Dissertation Grant: Critical Algorithmic Literacy: World-Building Around and with Algorithms

  • Halavais, Alexander A.C. (PI)
  • Thorson, Kjerstin (CoPI)
  • Cotter, Kelley (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This award supports a doctoral dissertation research project on the societal impacts of algorithms that focuses on algorithmic literacy, meaning the ability to better understand how, why, and with what effect algorithms function. Critical among such effects are the ways in which algorithms mediate various social practices and processes, and shape the ways we understand ourselves and our lived realities; the researcher refers to the capacity of algorithms to bring about such effects as algorithmic power. More specifically, the research project will explore critical algorithmic literacy, defined as the social practices and processes of 'reading' and 'writing' what algorithms say and mean, and it will investigate the possibility of knowledge-building and meaning-making processes as a bottom-up tool of governance that can be used to confront algorithmic power. Better understanding algorithmic literacy, particularly as it intersects with algorithmic power, can assist us in optimally managing the societal impacts of algorithms. The project is fundamentally concerned with ensuring algorithms work fairly and justly for all. Specifically, the insights produced from this research can inform how policymakers approach governing algorithms, how activist and advocacy organizations engage and educate their (potential) supporters, how educational institutions help students learn about algorithms, and how technology developers design their systems.

This research project on algorithmic literacy has three key goals. First, it strives to broaden visions of knowledge-building and meaning-making processes around algorithms will open up new avenues of inquiry on algorithmic knowledge and literacy. By rejecting normative hierarchies of knowledge, algorithm designers and users can begin to consider a wider range of knowledge practices. Second, the project attempts to move beyond narratives of knowledge and literacy that imply certain 'ignorant' individuals, whose knowledge must be corrected in order for them to succeed in the world. In doing so, the research challenges existing approaches to consider what it might mean to view algorithmic literacy as transformative of both the individual and the world. Finally, the project adopts a novel approach to algorithmic power, premised on individual and collective confrontations with it. This approach will improve our understanding of the experience of algorithmic power and of the factors that stifle or facilitate repertoires of action in response. The results of the project promise to advance the fields of Science and Technology Studies, Ethics and Values in Science and Technology, and Information and Communication Technology.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date4/1/203/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $15,567.00


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