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Programmable Politics: Civil Society in the Age of Algorithmic Automation

Research project The overarching aim of this project is to analyse and contribute to the scholarly understanding of the impacts of algorithmic automation on civil society, democracy and governance.

The project advocates a sociotechnical perspective, meaning that we consider civil society as being both shaped by and shaping algorithmic automation. We firstly focus on how civil society is affected by algorithmic automation in terms of possibilities for political deliberation on digital platforms. Secondly, we investigate how specific civil society organisations are trying to impact the shape and future of algorithmic automation.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2022-01-01 2026-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Sociology

Research area

Sociology

Project description

The aim is divided into four research questions that revolve around the theoretical notions of programmable platforms, non-human agency and algorithmic governance (see further the ‘Theory and method’ section). The research questions are:

  • How do programmable platforms operate as limiting and enabling structures for civil society actors in the age of automation?

  • How do non-human agents in political communication online impact on (a) the social organisation and mobilisation of civil society actors, and on (b) how ideas and opinions spread.

  • How do civil society actors make sense of and imagine algorithmic governance in relation to their political goals?

  • In what ways do civil society actors attempt to actively shape algorithmic automation?

Using a mixed-methods case study design, this project will contribute to the empirical understanding of the changing nature of civil society in the age of algorithmic automation. This will include an analysis of risks as well as opportunities for democratic deliberation and dialogue in the public spheres of the 21st century. Furthermore, the results of the project taken together will be synthesised and discussed in relation to existing theories of social movements and activism in order to advance concepts to be employed in future studies of civil society.