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CFP: The Contours of Algorithmic Life

February 3rd, 2014

April Durham

A conference sponsored by The Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures
May 15-16, 2014 at the University of California, Davis

Submission Deadline: March 1, 2014
Send submissions to

As algorithms permeate our lived experience, the boundaries and
borderlands of what can and cannot be adapted, translated, or
incorporated into algorithmic thinking become a space of contention.
The principle of the algorithm, or the specification of the potential
space of action, creates the notion of a universal mode of
specification of all life, leading to discourses on empowerment,
efficiency, openness, and inclusivity. But algorithms are ultimately
only able to make intelligible and valuable that which can be
discretized, quantified, operationalized, proceduralized, and
gamified, and this limited domain makes algorithms necessarily

Algorithms increasingly shape our world, our thought, our economy, our
political life, and our bodies. The algorithmic response of NSA
networks to threatening network activity increasingly brings privacy
and political surveillance under algorithmic control. At least 30% of
stock trading is now algorithmic and automatic, having already lead to
several otherwise inexplicable collapses and booms. Devices such as
the Fitbit and the NikeFuel suggest that the body is incomplete
without a technological supplement, treating ‘health’ as a
quantifiable output dependent on quantifiable inputs. The logic of
gamification, which finds increasing traction in educational and
pedagogical contexts, asserts that the world is not only renderable as
winnable or losable, but is in fact better–i.e. more effective–this
way. The increased proliferation of how-to guides, from HGTV and DIY
television to the LifeHack website, demonstrate a growing demand for
approaching tasks with discrete algorithmic instructions.

This conference seeks to explore both the specific uses of algorithms
and algorithmic culture more broadly, including topics such as:
gamification, the computational self, data mining and visualization,
the politics of algorithms, surveillance, mobile and locative
technology, and games for health. While virtually any discipline could
have something productive to say about the matter, we are especially
seeking contributions from software studies, critical code studies,
performance studies, cultural and media studies, anthropology, the
humanities, and social sciences, as well as visual art, music, sound
studies and performance. Proposals for experimental/hybrid
performance-papers and multimedia artworks are especially welcome.

Areas open for exploration include but are not limited to: daily life
in algorithmic culture; gamification of education, health, politics,
arts, and other social arenas; the life and death of big data and data
visualization; identity politics and the quantification of selves,
bodies, and populations; algorithm and affect; visual culture of
algorithms; algorithmic materiality; governance, regulation, and
ethics of algorithms, procedures, and protocols; algorithmic
imaginaries in fiction, film, video games, and other media;
algorithmic culture and (dis)ability; habit and addiction as
biological algorithms; the unrule-able/unruly in the (post)digital
age; limits and possibilities of emergence; algorithmic and
proto-algorithmic compositional methods (e.g., serialism, Baroque
fugue); algorithms and (il)legibility; and the unalgorithmic.

For more information, especially on updates regarding featured keynote
speakers and performers, check out the conference website at:

Please send proposals to by March 1, 2014.