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The ethnographer and the algorithm: beyond the black box

The ethnographer and the algorithm: beyond the black box
Article by Angèle Christin
Theory and Society
15 August 2020, 22 pages

A common theme in social science studies of algorithms is that they are profoundly opaque and function as “black boxes.” Scholars have developed several methodological approaches in order to address algorithmic opacity.

Here Christin argues that we can explicitly enroll algorithms in ethnographic research, which can shed light on unexpected aspects of algorithmic systems—including their opacity.

She delineates three mesolevel strategies for algorithmic ethnography.

The first, algorithmic refraction, examines the reconfigurations that take place when computational software, people,

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