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Behind the Algorithm

Due to the pandemic COVID19 situation, the conference had to be postponed. The new date is September 30 - October 1, 2020.


Behind Data and Algorithms.
Call for papers attending to the actors, logics and/or cultures behind digital technologies


September 30 - October 1, 2020, Malmö, Sweden


A conference co-organized by Malmö University Data Society research program (www.mau.se/en/research/research-programmes/data-society)
& the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in Berlin (www.weizenbaum-institut.de).
Funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (www.rj.se/en) and the above organizing institutions

Data and algorithms are on the agenda today. Examples are abundant: How Facebook manually controls the algorithms by tweaking them, the debate whether Amazon is homophobic, whether Google is racist, or the scandal over Microsoft’s chat program Tay that quickly turned to obscene and inflammatory language after having interacted with Twitter users. Studies have also found gender biases as a consequence of image search algorithms and that black people are not recognized as humans in face-recognition algorithms. And then we have the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal and the debate on how data and algorithms can be used to manipulate elections.

There is much need for a socio-cultural approach to research on data and algorithms, by focusing on the actors and their culture(s) behind these technologies. Engineered by humans, data and algorithms embody rules, ideals and imaginations. They are encoded with human intentions that may or may not be fulfilled. Studying humans, logics and culture behind data and algorithms is therefore pivotal if we intend to have an informed discussion of power, and shifting relations of power, in contemporary data society. Here we draw upon the argument that algorithms should be understood as massive and networked, sometimes with hundreds of hands reaching into them, tuning, tweaking and experimenting with them. Still, computer programmers, software engineers and their circumstances have largely been ignored in empirical studies. In this conference we therefore aim to gather researchers exploring questions such as what logic, or combination of logics, informs the practices of designing and programming algorithms. And how the data that these algorithms base their calculation, is constructed?  


We seek papers discussing any of the following exemplary questions:


Actors: Who are the people and organizations that create and maintain algorithms and other digital technologies behind the communication interfaces of platforms, apps, search engines or games? What about diversity and diversity challenges in the software industry? Under which working conditions is software produced? What are the professional norms and values of software designers, programmers and engineers?


Logics: What are the processes and rules of the game in the production of algorithms and digital technologies? What are criteria for “good” code? What are the business models behind algorithms, “big data” and artificial intelligence? How do monopolies or hegemonic actors influence the production and the design of digital technologies?


Cultures: Which norms and values inform the production of algorithms and digital technologies? Are there any specific views, ideas, narratives or imaginations of the world that inform the creation of technologies? Is there a specific culture of software creation? Are there critical, Marxist, feminist or queer approaches, and what are their contributions?



Date and Location

This conference is organized around invited presentations and an open call for papers. We invite up to 16 presentations of original and unpublished research. Selected participants are expected to attend the full conference (starting 10 am April 23 and ending 5 pm April 24).


Abstracts: maximum 500 words

Deadline: Jan 15, 2020

Notification of acceptance: (around) Feb 20, 2020


Please send abstracts to team@behindthealgorithm2020.de


The conference is free of charge (thanks to our funders) and lunch will be provided presenting authors during the two days. The accepted paper presenters will have to arrange travel and accommodation themselves.

Conference venue is Malmö University, Niagara building (2 min by foot from Malmö Central Station which is located 10 minutes by train from Lund Central Station, 25 min by train from Copenhagen Airport and 40 min by train from Copenhagen Central Station), see https://mau.se/en/contact/niagara/


Attending as audience

There is a possibility to attend as audience. In case of high demand, priority will be given to students and faculty affiliated to Malmö University and Weizenbaum Institute as well as to audience committing to attend the full conference.


Conference chairs



Jakob Svensson is Full Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Malmö University, School of Arts & Communication (K3). He obtained his PhD in 2008 from Lund University (under the supervision of prof. Peter Dahlgren), and was promoted to associate professor at Karlstad University in 2014. Jakob Svensson has worked extensively on topics of political participation and digital media communication. Today his research is focused on two areas: 1) digital media and empowerment with a special focus on LGBTQI in contexts of state-sanctioned homophobia, and 2) socio-cultural approaches to data and algorithms. He is currently leading the research project Behind the Algorithm, funded by the Swedish Research council.





Ulrike Klinger is Assistant Professor for Digital Communication at Freie Universität Berlin and head of the research group “News, Campaigns and the Rationality of Public Discourse” at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in Berlin. After her dissertation, which won the best dissertation award by the German Political Science Association 2012, she joined the IKMZ Department of Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich. Research visits at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the HIIG Humboldt Internet Institute in Berlin and Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen followed. Her research focuses on political communication, social media, and transformations of the public sphere.

Weizenbaum Grafik