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  • Mark 11:05 am on December 5, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    A video introduction to Social Media for Academics 

    How has social media changed since the first edition of this book?

    (More …)

  • Mark 9:11 pm on November 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Why I’ve deleted my Twitter account #exhaustionrebellion 

    I wrote two years ago about my desire to escape what Richard Seymour calls The Twittering Machine. It’s a term which Seymour used in a series of blog posts, invoking a painting of Paul Klee. As Dominic Pettman describes it in his book Infinite Distraction:

    This painting depicts largely featherless avian creatures, attached to a thin wire, which is itself connected to a hand crank. The legs and torsos of these highly abstract birds are as thin as the wire they are perched upon, and could even conceivably be extensions of it. Their provenance seems neither entirely organic nor completely mechanical. These are cyborg creatures that apparently sing at the turning of a handle (although no guiding hand comes into the picture). Some kind of pit or coffin, lit soft pink from within, seems to await beneath them, patient for the moment they drop off the perch. One art critic has described the painting as allegorically depicting mechanically captured animals, “their heads flopping in exhaustion and pathos.” Furthermore, “one bird’s tongue flies up out of its beak, an exclamation point punctuating its grim fate—to chirp under compulsion.”


    I’ve been haunted by this image since first encountering it, plagued by the sense of capture it represents. I was once a Twitter enthusiast, profoundly believing in its capacity to democratise the academy. Pretty much everything I’ve done as a researcher since my PhD has been concerned with subjecting that optimism to sociological scrutiny, as well as understanding the assumptions from which it originated.

    This has left me with a clearer sense of why I think social media is so exciting from an academic perspective. The mass character of commercial social media platforms breaks down the stable boundaries between the university and wider society, opening up a liminal space in which new ways of working can thrive. The interaction orientated assumptions built into their architecture furthermore enables a much broader range of interactions than would otherwise be possible, destabilising the relatively enduring networks through which privilege is conducted and reproduced. Furthermore I was convinced that a number of scholarly dispositions tended to follow from these engineering decisions: open-mindedness, curiosity, creativity and (sometimes) collegiality.

    (More …)

  • Mark 7:18 am on December 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , demotic, Digital Elections, , , Party Politics and Diplomacy,   

    The highly structured centralised system of the grassroots campaign 

    From Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System pg 149:

    The Obama campaign was, in the words of Jon Carson, its national field director, a “highly structured, accountable system …. ” “Despite this decentralized system” he says, “I knew every single morning how many phone calls had been made, how many doors had been knocked, where, by whom, and if there was anything funky in the data” (Carson, 2009: 42). All of this pivoted on an important distinction between distributed labor and distributed power. As former Dean campaign worker Zephyr Teachout put it: “some very smart people have figured out how to organize your excitement” (2007)

  • Mark 2:49 pm on December 8, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , hybrid media system   

    The torrents of audience feedback which are reshaping the media 

    From Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System pg 220:

    A central theme in Marsh’s discussion of the rise of online media is how growing torrents of audience feedback have come to shape the style and ethos of the BBC’s approach to political coverage. The rise to ubiquity of e-mail during the 1990s meant that by the time Marsh became editor of Today in 2002 he was receiving around “50,000 emails a year” from listeners who “wanted to push back about stories.” This was before the explosion of user comments on the BBC’s websites, before the launch of the iPlayer online video platform, and before BBC news’ increasing integration with social media during the late 2000s.

    How do we theorise the scale of this as something more than the accumulation of contingent individual responses?

  • Mark 2:28 pm on December 8, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , qualitative interviewing   

    Sampling a range of settings in qualitative interviewing 

    I’m saving this account from Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System because I want to come back to it later. From pg 185:

    I chose these interviewees because I wanted to “sample” a range of different political and media settings: those associated with formal organizations but also those working in nonorganizational settings, or settings whose precariousness, contingency, or what we might term “boundariness” were what made them interesting as subjects of study, given the initial research questions that fueled this book.

    This fieldwork sample is not, of course, meant to be representative of the hugely diverse media system of contemporary Britain. No set of in-depth qualitative interviews could ever achieve that status and it would be unwise to assume that it might. However, my interview subjects, and the norms they reveal as important, add up to what I believe is a convincing figurative representation of daily practice in the hybrid media system.

  • Mark 2:27 pm on December 8, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , live ethnography,   

    It is based in large part upon what we might term “live ethnography”: close, real-time, observation and logging of a wide range of newspaper, broadcast, and online material, including citizen opinion expressed and coordinated through online social network sites.

    Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System pg 71
  • Mark 9:54 am on December 6, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , , , globalism, Rana Foroohar, tech nationalism   

    Big Tech, Nationalism and Globalisation 

    There’s an important observation in Rana Foroohar’s The Case Against Big Tech concerning how American tech firms are invoking national interest to avoid the threat of regulation. From pg 10:

    All of which makes it particularly rich that some Big Tech firms have responded to the growing public concern about privacy and anticompetitive business practices by playing to a long-standing American fear: It’s us versus China. Companies like Google and Facebook are increasingly trying to portray themselves to regulators and politicians as national champions, fighting to preserve America’s first-place standing in a video-game-like, winner-take-all battle for the future against the evil Middle Kingdom. In the spring of 2018, when Mark Zuckerberg was grilled in front of the U.S. Senate about his company’s involvement in election manipulation, an Associated Press reporter managed to take a picture of Zuckerberg’s notes, which revealed that if he was asked about Facebook’s monopoly power, he had planned to answer that if the company were broken up, America would be at a competitive disadvantage against Chinese tech giants. As congressional staffers and politicos in Washington have told me, Google has played the national security card, too, quietly using the “U.S. versus China” argument to push back against proposed antitrust action. Yet Google also has a research facility in Beijing, and has contemplated starting a censored version of its search engine to comply with local rules (something that has been put “on hold,” as one PR representative put it to me, following an internal revolt among its own engineers, as well as political pushback from the White House and Congress).

    Given the objective fault lines which exist in Sino-American relations (the rising hegemonic and its diminishing predecessor, rapidly falling Chinese FDI in America, competition over South-East Asia as a sphere of influence, enormous if diminishing quantity of American debt owned by China etc) it is extremely worrying how the strategic conduct of Big Tech firms links nationalism in foreign affairs to resistance to domestic reform. There is a real race here given what we can expect to be the non-linear character of advances in machine learning but one which intersects with a diverse range of tensions to be found in China and America. The political economy of Big Tech is becoming extraordinarily significant and needs to be at the heart of our analysis of what constitutes the global in our present conjuncture.

  • Mark 9:44 am on December 6, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Automation and the reproduction of knowledge 

    I understand the allure which MOOCs can have for those inspired by the idea. Why relegate people to second tier tuition at regional universities when the best teachers in the world could teach everyone remotely at little cost? There are many problems with this vision but one that’s little remarked upon is the question of how the next generation of teachers would come to be produced. If the university system is reduced to a few centres for stars and supporting hubs then where are the future superstar professors likely to come from? How do they develop the pedagogical gifts in virtue of which much of the university system is being dispensed with? Unless an advocate for automation, which is in essence what MOOCs represent, can answer this question then I can’t see why we should take their vision of institutional change seriously.

  • Mark 8:20 am on December 5, 2019 Permalink

    Most recently, Amazon has gotten into healthcare—a $ 3.5 trillion industry—working to disrupt how we buy prescription drugs, pick and purchase health insurance plans, and more, by drawing on its supply chain and trove of personal background data that could easily be supplemented with real-time reports from health monitors in homes, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. 44 It is ambitions like this that have made Amazon possibly the deadliest of the killer apps in terms of sheer market power. No wonder that Jeff Bezos, with a net worth of $ 112 billion, has emerged the richest of the tech oligarchs—indeed, perhaps the richest person of all time.

    Don’t be Evil by Rana Foroohar, pg 21-22
  • Mark 1:50 pm on December 4, 2019 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    Hampered by the need to defend the EU as a site of cosmopolitanism in the name of stopping Brexit, many remainers have framed any opposition as a threat to a political order that has no need for change. The rightward drift of the Lib Dems as they look to rebuild their vote by becoming the party of remain illustrates this bias to the status quo. For all its references to history (particularly to the totalitarian threats of the 1930s), the current liberal vision is often quite ahistorical: we don’t hear much about Britain before the referendum. Even the most radical version of liberal centrism has only a partial diagnosis: it points to rising inequality and a growing generational and educational gap. Liberals may focus on defending norms, but norms themselves are only how particular political settlements are made legitimate. They don’t tell us much about the limits of the settlement itself.

    Katrina Forrester
  • Mark 10:50 am on December 4, 2019 Permalink

    We're striking 

    Brilliant from Wanya2K who did this live at the CUCU rally yesterday:

  • Mark 4:24 pm on December 3, 2019 Permalink  

    Connecting with what I’m actually interested in #exhaustionrebellion 

    The changing character of publicness and its implications for the public role of the social sciences. What are the opportunities and challenges? What forms of institutional entrepreneurship are they inviting? What does this mean for the future of scholarship? What does this mean for doctoral pedagogy? How can we build institutions and develop practices which address this changing landscape? How is this transformation of knowledge production tied up in the changing governance of the university? How does discursive critique impact upon the efficacy of resistance to these trends? What is it like to mundanely exist within this dysfunctional institutional environment? What is the university becoming and what role is platformisation playing in this? Do we need to defend the university in a ‘post truth’ age or is the easy availability of this rhetoric masking a much deeper set of problems in the collective life of scholarship.

    The proliferation of digital platforms and the problem of agency. Platformisation has reached an intensivity and extensivity that we urgently need to understand how the architecture of platforms, as well as the forms of (micro, meso and macro) strategic conduct consolidated through them, transforms the parameters of personal and collective reflexivity. There are countless claims made about this process but there has yet to be a consistent and plausible ontological engagement with the process as such. It would be a mistake to see this as an opportunity for restaging the structure and agency debate. But without revisiting this terrain, it’s not going to be possible to resolve the problem of agency within a comprehensively platformised social order. A failure to reach this point will have serious intellectual and pedagogical consequences for the exercise of our (technological) reflexivity with regards to an increasingly dystopian political economy against the backdrop of a climate crisis.

  • Mark 11:39 pm on December 2, 2019 Permalink

    This was drawn by Patrick Tresset’s robot It was a strange and engaging experience to see the machine compose this through an iterative sequence of seemingly random lines. It was also striking how many people approached me in the exhibition when I was standing next to it drawing me, as everyone immediately began treating me as part of the exhibition.

  • Mark 10:56 am on November 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The promise of the populist president 

    From this extremely astute essay by Isaac Reed:

    A widespread ideational feature of monarchical societies (variably realized) is the investment of the common people in a king or queen as their protector against the predations of the aristocracy. The peasant, immediately subject to his lord, reaches to the monarch—the ultimate location of the sacred, the place where the body politic meets the body natural—as a shield against the unfairness and violence of the world, and in particular as a shield against the exploitation of the poor by the rich. In modernity, one may hazard, it is society itself, and its complex institutional environment, that embodies this promise of protection. This was articulated and felt, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through belief in the nation in a way that is not obviously available today for those who seek an institutionally well-developed version of an open and fair society.

    However, we should be clear that the crisis is not only the crisis of “the nation,” but also—and perhaps more urgently—the crisis of all of the institutional developments that replaced the image of the king as the defender of the weak against the strong, and, in their very development, made social life not only about the strong and the weak, but also about justice as fairness, and equality as the precondition for the pursuit of distinction.

  • Mark 11:23 am on November 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Some screenshots from Social Media for Academics 2 

    To type the word ‘scholar’ into Google Image search leaves you immediately presented with images of bearded white men toiling away in obscurity. It has often struck me how apt this is in terms of the cultural connotations which remain attached to the idea of scholarship, even if most people realise these stereotypes aren’t representations of the modern academy. But the reclusive scholar so easily stereotyped by this image and memorably described by Patrick Dunleavy as the academic hermit “sitting alone on top of a pillar somewhere in academia and doing their level best to not communicate in any way with the outside world, or let any information about their work leak out”, risks being replaced by an equally extreme character: the celebrity academic.

    Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 11.40.17.png

  • Mark 6:17 pm on November 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , influencers   

    The logic of co-operation in the influencer economy 

    An ‘opportunity’ which was e-mailed to me earlier today…  🙄

  • Mark 8:09 am on November 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , dichotomies, new media, old media   

    Thinking with dichotomies: ‘old’ and ‘new’ media 

    This section from Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System reminds me of a discussion about ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ we’ve been having at the Accelerated Academy. Even obviously problematic dichotomies should not easily be dispensed with because they can be used to capture interactions between changing elements,  as opposed to tracking a linear substitution of one element by another. As he writes on pg 4 of the deep interaction between old and new media:

    We require a holistic approach to the role of information and communication in politics, one that avoids exclusively focusing either on supposedly “new” or supposedly “old” media, but instead maps where the distinctions between newer and older media matter, and where those distinctions might be dissolving. Older and newer are relative terms. We need to understand how newer media practices in the interpenetrated fields of media and politics adapt and integrate the logics of older media practices in those fields. We also need to understand how older media practices in the interpenetrated fields of media and politics adapt and integrate the logics of newer media practices. This requires a perspective that discusses the systemic characteristics of political communication, but such a perspective must, I believe, be firmly rooted not in abstract structural prejudgments, but in empirical evidence and specific illustrations of these forces in flow. This task is all the more important because it is clear that media systems in Britain, the United States, and around the world are in the middle of a chaotic transition period induced by the rise of digital media.

    On pg 31 he elaborates upon this with the example of how television produced a complex interaction with ‘older’ forms of media rather than straight forwardly replacing them:

    While the evolution of media has most often been presented as a linear history in which one medium replaces another, only to be replaced by another, and then another that better jells with societal demand (see for example Levinson, 1998), this linearity does not adequately capture the messiness, complexity, and long duration of the transitions. Older media practices can renew themselves in response to the new. Technologies may possess socially useful affordances that enable their persistence. It is often noted that as television diffused in the United States during the 1950s, cinema attendance declined massively, halving in less than a decade (Briggs & Burke, 2009: 212). But despite the threat from television, radio, with the help of the new electronic transistor, underwent a significant period of adaptation and expansion. Stations proliferated and advertising revenues increased, with the result that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to restrict the granting of fresh radio licenses in 1962 (Briggs & Burke, 2009: 209). It became apparent that radio’s affordances were different from those of television, cinema, and newspapers. Like television, radio was a monitorial, real-time medium, but listening to radio was a more intimate and individual experience than viewing, and it was cheaper to produce content for the radio than for television.

  • Mark 8:13 pm on November 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply

    How to take a social media sabbatical as an academic 

    This is an extract from Social Media for Academics 2. I’m posting it to coincide with my own social media sabbatical.

    The social media sabbatical is an increasingly common occurrence for academics, even if many would see a name like this for what they’re doing as somewhat cringeworthy. Obviously the name doesn’t matter though. What’s important is recognising when a break from social media would be beneficial to you and developing techniques for ensuring you see out the intended sabbatical period, even if returning to social media might prove tempting to you. I say this as someone who has intermittently announced an intention to leave Twitter for a period of time (more than once during the unexpectedly difficult process of preparing this second edition) only to return a few days later, as the experience of stress has subsided and the lure of social media has begun to reassert itself in my life. There have nonetheless been periods of time when I’ve left social media for weeks, in the hope it will help me focus on a project that I’m struggling with; sometimes this has been the case (the end of my PhD) and on other occasions it hasn’t worked at all (the second edition you’re reading, for example). At times I’ve made the decision to stop blogging for a period of time, including points when it has just crept up on me rather than being something deliberate which takes shape in my mind; I just don’t feel like doing it and this solidifies into a sense that I’m on a break from blogging for a while. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about when I post on social media and when I don’t. I’m sharing this here to illustrate the rhythms of engagement, even on the part of someone who most would perceive as an extremely intensive user of these platforms. At risk of stating the obvious, the fact you’re engaging online doesn’t mean you have to sustain this 365 days a year. In fact, you’re likely to enjoy it much more if you don’t.

    However, it’s necessary to be realistic about the sense of obligation you feel, if any, as well as the expectations which other might have of you. It might seem self-indulgent to announce your intention to leave social media. But if you don’t make clear you won’t be present on a platform, people might continue to contact you through it, whether publicly or through private messages. In itself this might be of little significance but it can lure you in. It’s easy to find yourself wondering whether anyone has sent you anything important, leading you to log in before finding yourself sucked into precisely what you were trying to avoid. It can also be an opportunity to face up to your relationship with social media. If it’s purely an obligation, undertaken for narrowly professional reasons apart from periods of time in which you need a holiday, it shouldn’t be an issue.

    Yet many people’s experiences of wanting to take a break from social media highlight the ambivalence they feel about it, as well as the difficulty they face in acting on this ambivalence. It’s not so much that they want to keep their distance from social media as that it often gets in the way, drawing them in despite their best intentions and displacing their intended object of focus. It can be enjoyable, yet feel like work. It can be freely engaged in, yet nonetheless be an obligation on some level. It can also sometimes be depressing, upsetting and dispiriting; it leaves us wired into a world which many of us intermittently feel the impulse to withdraw from. For all these reasons and more, we might feel we wish to take a break for a period of time and this raises the question of how such a break is conceived, acted on and announced. It can be useful to compare this to the well-established institution of a sabbatical, a period of time for study or travel in which the routine drudgery of working life is suspended to make room for professional development and self-exploration. It doesn’t necessarily mean a complete distance from your work or your colleagues, only that you might be prioritising different things for this distinct and recognised period of time. The fact you’re on sabbatical does not ensure you’ll never be seen in the office. But it does mean that when you’re there, people are unlikely to take it the wrong way if you come in for a specific purpose and immediately leave afterwards. They won’t find it rude if you seem to be going out of your way to avoid getting drawn into conversation, much as they’ll accept it if your responses to emails become slow or non-existent. The point of a sabbatical is as much to do with the recognition of this time as it is with the time itself. It’s a period in which you are relieved from standard duties but that relief itself has a significance which others are obliged to respect (perhaps unsurprisingly given the contemporary term derives from the Greek for ‘of the Sabbath’). It provides a relief from the day-to-day and marks out a special time in a way that one’s peers recognise.

    If social media has become a mainstream part of academic life then do we need comparable ways of providing relief from its day-to-day pressure? The notion of a social media sabbatical is only one suggestion to this end but my concern is that without ideas like this, people experiencing difficulties will simply find their stress levels mounting before they delete their accounts and head out into the night never to be seen (online) again. As I’m writing this, I can almost hear the sceptic screaming ‘why don’t you just delete your account if this bothers you so much?’ but this misses the point. In some cases this might be the right thing for people to do. For instance, the sociologist Roger Burrows described to me how social media was compounding the stress he felt about the state of the world and of the academy, leading him to a decision that he would prefer to stay away for a while. However, it’s important we find ways to ensure people have the control over the process so it’s not an all or nothing decision. If social media has become part of what academics do, it becomes something they will abstain from, to whatever degree, when they are inclined to take a break from what they do.The question is what form that break takes, how it is understood and how this understandings helps ensure we respect each other’s time.

  • Mark 4:55 pm on November 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Social media, attention economies and the future of the university 

    This is an extract from Social Media for Academics 2. If you like it please consider buying the book!

    Social media hasn’t created the celebrity academic but it has made it a category to which a greater number and range of people might aspire. It can be a gateway to the familiar markers of esteem associated with being a well-known scholar: paid speaking invitations, opportunities for media collaboration, requests for endorsements, extensive publication opportunities, paid reviewing work, invitations to join working groups, etc. These might be supplemented by requests which reflect popularity while nonetheless being less welcome, such as endless requests to peer review papers, assess monograph proposals or review grant applications. How these reinforce other forms of hierarchy remains to be established but we can speculate that they are unlikely to make the academy a more equal place. Even if social media expands the pool of celebrity academics, potentially making it more diverse than would otherwise be the case, it does so through the entrenchment of hierarchy: rewards flow to those who are known, valued and heard while those who are unknown, unvalued and unheard struggle to increase their standing.

    If we see social media platforms as democratic spaces then we miss how unevenly attention is distributed across them. For instance as Veletsianos (2016: loc 1162–1708) found in a study of educational tweeters, the top 1% of scholars had an average follower count of 700 times scholars in the bottom 50% and 100 times scholars in the other 99%. If this online popularity can be converted into offline rewards in the manner suggested, it doesn’t matter whether these are established academics who leverage their existing prestige to build a following or new entrants who have accumulated visibility through their social media activity alone. Both are beneficiaries of a new hierarchy which supplements the existing hierarchies of academic life. Social media can play an important role in allowing more diverse voices to rise to prominence within academic life and this should be celebrated. But we should not confuse this with platforms making the academy less hierarchical. It is certainly true that social media allows everyone to have a voice, as its cheerleaders are prone to pointing it out. However, it does so at the cost of making it much more difficult for people to be heard, something which is crucial to grasp if we want to get to grips with the long-term effects of social media on higher education.

    Publishing projects creating platforms for academics to have access to established audiences have a crucial role to play here.There are examples which cross disciplines such asThe Conversation and the group of LSE blogs. But perhaps the most interesting examples have a smaller audience and/or a narrower focus than this. Examples from my own discipline include The Sociological Review, Discover Society, Everyday Sociology and The Society Pages. I read blogs like The Disorder of Things and Critical Legal Thinking from adjacent disciplines.There will be examples from your own disciplines which I am unfamiliar with.These multi-author spaces have different intentions and different audiences, reaching out beyond a narrowly academic readership to varying degrees. But they are examples of a proliferation of outlets which enable academics to publish online and ensure a readership.

    The fact these projects have built up their own readership, accessible to academics who want to write occasionally or even on a single occasion, means they can perform the function of redistributing visibility. This might not in itself mitigate the attention economy unfolding in academic life but it can nonetheless provide a corrective to it, as long as editors of projects like this recognise the important role they play as gatekeepers to online audiences and the implications for who gets heard and who doesn’t in an academy where social media is increasingly ubiquitous. These projects also have an important role to play in addressing the parochialism which pervades social media.

    The Global Social Theory project founded by Gurminder K. Bhambra is an inspiring example of the form this can take. It seeks to correct the narrow focus on European male authors which characterises many reading lists on social theory, building a library which profiles theorists from around the world and guides people about how to engage with their work and use it on reading lists. In this sense, it uses the affordances of social media to find ways to amplify voices outside of American and European intellectual currents.The site itself was created in WordPress and it was promoted, as well as contributions solicited, through Twitter and Facebook. The Global Dialogues newsletter produced by the International Sociological Association addresses parochialism in a slightly different way, with each newsletter being translated in 16 languages so updates from around the world can be read by people from around the world.

    Both projects feature contributions from around the world with the range of their contributors and the scope of their readership enhanced by social media even if their operations are not strictly dependent upon these platforms.They highlight the potential which social media offers for overcoming parochialism, if it is approached in the form of a practical project. Their necessity helps illustrate how social media can entrench Anglophone bias if unopposed, as multilingual academics find themselves nudged into engaging online in English if they want access to international audiences. Collective projects of this sort have a crucial role to play in mitigating the inequalities of visibility which social media is generating. But they can also play a role in ensuring that we can respond collectively to the problems of online harassment and political polarisation which increasingly pervade social media.

  • Mark 8:01 pm on November 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-hermeneutic, , evisceration, , human agency, , platform epistemics   

    Humans as blackboxes, machines as transparent 

    From Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks pg 167:

    Parents in Allegheny County helped me articulate an inchoate idea that had been echoing in my head since I started my research. In Indiana, Los Angeles, and Allegheny County, technologists and administrators explained to me that new high-tech tools in public services increase transparency and decrease discrimination. They claimed that there is no way to know what is going on in the head of a welfare caseworker, a homeless service provider, or an intake call screener without using big data to identify patterns in their decision-making. I find the philosophy that sees human beings as unknowable black boxes and machines as transparent deeply troubling. It seems to me a worldview that surrenders any attempt at empathy and forecloses the possibility of ethical development. The presumption that human decision-making is opaque and inaccessible is an admission that we have abandoned a social commitment to try to understand each other. Poor and working-class people in Allegheny County want and deserve more: a recognition of their humanity, an understanding of their context, and the potential for connection and community.

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