Algorithmic Value: Cultural Encoding, Textuality, and the Myth of “Source Code”

Pratistha Bhattarai

Abstract


In this article, I provide a Spivakian analysis of computational algorithms. Building upon Gayatri Spivak’s claim that the value coding of late capitalism extends beyond the economic realm to the cultural and affective, I show that it seeps into the algorithmic as well. The recent proliferation of algorithmic applications has been met by an increased scholarly interest in their underlying mechanisms. Several critics of predictive algorithms, for instance, proceed as though the racial and gender discrimination that a given algorithm enacts upon execution can be positively attributed to -- and mitigated through a re-coding of – either its training data or its “source code.” There is little denying that the logic of computation undergirds much of our sociality. But, as I argue in this article, to concentrate the source of an algorithm’s action in its semiotic representations is to hide and legitimize the value codings that lend these representations their efficacy. My aim in this article is two-fold. First, to show how seemingly benign investments in algorithms can reproduce, in a larger network, the exploitative value systems that manage the worth of knowledge, epistemologies, labor, and bodies. Second, to raise a question of methodology: What antitechnocratic, nonhegemonic engagements with algorithms might feminists produce that do not privilege the algorithmic as a site of intervention

Keywords


algorithms, value, automation, efficiency, code, Gayatri Spivak

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.28968/cftt.v3i1.125

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Copyright (c) 2017 Pratistha Bhattarai

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