Sensitizing for Algorithms: Foregrounding Experience in the Interpretive Study of Algorithmic Regimes

Chapter in Algorithmic Regimes: Methods, Interactions, and Politics


Investigations of algorithmic regimes benefit from attention to people’s experiences. However, when applying methods that involve users and lay people to this topic, particular challenges arise: unequal and low awareness of algorithmic systems, digital inequalities, varied meanings of “algorithm,” and the fact that people are often not involved as users in such systems. We propose “sensitizing activities” as a technique to address these challenges: preparatory exercises that subtly foreground the presence of algorithms, thus raising algorithmic awareness and establishing a shared understanding among participants without distorting their experiences and expectations. Drawing on our experience with sensitizing activities in three studies, we provide suggestions to researchers and practitioners who want to deploy this technique in their own investigations.