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Algorithmic culture

TitleAlgorithmic culture
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsShifas, T
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies

Over the last 30 years or so, human beings have been delegating the work of culture – the sorting, classifying and hierarchizing of people, places, objects and ideas – increasingly to computational processes. Such a shift significantly alters how the category culture has long been practiced, experienced and understood, giving rise to what, following Alexander Galloway, I am calling ‘algorithmic culture’. The purpose of this essay is to trace some of the conceptual conditions out of which algorithmic culture has emerged and, in doing so, to offer a preliminary treatment on what it is. In the vein of Raymond Williams’ Keywords, I single out three terms whose bearing on the meaning of the word culture seems to have been unusually strong during the period in question: information, crowd and algorithm. My claim is that the offloading of cultural work onto computers, databases and other types of digital technologies has prompted a reshuffling of some of the words most closely associated with culture, giving rise to new senses of the term that may be experientially available but have yet to be well named, documented or recorded. This essay, though largely historical, concludes by connecting the dots critically to the present day. What is at stake in algorithmic culture is the gradual abandonment of culture’s publicness and the emergence of a strange new breed of elite culture purporting to be its opposite.