An essay that describes how algorithmic recommender systems came to be understood by many of the people who make them as a kind of trap. It argues for the usefulness of thinking with the anthropology of traps and trapping as a way around common oppositions of freedom and coercion. Post-print of an article forthcoming in the Journal of Material Culture.

A methodological article for Big Data and Society that argues for thinking about algorithmic systems as intrinsically cultural (not as technology opposed to culture), offering a set of tactics for engaging with algorithms ethnographically.


June 2017

A short essay about aliens and learning how to code, written as part of a Cultural Anthropology correspondence series on proficiency.

A review of Antoine Hennion's The Passion for Music: A Sociology of Mediation, published in the Journal of Cultural Economy. 

Some reflections on the game Pokémon GO and the anthropological literature on traps.

A response to danah boyd and Kate Crawford's “Critical Questions for Big Data”: we say that the meaning of data depends on their context, but what does that mean? There are, it seems, a variety of “context cultures”—approaches to data that agree that context is crucial but disagree on what to do about it. 

Bastard Algebra

April 2015

A chapter from the Prickly Paradigm pamphlet Data, Now Bigger and Better!discussing cultural anthropology's troubled relationship with formalism and the kinship of methods.

An essay on the cellular automata work of artist Kai Franz, commissioned for Serial Nature.

A series of blog posts for the anthropology blog Savage Minds, surveying the history of computers as metaphors, tools, and objects of study in sociocultural anthropology.

An essay about figuring things out: how Netflix knows about movies and we know about Netflix. A response to Alexis Madrigal's feature in The Atlantic.

An essay about technical decision making and the perils of pseudorationalism.

Knowing Algorithms

February 2014

A working paper on the issues that outsiders face in knowing things about algorithms, delivered at Media in Transition 8.

A paper delivered at the 2012 American Anthropological Association meetings on the social theory of Gabriel Tarde, the sonic theory of Hermann von Helmholtz, and computers that listen to music

Marshall Sahlins once suggested that marketers and anthropologists performed the same role: “to be sensitive to latent correspondences in the cultural order.” As algorithmic recommendation is pitched as a replacement for demographic marketing, I outline the consequences for its parallels with anthropology. From an issue of the open-access scholarly magazine Limn I co-edited with Chris Kelty and Lilly Irani: “Crowds and Clouds.”

An article for a special sound studies issue of the feminist cultural studies journal differences, examining the production of fidelity rhetorics for pianos that reproduced performances.

My master’s thesis in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, which uses the history of the player piano to re-think and speculate about three central themes of music reproduction: techniques for recording performance, the relationship between live and recorded music, and the development of fidelity.

My senior essay in Literature at Yale, on the co-history of noise music and recording fidelity. A bit of juvenilia as a reward for making it to the bottom of the page.