algorithmic imaginaries & algorithmic regimes

csm_AlgoVis_LupeWelt_01_13c333205fMy new research project “Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions & values in the shaping of search engines” is online (on the ITA Website)! :) Thanks to Thomas Bayer for his help!

paintby_blck_ju-sm-150x150Further, the short videos on “Algorithmic Regimes” by Felix Stalder & Konrad Becker (World-Information Institute) are online too! The project is called Painted by Numbers, which is a great name I think! All  videos are focusing on algorithmic logics and culture/ politics/ regulation etc. It’s really a great compilation of people and statements on algorithmic power in contemporary society. The videos will be assembled as video installations in art exhibitions. You can watch all of them here.

search engine imaginary

Screenshot 2016-11-02 09.31.05The first empirical article of my project “Glocal Search” is online now: “Search engine imaginary. Visions and values in the co-production of search technology and Europe”! It has been published by the peer-reviewed journal Social Studies of Science, which makes me very proud! I’d like to thank all people who helped me refining my article – especially my ITA colleagues, Max Fochler, SSS editor Sergio Sismondo and three anonymous reviewers who all provided thorough and constructive feed-back and suggestions! I further like to thank my family for letting me work while being on maternity leave!! I’m very confident with the final outcome!

The online first version (plus abstract) can be found here; just drop me a line if you don’t have access – I’ll (very secretly) send you a copy then.. 😉 I would love to hear what you think about it since the whole field of Internet Governance is one that I just recently entered – the great AOIR workshop “The Internet Rules, But How?”, organized by Dmitry Epstein, Christian Katzenbach, Francesca Musiani & Julia Pohle, was a very good entry point by the way! Also, the related special issue by the journal Internet Policy Review on “Doing internet governance: practices, controversies, infrastructures, and institutions” is a good read. It’s open access and free of charge!

course “technology (ICTs) & society”

uni_logo_280My course “Technologie & Gesellschaft.’Opening the Black Box of Technology’ am Beispiel von Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien” will start soon! – at the Department of Science & Technology Studies, University of Vienna (in German). You can register here.

That’s the abstract:

Das Verhältnis von Technologie und Gesellschaft ist komplex und vielschichtig. Technologien wie Smartphones, Suchmaschinen, soziale Netzwerke oder Überwachungskameras werden als Innovationen gesehen, die unsere Gesellschaft zunehmend prägen und verändern. Technologie wird dabei oftmals als ‘Black Box’ wahrgenommen, die von außen auf unsere Gesellschaft trifft. Dieser Kurs möchte die schwarze Box öffnen und zeigen, dass Technologie in unserer Gesellschaft verhandelt wird und daher gesellschaftliche Normen, Werte und Ideologien in sich trägt. Als Handwerkszeug dienen uns dabei Konzepte aus der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung. Diese werden uns helfen Technologie als Politik mit anderen Mitteln zu verstehen, die soziale Konstruktion von Technologie unter die Lupe zu nehmen, die Verschmelzung von technischen und sozialen Elementen zu analysieren, die Beziehung von Technik und Geschlecht zu begreifen, sowie unterschiedliche Orte der Technikgestaltung/Kontroversen in Medien- und Onlinedebatten, Steuerung und Regulierung, sowie Bürgerkonferenzen kennenzulernen.

Das Seminar bietet eine Einführung in Konzepte der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung, die sich mit dem Verhältnis von Technologie und Gesellschaft befassen. Die Lehrveranstaltungsleiterin wird zentrale Konzepte vorstellen, welche wir dann anhand von konkreten Beispielen aus dem Feld der Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologie diskutieren werden. Klassische Text-Diskussionen (zu Themen wie Gesichtserkennung, Suchmaschinen, Social Media, Online-Kontroversen, Internet Governance etc) werden sich dabei mit experimentellen Arbeitsaufgaben (Selbstbeobachtung zu Technik im Alltag, Bürgerkonferenz zu Internet of Things) abwechseln. Voraussetzungen für den Zeugniserwerb sind Anwesenheit, Mitarbeit, mündliche Präsentation, schriftliche Arbeitsaufgaben, sowie die Absolvierung der schriftlichen Abschlussprüfung. Da der Kurs größtenteils auf englischen Texten basiert sind grundlegende Englischkenntnisse erforderlich. Die Unterrichtssprache ist deutsch.




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.

AOIR 2016, Berlin

internetrules_banner-11-1024x478I’m already looking forward to the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) conference in Berlin (6-8 October 2016). The overall theme of the conference is “Internet Rules!”. I’ll be part of the pre-conference workshop “The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technology Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance”; here‘s the program with its exciting line-up!! After one year of maternity leave this workshop will get me back on track.. hehe.


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..

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?

Search, share, shop

That’s gonna be my next seminar @ the Department of Science & Technology Studies, Vienna, winter term 2013/14. I’m already looking forward to interesting discussions! :)

Search, share, shop. Critically examining the internet as technology, medium and social practice

The internet has often been described in utopian or dystopian terms if we think of the Twitter revolution in the Arab Spring or the narrative of Google making us stupid. Both of these blunt examples illustrate techno-deterministic viewpoints that often accompany the internet in public and academic discourses. This seminar aims to challenge these viewpoints by conceptualizing search tools, social media and wikis not as external to society, but rather as enacted in society and hence mirroring social, political and economic values and ideas. ‘Technology is society made durable’ as Bruno Latour put it straightforwardly. At the same time, however, Google, Facebook and co. also materialize and hence solidify societal values, politics and ideologies. They may be seen as shaped by society, while at the same time shaping society.

The task of this seminar is to critically examine the web as technology, medium and social practice. Using literature and analytical concepts from STS and critical new media studies we will address the following questions: What values, politics and ideologies do technological tools like the PageRank algorithm embody and how do they get inscribed in their technical Gestalt? In what ways may search tools and social media be seen as ‘acting’ in terms of shaping user practices? How do Wikileaks and Twitter challenge classical politics and what are the features of the arising ‘networked news ecology’? How do open access, Wikipedia and social networks like affect and transform practices of knowledge production and dissemination? What are the business models of Google, Facebook and Amazon, how do users contribute to the ‘like economy’, and what consequences does this trigger in regard to the exploitation of digital labor and user data? And, finally, what classical and new methods may be used to study digital phenomena of all sorts?

To answer the above mentioned questions theoretical discussions will be mixed with empirical work, which will lead to a small research project each student will conduct in the seminar paper.

More information on dates, time etc. here.

Technoscientific Promotion and Biofuel Policy

Jenny Eklöf and I have been collaborating on a project during my HUMlab fellowship (2010-2012). Our study investigated how the biofuel controversy plays out in the Swedish press and Google search results. The results will be published in the journal Media, Culture & Society (mid of next year). The exact phrasing of the editor goes like this:

“It will be several issues, and certainly several months, before your piece is prepared for publication and the proofs sent on to you. Please do not contact us for a specified issue number and date until 5 months or so after this note of acceptance.”

Well, if you don’t want to wait that long please let us know and we’ll send you a copy!

That’s the abstract:

What are the conditions for the public understanding of biofuels and how do the media shape these conditions under the influence of a new production of knowledge? This article investigates how the biofuel controversy plays out in the Swedish press and Google search engine results and analyses winners and losers in the tight attention economy of contemporary media. It describes different visibility strategies biofuel stakeholders employ in both media arenas, and identifies a form of technoscientific promotion that hybrid actors use to succeed in the day-to- day struggle for media attention. To conclude, it raises broader societal questions of the contemporary blurring of knowledge boundaries and the emergence of new information hierarchies and their biases. By understanding how contemporary media shape controversies, we can address the democratic potential of both mass media and science.

search engines matter

Finally, another article deriving from my PhD work has been accepted by a peer-review journal :) It’s the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) journal Policy and Internet. The article with the title “Search Engines Matter: From educating users towards engaging with online health information practices” will be published in May 2012, in the special issue on eHealth. I’d like to thank the guest editors Rik Crutzen and Gordon Gao, as well as the managing editor David Sutcliffe, who was a great help in the whole peer-review process! Further I’d like to thank my Viennese colleagues, who contributed to the empirical work for the article, my HUMlab colleagues for having supported me during my stay in Sweden, and Mike Frangos, who commented on earlier drafts of the paper and helped me with editing the English!!

I’ve posted the abstract below and will add the link to the article once it has been put online.

While the internet is often discussed as empowering or endangering patients due to broadening access to medical and health-related information, little is known about the way patients actually get informed about medical conditions and how the technology shapes their practices. This article draws on 40 user observations and 40 qualitative interviews to explore how users employ the web to obtain knowledge about a chronic disease in the Austrian context. Following concepts from the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) it elaborates how users’ individual medical preferences and search engines’ mechanisms of pre-filtering information co-shape online health information practices. This analysis exemplifies that search engines are no passive intermediaries, but rather actively shape how users browse through, select and evaluate health information in the context of their own bodies of knowledge. Accordingly, new skills are required on the part of users, but also on the part of medical professionals and policy makers. Both policy makers and doctors are invited to engage with users’ highly individual search practices and establish more dialogue-oriented and technology-focused health policy measures, rather than trying to educate users with standardized quality criteria for websites not responding to users’ online routines and needs, as will be finally concluded.