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Research Article

Designing Networked Publics for Communicative Action

1 January 2015

Abstract

This paper has two purposes, one nested in the other. The first is to show how normative claims from social theory can inspire the technical design of public communications infrastructure. Drawing political values from work on the public sphere by Habermas and Fraser, I argue that some of their concerns about media power and participatory disparity can be articulated with the tools of network science to inform the design of the relevance algorithms of networked publics. For the sake of concreteness, I present @TheTweetserve, an open source Twitter bot I built based on these principles. The second purpose is to extend an invitation to sociologists of technology to join recursive publics, the publics Kelty identifies as those engaged in the creation and modification of their own communications infrastructure. This invitation is an alternative to scholarly pessimism about the accessibility and interpretability of powerful algorithms and a constructive way of coping with disciplinary collapse, a collapse of academic contexts that is inevitable when research is mediated by networked publics. This opens a research challenge: to design a recursive, networked public informed by social theory that facilitates understanding across disciplines.


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