Catch me at Data & Society

I’m at Data & Society these days. You can email me there —

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Update Summer 2021


I have been promoted to Full Professor.


I am taking a position for the 2021-2022 academic year as Interim Director of Research at Data & Society.


Please read my most recent publication: The Society of Algorithms (with Marion Fourcade) in the Annual Review of Sociology. Email me if you have trouble securing a copy!

Abstract: The pairing of massive data sets with processes—or algorithms—written in computer code to sort through, organize, extract, or mine them has made inroads in almost every major social institution. This article proposes a reading of the scholarly literature concerned with the social implications of this transformation. First, we discuss the rise of a new occupational class, which we call the coding elite. This group has consolidated power through their technical control over the digital means of production and by extracting labor from a newly marginalized or unpaid workforce, the cybertariat. Second, we show that the implementation of techniques of mathematical optimization across domains as varied as education, medicine, credit and finance, and criminal justice has intensified the dominance of actuarial logics of decision-making, potentially transforming pathways to social reproduction and mobility but also generating a pushback by those so governed. Third, we explore how the same pervasive algorithmic intermediation in digital communication is transforming the way people interact, associate, and think. We conclude by cautioning against the wildest promises of artificial intelligence but acknowledging the increasingly tight coupling between algorithmic processes, social structures, and subjectivities.


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The Latest on Issues of Rural Communities in the Digital Economy

Published in 2020 in the ESTS journal (open access)! “On Half-Built Assemblages: Waiting for a Data Center in Prineville, Oregon.” Also a shorter blog post about this work and an even shorter piece on “are rural data center jobs good jobs?

An forthcoming article with Zoe Kahn titled, “A Sociocultural Explanation of Internet-Enabled Work in Rural Regions.” This article looks at gender dynamics in the way the Internet is incorporated into different sectors of rural economies. In particular we tackle non-adoption of computers/Internet in agriculture (cattle ranching) and natural resources (fishing) and how it is often treated as ‘women’s work’ associated with tasks like marketing, secretarial work, and bookkeeping.

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Roundup of My Rural Research

I’m working on a book manuscript and am on sabbatical this semester (Fall 2019). In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what’s emerging out of this work:

A recent blog post on the Network Sovereignty blog — “Are rural data center jobs ‘good’ jobs?

A journal article in First Monday “Thinking Relationally about Digital Inequality in Rural Regions of the USA

A report from early in the project including results from a survey of rural Internet subscribers “The Value of the Internet to Rural Populations: a case study from Mendocino county, California

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Postdoc position

Seeking a postdoc to manage a year long project on Algorithmic Opacity and Fairness working with Professor Jenna Burrell and Professor Deirdre Mulligan at the School of Information, UC-Berkeley.

Artificial intelligence is raising new concerns around topics of longstanding interest to sociologists, law, and media scholars including social equality, civil rights, labor and automation, and the evolution of the news media. Complex, non-linear algorithms, and particularly machine learning algorithms, are increasingly being used in domains of socially consequential classification. The development of approaches or solutions to address these challenges are still nascent.

At UC-Berkeley we are bringing together faculty and students from sociology, law, computer science and other relevant disciplines to explore and develop ideas and new research directions on this topic. There will be opportunities to dialogue about this topic and its many dimensions with researchers employed in the Bay Area’s tech industry. The project is funded by a grant from Google research.

The postdoc hired for this position will provide intellectual leadership and will handle the logistics of managing an on-campus working group of faculty and students as well as organizing a speaker series for the 2017-2018 academic year (likely to be extended into fall 2018).

You will dedicate 50% of your time to this effort and will have the freedom to pursue your own research the rest of the time.


  • Ideal candidates will have completed a PhD in an interdisciplinary program (perhaps from an Information School or an STS program) or have training in more than one discipline (i.e. an undergraduate degree in CS or another engineering field and a graduate degree in a social science).
  • Candidates are able to grasp technical aspects of machine learning and artificial intelligence and are also trained in and comfortable with interpretivist / non-positivist research methods or philosophies.
  • Candidates may have expertise in a particular domain where machine learning or artificial intelligence tools and techniques are becoming influential (i.e. education, labor and employment, journalism and media).
  • Candidates will have a strong research record (ideally in this area) and will also be passionate about finding ways to communicate ideas across disciplinary boundaries and to audiences beyond the Academy.

Please submit:

  • a brief cover letter describing how you are qualified and prepared for this position
  • a CV
  • writing sample #1: an example of one of your published research articles or dissertation chapter or other finished, but unpublished piece that is of greatest relevance to this topic
  • writing sample #2 (optional): an example of something you’ve published that communicates research or ideas to a broader audience (i.e. a blog post, op-ed, etc.)

Send application packet to Professor Jenna Burrell ( )

Applicants will be considered on a rolling basis with the position filled as soon as possible, ideally the start of the semester (August 23rd, 2017).

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A new post on the Berkeley blog

What environmentalists get wrong about e-waste in West Africa.

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The Importance of Secondhand Computers and the Dilemma of Electronic Waste

Media coverage of e-waste seems to be resurging with a recent photo spread (rehashing what all the other media outlets did 4 years ago) in Wired Magazine Online.

For the record, here is my research on what’s been happening in Ghana, specifically in the area known as Agbogbloshie which is a scrap metal recycling area. This is based on 7 weeks of fieldwork back in 2010 including visits to the port at Tema, at the Customs, Excise and Preventative Service of the Government of Ghana, at shops that refurbish and sell computers, at streetside collection points, and at scrap metal collection sites including Agbogbloshie and another one on the outskirts of Accra.

Citation: Chapter 7. in Burrell, Jenna (2012) Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

UPDATE (1/13/16):
Highlighting QAMP the makerspace in Agbogbloshie led by DK Osseo-Asare – The burning truth behind an e-waste dump in Africa: ending the toxic smoke rising from an iconic dump in Ghana will take more than curbing Wastern waste (Smithsonian magazine)

UPDATE (10/12/15):
Great short video on the recyclers, refurbishers, and makers of Ghana’s Agbogbloshie scrap metal yard:

UPDATE (7/27/15):
More accurate coverage of the e-waste issue is out there (but you won’t find in the NY Times, the Guardian or other outlets who seem to have bought into an extremely skewed, Eurocentric narrative), please read:

E-waste Republic (Aljazeera) – by Jacopo Ottaviani

An Infamous E-waste Slum Needed Us. It Got Razed Instead. – by Kyle Wiens

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CRS ICT4D conference

Just back from the ICT4D conference hosted by Catholic Relief Services. This conference is aimed at practitioners although there was a decent showing from academics. I presented on work from our NSF grant.

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ICTD 2015 Singapore May 15-19th

Fulfilling the last of my duties as ICTD program committee co-chair this week. Pleased to present 22 amazing papers. See you in Singapore!

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On the Importance and Implications of Studying Tech Non-Use

A new co-authored piece (led by Eric Baumer) just published in ACM Interactions following from our CHI 2014 workshop.

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