Ordering Practices and Algorithmic Sensing: 4 Metaphors to Think With

Speaker: Francis Lee # Uppsala University

19th Nov 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Staff Room, 6th floor, Crystal Macmillan Building, George Square, University of Edinburgh

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Algorithmic sensing infrastructures are making inroads in all human activity. From crime surveillance, via automatic trading or environmental surveys, to disease surveillance. Drawing on the observation that an algorithm can materialize a certain “moral order”—for example in the order-book of algorithmic trading systems—the paper explores some ways in which algorithmic sensing infrastructures can reshape the production of “the social,” “the natural,” or “the moral.”

Building on the work of Eviatar Zerubavel and Marion Fourcade the paper proposes four metaphors which can be used to analyze algorithmic ordering practices: 1) Transposition: how objects become other. 2) Aggregation: How invisible neighborhoods are created. 3) Partition: How tipping points push things apart. 4) Apparition: How absence becomes presence. Lastly, turning to classic actor-network and ethnomethodological sensibilities, the paper discusses the politics and practices of valuation and classification. How do sensing infrastructures produce disparate hierarchies of sensing? How do algorithmic sensing infrastructures change what matters? Are new things included/excluded, seen as risky/harmless, or normal/deviant?

Francis Lee is a researcher and associate professor at the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University in Sweden.