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The Social Power of Algorithms

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JournalInformation, Communication and Society
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Jul 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Aug 2016
DatePublished (current) - 2 Jan 2017
Issue number1
Volume20
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)1-13
Early online date8/08/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article explores the questions associated with what might be thought of as the social power of algorithms. The article, which introduces a special issue on the same topic, begins by reflecting on how we might approach algorithms from a social scientific perspective. The article is then split into two sections. The first deals with the issues that might be associated with an analysis of the power of the algorithms themselves. This section outlines a series of issues associated with the functionality of the algorithms and how these functions are powerfully deployed within social world. The second section then focuses upon the notion of the algorithm. In this section, the article argues that we need to look beyond the algorithms themselves, as a technical and material presence, to explore how the notion or concept of the algorithm is also an important feature of their potential power. In this section, it is suggested that we look at the way that notions of the algorithm are evoked as a part of broader rationalities and ways of seeing the world. Exploring the notion of the algorithm may enable us to see how algorithms also play a part in social ordering processes, both in terms of how the algorithm is used to promote certain visions of calculative objectivity and also in relation to the wider governmentalities that this concept might be used to open up.

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    Research areas

  • Algorithm, Foucault, big data, code, power, software

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