Democratic Frontiers: Algorithms and Society

Democratic Frontiers: Algorithms and Society focuses on digital platforms’ effects in societies with respect to key areas such as subjectivity and self-reflection, data and measurement for the common good, public health and accessible datasets, activism in social media and the import/export of AI technologies relative to regime type.

Digital technologies develop at a much faster pace relative to our systems of governance which are supposed to embody democratic principles that are comparatively timeless, whether rooted in ancient Greek or Enlightenment ideas of freedom, autonomy and citizenship. Algorithms, computing millions of calculations per second, do not pause to reflect on their operations. Developments in the accumulation of vast private datasets that are used to train automated machine learning algorithms pose new challenges for upholding these values. Social media platforms, while the key driver of today’s information disorder, also afford new opportunities for organized social activism. The US and China, presumably at opposite ends of an ideological spectrum, are the main exporters of AI technology to both free and totalitarian societies. These are some of the important topics covered by this volume that examines the democratic stakes for societies with the rapid expansion of these technologies.

Democratic Frontiers takes up considerations of digital platforms’ effects in societies with respect to key areas such as subjectivity and self-reflection, data and measurement for the common good, public health and accessible datasets, activism in social media and the import/export of AI technologies relative to regime type.

Scholars and students from many backgrounds, as well as policy makers, journalists and the general reading public will find a multidisciplinary approach to issues of democratic values and governance encompassing research from Sociology, Digital Humanities, New Media, Psychology, Communication, International Relations and Economics.

Chapter 1 — “Algorithmic Knowledge and the Subversion of Subjectivity” by Eran Fisher — analyzes digital platforms as epistemic media that go beyond communicating knowledge to generating it. Drawing on Habermas’s conceptions of critical knowledge and self-reflection, these platforms are criticized for undermining human subjectivity by excluding self-reflection.

Chapter 2 — “Algorithms, Conventions and New Regulation Processes” by Rainer Diaz-Bone and Simon Schrör — discusses economics of conventions approaches in France that are designed to foster the common good through a focus on data quality and measurement frameworks. The opaque and privately held character of big data and its algorithms post new regulatory challenges for governance.

Chapter 3 — “From Big to Democratic Data: Why the Rise of AI Needs Data Solidarity” by Mercedes Bunz and Photini Vrikki — present a case study on the role of public datasets to counter typical shortcomings in private data that are used to train machine learning algorithms and which too often rely on invisible data processes. They argue for the concept of ‘data solidarity’ as a governance principle that favors democratic rather than economic factors in data practices.

Chapter 4 — “Democratic Possibilities of Digital Feminism: The Case of #IstanbulConventionSaves Lives and #IstanbulSozlesmesi” by Kristin Comeforo and Berna Görgülü — discusses the role of social media platforms and hashtag-defined social movements in Turkey to organize activism around the issue of femicide. Through close reading of over 25,000 tweets and interviews with women, the chapter identifies structural components of digital feminism.

Chapter 5 — “Politics of Artificial Intelligence Adoption: Unpacking the Regime Type Debate” by H. Akın Ünver and Arhan S. Ertan — examines the patterns and determinant factors of whether countries tend to import AI technology from the US or China. They find that while both countries export to authoritarian and democratic countries, the US supplies more technologies for policing and surveillance, debunking several myths associated with AI and regime preferences.

This volume is in Routledge’s short form Focus format. As such, the series can be nimble and responsive to fast emerging issues and debates.

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