The last few decades have been characterized by the return of market fundamentalism: the belief that society can and should be organized through the institutional mechanism of “self-regulating markets.” Many expected that the 2008 financial crisis might constitute a blow to pervasive market expansion and a check on global dominance of private corporations. Not so.…
As markets began to usurp other forms of social regulation throughout the 20th century, metrics became increasingly central to the coordination of new spheres of market-mediated relations. More recently, digital metrics have been operationalized to facilitate the platformization of those domains. Platforms use automated scoring systems to rank content and actors across the markets they mediate. Search engines, e-commerce sites, and social media feeds all have ways to rank material and deliver it to users according to their calculation of “relevance.” This post explores metrics and gatekeeper power through the Google Scholar platform and its intermediation of the “scholarly economy”—the domain in which research is produced, consumed, bought and sold.
As law and political economy scholars take aim at the deficiencies of dominant modes of legal thought and chart a path for law to promote a more just and egalitarian society, they must also attend to the role of algorithmic systems and algorithmic thought in shaping political imaginations. By the same token, computer and information scientists interested in computation’s role in social reforms would do well to learn from the critiques and proposals of the LPE community.
Both law and technology have played a foundational role in constructing, maintaining, and extending neoliberal modes of governance. Technological implementations have given new life to the longstanding neoliberal separation of economic and political domains, and legal methods that have facilitated the neoliberal political economy have also enabled new technologies. As critiques of the centrality of neoliberal economic logic gain traction, we must take care that such work does not simply clear the path for an emerging hegemony of neoliberal computational logic. Instead, we must be attentive to proponents of the epistemic and political dominance of computational mechanisms, and we must critique them on similar grounds and with similar urgency. In addition, theories of the legal programs and methods required to democratize the economy must not ignore the role digital technologies may play in achieving these goals.