[Air-L] Any sociological or STS research on machine learning?

Jenna Burrell jenna1 at gmail.com
Fri Jan 12 09:25:18 PST 2018

Hi Stephen and AIR-L,

Yes, there's a lot of work by sociologists and STS researchers on machine
learning, including books published in the last year or about to come out...

Virginia Eubanks book *Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile,
Punish and Police the Poor* is about to come out. I believe it's an
ethnography and that it deals, at least in part, with applications of
machine learning (in areas like predictive policing).

There's a new book out by STS scholar Adrien Mackenzie *Machine Learners* -

Also look at what Nick Seaver has written. He has an ethnography coming out
on music recommendation systems/algorithms (http://nickseaver.net/)

Malte Ziewitz did an ethnography of the search engine optimization industry
and has done lots of work in this space - http://zwtz.org/

Marion Foucade has a deeply sociological read on this topic and has written
a great piece about the "mechanisms" that produce "classification
situations" which are consequential to life circumstances (she doesn't use
the phrase machine learning, but certainly ML compose some of the
underlying 'mechanisms' she is concerned with) - http://www.

I've also written something in this space: "How the machine ‘thinks’:
Understanding opacity in machine learning algorithms"
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2053951715622512 - I'm a
sociologist and an ethnographer, though this particular piece isn't

This list just scratches the surface ... there's just so much work coming
out in this space so I'll just offer some names of other people to look
into: Solon Barocas, Karen Levy, Kate Crawford, Christian Sandvig, Tarleton
Gillespie, Angele Christen, Mike Ananny, Nick Diakopolous, Luke Stark. Plus
lots of people doing work in this space at Data & Society (

Jenna Burrell
Associate Professor
School of Information

On Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 8:29 AM, Yosem Companys <ycompanys at gmail.com> wrote:

> From: Stephen Paff <stephen.paff at gmail.com>
> Hello everyone,
> I am conducting research into the anthropology of machine learning. Does
> anyone know of ethnographies of the development, implementation, and/or use
> of machine learning algorithms? Are there any sociologists, STS
> researchers, or scholars from other related fields studying machine
> learning whose work I should look into as well?
> Sincerely,
> Stephen Paff
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