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The Ethnography Atelier podcast discusses research methods with accomplished qualitative researchers. We talk to guests about their experiences of conducting research in and around organizations, the challenges they faced and the understandings they gained. If you have comments about the podcast or you'd like to get involved, please contact us.

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Episode 6 - Sarah Sachs: Studying Algorithms Ethnographically

Ruthanne Huising and Pedro Monteiro  •  November 2019

Studying Algorithms Ethnographically - Sarah Sachs
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In this conversation with Dr Sarah Sachs, we explored the challenges involved in studying algorithms at work. Sarah’s research examines how data analytic technologies are reconfiguring work and organizations.

Her dissertation “The Algorithm at Work: The Reconfiguration of Work and Expertise in the Making of Similarity in Art Data” is an ethnography of team practice in the DNArt project. In the episode, we talked about the work involved in making algorithms work, the strengths and limits of studying how organizations and people work with and around new technologies, and the challenges of sampling and gaining access to such phenomena in light of the growing interest around machine learning and AI.


Further Information

  • Christin, A. 2017. “Algorithms in Practice: Comparing Web Journalism and Criminal Justice.” Big Data & Society 4 (2): 1–14.

  • Christin, A. 2018. “Counting Clicks: Quantification and Variation in Web Journalism in the United States and France.” American Journal of Sociology 123 (5): 1382–1415.

  • Dourish, P. & Cruz, E. 2018. “Datafication and Data Fiction: Narrating Data and Narrating with Data.” Big Data & Society 5 (2): 1-10.

  • Jackson, S. 2014. “Rethinking Repair.” In Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, edited by Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A., 221–39. Cambridge: MIT Press.

  • Sachs, S.E. 2019. “The algorithm at work? Explanation and repair in the enactment of similarity in art data.” Information, Communication, & Society.

  • Star, Susan Leigh, and Anselm Strauss. 1999. “Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work.” Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 8 (1): 9–30.

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