Subjectivities of Search

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In the opening paragraph of his book, The Sense of Dissonance (2009), the sociologist David Stark defines ‘search’ as “the watchword of the information age”. By typing in a few keywords, “search engines power the information economy”, providing access to databases that open up and reveal answers to users’ queries. It is however, human-machine configurations in an era of ‘big data’ in which “search is the process that best exemplifies the challenges of contemporary organization”. As a type of ‘invisibility management’ with digital technologies reflecting an organizational apriori – the user is directed and unconsciously organised by the very action of searching online. Wendy Chun articulates the ways in which the more the users see when searching online, the less they know, and that there are ever-shifting degrees of “control and freedom”. Moreover, it is through habit that users become more like their machines. Behind the scenes there are other non-human actors (algorithms) involved in this digital ‘organisation of the self’. Already at the turn of the millennium Martin Parker coined the term ‘cyberorganisation’ to describe human-machine systems that control the flow of information back to the user. Louis Althusser argued that the on-going process of interpellation transforms individuals into subjects, culturally constructing identity through ideology. Nowadays technological infrastructures such as the world wide web, network layers and protocols regulate various forms of address. The subject (or user) has become the site of data collection as well as being constantly evaluated by algorithms and “technology, or standards, precede meaning, and enable it – similarly to how they enable the being of the subject” (Bernhard Siegert). “Subjectivities of Search” examines the posthuman condition and how search organises the self (selves), mapping the various forms of address and which types of subjectivities result from this human-algorithmic interaction. Drawing on a method entitled ‘critical ethnography of the self’, the analysis sheds
light on the effects of Google Search, along with its technological implications and consequences. In contemporary “surveillance capitalism” (Soshana Zuboff), Google’s ‘logic of data accumulation’ enables ‘personalised subjects’ to obtain free services in exchange for data who are then assigned or collaboratively filtered into groups of others ‘like them’. Algorithmic ‘weapons of math destruction’ execute the inherent programmers bias (race, gender, class) and predict user behaviour based on previous data sets. In contrast, agency lies in alternative search methods with Tor facilitating anonymous communication of information and data between unknown users. Ultimately, “Subjectivities of Search” will show how search organises personalised subjects and anonymous users and which digital subjectivities are produced en route.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Cultures: Knowledge / Culture / Technology : Conference Program and Book of Abstracts
Number of pages2
Place of PublicationLüneburg
PublisherLeuphana University of Lüneburg
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventDigital Cultures: Knowledge / Culture / Technology. KCT18 - Leuphana University Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
Duration: 19 Sep 201822 Sep 2018


ConferenceDigital Cultures
LocationLeuphana University Lüneburg

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