WTMC PhD Summer School 21-25 August 2023, “Algorithmic”, with anchor teacher Tarleton Gillespie

Study and Conference Centre Soeterbeeck
Elleboogstraat 2
NL-5352 LP Deursen-Dennenburg
The Netherlands

From Monday 21 to Friday 25 August 2023, the WTMC PHD Summer School ‘Algorithmic’ with anchor teacher Tarleton Gillespie will take place at at Soeterbeeck, Deursen-Dennenburg, the Netherlands.

Introduction to the topic:

If knowledge production and the workings of societal institutions have now thoroughly been quantified, computerized, and networked – then they have also become algorithmic: governed by rule-bound procedures based on mathematical precepts easily calculated by computers, functioning at the scale of data and the speed of global networks. If we now inhabit a condition of information abundance, or even information overload, then we require guidance as to what to pay attention to, what is relevant, what is likely, what is of value. We’ve not only produced that information abundance ourselves, we’ve also committed irretrievably to algorithmic ways of sorting through it. This requires the formalization of social facts into measurable data, and the modeling of social phenomena to operationalize both problem and solution. This process can be automated so that it can happen instantly, repetitively, and across many contexts, away from the guiding hand of its implementers. Some of these algorithmic systems work at a velocity and on a scale that is not just unprecedented, but in some ways unfathomable.

However, to say that knowledge production is algorithmic is to make a large claim with a small gap at the center, for we often make assertions about the algorithmic with little precision as to what an algorithm is. We (as users, as citizens, as policymakers, and as researchers) cannot talk about algorithms without thinking about algorithmic systems, though we can easily find ourselves pontificating about algorithmic systems while forgetting the role of algorithms in them. This summer school we will attempt to rectify this, and be both precise and expansive as we do so. Algorithms are something specific, with a technical shape, a specific history, and a set of animating logics; but they have also come to stand for something, a token useful for saying something how sociotechnical systems built around data and information work.

Still, as we examine the algorithmic, we may find our analytical tools as STS researchers are insufficient. Algorithms are technologies: so we must understand how they shape practice, and what values hide in their inner workings. Algorithms are also fragile, social accomplishments: so we must unpack the warm human and institutional choices that lie behind and maintain these cold mechanisms. Algorithms are also ways of knowing, animated by specific presumptions about how information should be sorted and evaluated: so we must study how these tools are called into being by, enlisted as part of, and negotiated around collective efforts to know and be known – and understand why this version of knowing is so highly valued. Are we engaged in a sociology of technology, a sociology of knowledge, both, or something else altogether?

Target audience:

The WTMC Summer School is aimed at PhD candidates who are in the first phase of preparing their doctoral dissertations. Preparation for the Summer School is estimated at 80 hours in total. The Summer School is residential as the programme continues into the evening. The Summer School is credited with 5 ECTs. It starts on August 21nd at 10:30 AM and ends on 25th August at 4 PM.  Full participation in all parts of the programme is required.

Anchor teacher:

Tarleton Gillespie is a Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, part of the Social Media Collective, Microsoft Research’s team of sociologists, anthropologists, and communication & media scholars studying the impact of sociotechnical systems on social and political life. Tarleton also retains an affiliated Associate Professor position with Cornell University, where he has been on the faculty for nearly two decades.

Confirmed speakers include Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam), Jess Bier (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Anne Helmond (Utrecht University) and João C. Magalhães (University of Groningen).

Registration for this event will open on April 15 and close on May 30, 2023. If you have any content-related questions regarding this workshop, please feel free to contact the training coordinators Alexandra Supper: a.supper@maastrichtuniversity.nl or Andreas Weber: a.weber@utwente.nl

For practical questions, please contact wtmc@utwente.nl