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Recap: Curatorial Media and the Conundrum of Credibility -- Fulbright Lecture by Chris Ingraham

Concluding his Fulbright year in the Digital Culture research group at UiB, Chris Ingraham gave a lecture on algorithmic culture based on a section of his forthcoming book.

Ingraham uses the notions of the rhetores and the ideotes to conceptualize different actions that have (in)perceivable consequence in political and public life. The rhetores speak while the ideotes listen, each contributing to public debate in different manners. This leads Ingraham to the title concept of his forthcoming book: Gestures of Concern. He defines ‘gesture’ as an expression into a form of an affective relation and ‘concern’ as the involuntary experience of being affected by someone else. Gestures of concern, then, can take the form of get-well cards, likes on social media, votes, as well as lifestyle choices such as the refusal to eat meat. Ingraham argues that technology delineates the range of potential gestures in different contexts. Search engines, for example, use certain factors or signals that determine which results show up after a query.

Ingraham reframes social media as curatorial media to examine how these platforms help organize people’s personal tastes to display for other people. Goodreads is a platform owned by Amazon.com, Inc that lets people track and share which books they want to read, are currently reading, and have read, complete with possibilities to review all books using both texts and a 5-star rating system. As a result of this democratization of literary criticism, Goodreads creates what Ingraham defines as artificial markers of status: the website includes lists of top reader and top reviewers as well as the status of being a verified Goodreads Author. As a case study, Ingraham explains how Goodreads users used various features of the website to bully Goodreads author Lauren Howard giving her romance novel 1-star reviews before was even published and adding the book to virtual bookshelves with highly offensive names. This eventually led to her retraction of the book. Although we traditionally would characterize authors as rhetores and readers as ideotes, a reversal seems to happen in the Goodreads case study. The author becomes the person who is open and inquires what is happening on the platform, and ultimately refuses to participate in further discussion. The readers in this case study replace their bibliophilia with disidentification of the author as her book, their voices inalienable on the platform.

Ingraham concludes that digital platforms have democratized creative and critical practices, leading to ‘citizen critics’ and ‘citizen artists’. For both categories, their gestures are delineated by the possibilities that the platforms allow and the platforms quantify these gestures to imply particular types of concern. As such, the case study presented offers one figuration of political norms in algorithmic culture.

After the lecture, Ingraham addressed questions concerning, among other things, lurking practices and the social role of Goodreads. The lecture also sparked an interesting discussion on the ideotes as community and individuals.

Chris Ingraham’s forthcoming book Gestures of Concern will be published by Duke University Press in 2020.