Christin, Angèle, "The ethnographer and the algorithm : beyond the black box" , in Theory and Society, 2020.
A common theme in social science studies of algorithms is that they are profoundly opaque and function as “black boxes.” Scholars have developed several methodological approaches in order to address algorithmic opacity. Here I argue that we can explicitly enroll algorithms in ethnographic research, which can shed light on unexpected aspects of algorithmic systems—including their opacity. I delineate three meso-level strategies for algorithmic ethnography. The first, algorithmic refraction, examines the reconfigurations that take place when computational software, people, and institutions interact. The second strategy, algorithmic comparison, relies on a similarity-and-difference approach to identify the instruments’ unique features. The third strategy, algorithmic triangulation, enrolls algorithms to help gather rich qualitative data. I conclude by discussing the implications of this toolkit for the study of algorithms and future of ethnographic fieldwork.
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