budget cutbacks nasty reviews might become a nail in the coffin of an early-stage researcher’s career. That is why I would like to make a plea to all the „blind reviewers“ out there – especially those who have been socialized in a university system with lifelong positions free of evaluations or agreements of performance – to write responsible reviews (not necessarily positive, but fair). For those of you, who are annoyed by unjustified review(er)s I suggest listening to „never enough“ by The Cure – I’m sure you’ll find some parallels to the absurdity of the academic world. Enjoy!

Publish or perish?

The new level in this game of academia – the postdoc level – seems to include making a decision on getting the PhD published as a book or not. Encouraged by one of my PhD reviewers, Michael Nentwich, I started to contact publishing houses to get information about the procedure of transforming PhDs into books. Well, the first answer I got was pretty disappointing. One of the central points in the publishing guidelines was to consider whether I would like to spend another 12 months, minimum, up to 5 years on reworking my thesis. And whether I have got a contract that allows me to do so. Well, the quick answer to all that is no. No, I don’t want to rework my thesis for the next couple of years and no, I don’t have a contract that gives me time to do so (is there any contract despite tenure track positions – pretty rare in Europe up to non-existent in Austria – that allow you to do so?). Further, my empirical research conducted in Austria turned out to be too specific for the US market according to one publisher – although “it looks like an interesting piece of research”.. hm, local contexts don’t seem to be appreciated much in globalized academia. Since I wasn’t sure whether to go down this road anyway, I take it as an interesting experience having figured that out. Also, my heart beats for open access and thus an online publication may not be bad either. However, my own experiences made me talk to other people, also from the HUMlab, about this issue and it seems as if there are no standardized solutions to this problem. Rather, each local academic culture seems to have a different approach. While some people from the British context are convinced that it’s not worth the trouble and therefore better go for peer-reviewed journal publications, people from the US tend to go for a book publication straightforwardly. And of course, disciplines matter as well. So much for the globalized academic landscape. An interesting contribution in the digital arts context comes from Charlotte Frost, who has just set up the platform PhD2Published with helpful tips etc. Check it out here.

Besides these burning questions, I was exploring the surroundings of Umeå the last couple of days.. well, surroundings, this lake is approx. 5 min from my appartment – can you believe it?