Behind the Algorithm - A study of programmers the logics behind their work
Algorithms are on the agenda today. It is argued that thinking within the field of social media and communication has taken an “algorithmic turn”. This project contributes to this turn with a much-needed sociological approach to research on algorithms by focusing on the humans behind them. Hence, algorithms are understood as non-neutral and as socially constructed. Being engineered by humans, they embody rules, ideals, imaginations/ perceptions, and different cultures.
They are encoded with human intentions that may or may not be fulfilled. A study of the humans behind the algorithms is therefore pivotal if we intend to have an informed discussion of power and shifting relations of power in contemporary digitalized societies. Still, algorithm programmers and software engineers have largely been ignored in empirical studies.
Research question and studies
The research question this two-year project seeks to answer is: What logic, or combination of logics, informs the practices of designing and programming algorithms?
This question will be answered through a study software engineers and their intentions in two different studies.
- The first study study is based on interviews targeting software engineers, algorithm programmers and designers at social media and search engine organizations in Sweden and abroad.
- The second will be an ethnography conducted at a leading Swedish daily newspaper. The focus will be the newspapers webpage and the work with ranking and placing of news stories on it.