Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: What politics for enacting alternative futures are emerging in contexts of algorithmic control and governance? How do data-intensive, predictive analytics constitute new forms of political reasoning? How are they disputed through new ethical problematizations and technopolitical alternatives in the contemporary? In this panel, we will explore these questions by examining how algorithmic systems serve as sites and objects of political rationality, ethical reflection, and anthropological inquiry. Drawing from the last three decades of sociocultural studies of computing, we aim to make a critical contribution to contemporary debates on the (ab)use of computing platforms for the purposes of governance. Early research on artificial intelligence (AI) and human-computer interaction (HCI) has shown how the “user” is imagined and implemented through algorithmic reductions (Forsythe 1988; Bardini and Horvath 1995). The implementation of participatory information technologies has also created the opportunity to reframe computing as an ethical concern, transforming it into a key site for political contestation of proprietary control (Kelty 2008; Leach 2009; Coleman 2012). Power imbalances in the production and regulation of computational infrastructures have, since then, remained a crucial issue. More recent studies on AI and HCI have explored how power dynamics are encoded and reproduced through infrastructural, technical, and pedagogical practices in computing (Eubanks 2018; Noble 2018). While ethnographers of data tracking and recommender systems have critically examined how algorithmic data applications “nudge” (Schüll 2016; Zuboff 2019) or “hook” (Seaver 2018) their users, ethnographers have also critically addressed the deployment of autonomous systems in war efforts (Suchman 2013; Gusterson 2016). How do algorithmic systems sustain emergent understandings of “the human” and elaborations on “the social,” while distributing powerful mechanisms of technopolitical governance and large-scale surveillance? What insight can histories and ethnographies of computational intervention provide into contemporary technopolitics? In light of the current proliferation of dystopian visions of algorithmic futures in terms of digital surveillance and control, what alternative futures might be enacted in and through computational infrastructures otherwise? We invite contributions to engage, expand and advance these issues by critically assessing emergent computational regimes and forms of algorithmic reasoning with ethnographic studies. We welcome paper proposals on the following themes: algorithmic governance; data ethics; surveillance; privacy; and data-intensive analytics.