oxford / #OII in march

I’m happy that my abstract for the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) symposium “Interdisciplinary Insights on the Social Science of Digital Research” got accepted! I’ll be talking about the “the performative character of digital methods”. I’m already looking forward to seeing Malte Ziewitz, Jean-Christophe Plantin, and other exciting Internet researchers again!!!

For those interested, that’s the abstract:

The performative character of digital methods

Scholars following the tradition of the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) have argued that methods do not simply report on a given reality, but rather enact social reality in a certain way (Mol 2002, Law 2004). Methods make “certain (political) arrangements more probable, stronger, more real, whilst eroding others and making them less real.” (Law 2004: 149). Accordingly, it has been shown that research objects are differently performed in different empirical settings rendering them slippery and multiple. This argument becomes particularly striking when thinking of various digital methods performing and depicting web realities in distinct ways, as I will illustrate with my own research. Concretely, I will address the peformative character of digital methods by drawing on an ongoing research project investigating how the biofuel controversy is represented in search engine results compared to classical media; with a particular focus on Sweden (project conducted together with Jenny Eklöf from Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment, Umeå University; data gathered from April 2011-November 2011).

For the purpose of this article, I draw on Google search queries we conducted with a range of different keywords and juxtapose them with hyperlink network visualizations we developed with the software Issuecrawler (from the Govcom.org Foundation, Amsterdam). I will discuss strengths and weaknesses of both methods in terms of understanding how the biofuel issue plays out in search engine results and how link networks contribute to these search results. More fundamentally, I will show how the choice of method shapes the object of study by using concepts from ANT. I will elaborate that observing search results over time enacts the web as a search-engine organized information space and performs search engines as central gatekeepers. Contrary, hyperlink network maps evoke the imagination of the web as a de-centralized information network configured by link connections. Based on this analysis, I will discuss how different digital methods – network visualization tools in particular – bring different aspects of the web to the fore, while hiding others in the background according to the different algorithms they incorporate. Digital methods should thus not be seen as passively representing web reality, but rather as actively shaping the web realities we try to observe. What “ontological politics” (Mol 2008) this implies and what consequences it involves for Internet researchers and the emerging discipline of “digital research” or “e-research” increasingly drawing on (network) visualizations, will be finally discussed.

This research was funded by my HUMlab postdoctoral fellowship (September 2010- February 2012).

References:

Law, John (2004) After Method. Mess in Social Science Research. New York: Routledge.
Mol, Annemarie (2002) The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham/ London: Duke University Press.
Mol, Annemarie (2008) Ontological Politics. A Word and Some Questions. Socio-logical Review 46(S): 74-89.

oii conference “a decade in internet time”

I highly enjoyed the OII conference in Oxford over the last couple of days! Even though I don’t have enough time to write a proper blogpost about the conference I’d like to share some of my personal highlights. First of all, I really enjoyed seeing Manuel Castells speaking live for the first time! Since I’m a big fan of his writings I was glad to see that he’s not only a thorough thinker, but also an excellent speaker (the two not always necessarily go together). He was talking as part of the anniversary plenary session, which further included Vint Cerf, Wendy Hall, Eli Noam, Andrew Graham – all of them gave a great speech about the last decade of Internet research and future perspectives and challenges.

Besides this distinguished panel there were more events worth metioning. My own panel “Ethics & Values”, for example, was well assembled. Particularly Vicki Nash’s talk “Dissenting Values at the Heart of the Internet” turned out to be really useful in terms of my future research. Also, I enjoyed the discussion that followed my talk, even though it was brief because I was the last speaker in the session, which was bad as usual.. 😉

Further, I liked the panel on “Virtual Knowledge” with Sally Wyatt, Paul Wouters, Smiljana Antonijevic and others from the Virtual Knowledge Studio, which triggered the question whether this conference could have happened 10 years ago or whether new media, Twitter in particular, fundamentally changed the way knowledge is created, shared and distributed. Also, Alberto Pepe’s talk “Identity Dilemmas on Facebook” was really clever and well done. He re-enacted Pirandello’s novel “One, no one and one hundred thousand” in the Facebook age. Finally, Laura De Nardis’ talk “Technologies of Dissent” made a huge impression on me. She gave an in-depth analysis of Internet governance as socio-political practice in a global (capitalist) age. After Aleks Krotoski’s comments an interesting discussion evolved around Internet governance and the role governments, but also – and even more importantly – corporate actors such as Google play therein. I ordered De Nardis’ book “Protocol Politics” immediately after the session.

And then, last but not least, I perceived Oxford itself as a very enjoyable town. Thanks to Alberto Pepe, Jean-Christophe Platin, Juliette De Maeyer (sorry for having missed both of your presentations – shame on me!!) for their nice company, and Malte Ziewitz, who showed me his college at night.. pretty spooky! Thanks for that and see you in Hainburg soon! :)

For those of you who missed the conference: most of the papers are online here.

Algorithmic ideology at oxford internet institute/ oii 21-24 September 2011

I’m happy to announce that my paper “Algorithmic Ideology: How capitalist society shapes search engines” has been accepted at the OII conference in September (with thanks to Ken Hillis for the inspiration to the title). The conference “A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society” has the central goal to critically assess the last decade of social research on the Internet and identify directions for research over the next. Further, the 10th anniversery of the founding of the OII will be celebrated. The line-up of the speakers is highly impressive: Manuel Castells, Vint Cerf, Dr. Laura DeNardis, Professor William H. Dutton, Andrew Graham, Eszter Hargittai, Brian Loader, Dr. Lisa Nakamura, Dr. Victoria Nash, and last but not least Professor Barry Wellman. I’m particularly looking forward to discuss my paper in the audience of Manuel Castells or Vint Cerf – who both will certainly have to say a lot about the development of search technology/ Google in the context of capitalist society/ the information economy. For further information on the conference topics, speakers & registration, please go to the conference website (credits for the image OII).