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Algorithms, Governance, and Governmentality: On Governing Academic Writing

Lucas D Introna


Algorithms, or rather algorithmic actions, are seen as problematic because they are inscrutable, automatic, and subsumed in the flow of daily practices. Yet, they are also seen to be playing an important role in organizing opportunities, enacting certain categories, and doing what David Lyon calls “social sorting.” Thus, there is a general concern that this increasingly prevalent mode of ordering and organizing should be governed more explicitly. Some have argued for more transparency and openness, others have argued for more democratic or value-centered design of such actors. In this article, we argue that governing practices—of, and through algorithmic actors—are best understood in terms of what Foucault calls governmentality. Governmentality allows us to consider the performative nature of these governing practices. They allow us to show how practice becomes problematized, how calculative practices are enacted as technologies of governance, how such calculative practices produce domains of knowledge and expertise, and finally, how such domains of knowledge become internalized in order to enact self-governing subjects. In other words, it allows us to show the mutually constitutive nature of problems, domains of knowledge, and subjectivities enacted through governing practices. In order to demonstrate this, we present attempts to govern academic writing with a specific focus on the algorithmic action of Turnitin.

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