Updates on Algorithmic Culture

You know when you have close to 7,000 comments in your spam filter that you haven’t checked in on your blog in a while.  Sigh.  Sorry about that.  The good news is that I’ve been busy producing a bunch of new material on algorithmic culture that I’m excited to share here, finally.

The first is a podcast on “Algorithms and Cultural Production” that you can hear on Culture Digitally.  It’s a conversation between me and the two principals over at C.D., Tarleton Gillespie and Hector Postigo.  You may know Tarleton from his great work on the politics of Twitter trends, which you can read on Salon, among many other notable works.  Hector just published his own book, The Digital Rights Movement: The Role of Technology in Subverting Digital Copyright (MIT Press), and a co-edited volume, Managing Privacy Through Accountability (Palgrave Macmillan); both look excellent and I look forward to reading them.

The other major work is an essay I’ve been pecking away at for the last few months entitled, “An Infernal Culture Machine: Intellectual Foundations of Algorithmic Culture.”  I’ve finally got a finished draft in hand, and I’ll be debuting it on Wednesday, November 7 at the Center for the Humanities (CHAT) Lounge at Temple University in Philadelphia (Gladfelter Hall, 10th floor).  The time is 4:00–5:30 pm.

The essay is prompted by the question, “What is culture today?” which I ask recognizing that our experiences of culture may not entirely square with the standard definitions you’ll find in dictionaries.  I’ll be looking specifically at the emergence an algorithmic understanding of culture in the third quarter of the twentieth century and its uptake today in systems like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and others.  Here’s the abstract, in case you’re interested:

An Infernal Culture Machine: Intellectual Foundations of Algorithmic Culture

The word culture has changed dramatically over the last sixty years, stretching its meaning in ways that people may be able to recognize but not fully articulate.  My talk traces that shift to culture’s encounter with cybernetic theory, a body of research whose central concern is the process of communication and control in complex systems. Its main focus is the prevailing sociological and anthropological literature on culture of postwar America, particularly that of the third quarter of the 20th century. The writings of Talcott Parsons and Clifford Geertz are exemplary in this regard, but an individual lesser known to the human sciences figures prominently here as well: the termite scientist Alfred. E. Emerson, whose influence on Parsons’ conceptualization of culture was particularly deep and abiding. I intend to show how, within this constellation of work, we can begin to register the historical rudiments of what, in our own time, has coalesced into the phenomenon of “algorithmic culture,” or the use of computational processes to sort, classify, and hierarchize people, places, objects, and ideas.

The essay was a blast to write, taking me into the realm of etymology, entomology, and even Parsons’ FBI file.  It sounds eclectic, but the narrative holds together pretty well, I assure you.

I can’t promise when exactly I’ll be back here again, but I will be back.  You know I love you, readers!




  1. […] of scholarly work is only one form among the many others now emerging both on- and offline.  Overviews of stand-alone talks are now available through a variety of blogs, while a double session at this year’s 4S on […]

  2. Christian says:

    Have you published the essay somewhere in the meantime? I’d love to read it, sounds so promising.

  3. […] Come dici tu stesso, “An Infernal Culture Machine”, il tuo ultimo saggio, nasce dalla domanda “Cos’è la cultura oggi?”. Quali pensi che siano le principali spinte al cambiamento del tempo in cui viviamo? […]

  4. […] Come dici tu stesso, “An Infernal Culture Machine”, il tuo ultimo saggio, nasce dalla domanda “Cos’è la cultura oggi?”. Quali pensi che siano le principali spinte al cambiamento del tempo in cui viviamo? […]

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