Research and Project Areas
Broadly, my research seeks to further contemporary understandings of the moral and ethical dimensions of data, online life, and information technology. It takes for granted the potential for information and communication technologies to generate new and exacerbate existing inequalities and social injustices—a problem that is further compounded by the emergence of so-called “big data” and its attendant tools, methods, and practices.
Currently, my work in this area falls under one of three project areas: 1) Platforms, Discourse, and Critical Data Studies, 2) Social Justice, Technology, and Information Ethics, and 3) Data Science and Applied Ethics.
For a complete list of of my scholarly publications without project area descriptions, go here.
Platforms, Discourse, and Critical Data Studies
Much of my work is focused on issues of technology, identity, and discrimination in algorithmic and data-driven platforms and practices.
In prior work, I have looked at the ways Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have framed issues of identity, privacy, and user rights to demonstrate how the company constructs particular visions of Facebook and its users. I have also focused specifically on concepts of authenticity and “realness” both in Zuckerberg’s language and in Facebook’s on-boarding process for new users to shed light on how Facebook—through both discourse and design—constructs a particular idea of “authenticity” that marginalizes certain groups (in particular, transgender individuals and domestic abuse survivors).
I am busy working on expanding these insights to account for data-driven systems and algorithms more broadly. From paper forms to online registration fields and categories to personalized search results and recommendations, individuals from marginalized groups regularly struggle with systems that reinforce particular normative visions of the world at the expense of others. It is my position that these persistent and often overlooked “micro” interactions with information technology represent a form of discursive violence—dubbed “data violence”—that is disproportionately inflicted on certain kinds of marginalized or minority populations, in particular gender minorities.
Outputs from this project area
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2017). Data, technology, and gender: Thinking about (and from) trans lives. In A. Shew & J. Pitt (eds.), Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Technology. London, UK: Routledge. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L., (2017). Making data valuable: Political, economic, and conceptual bases of big data. Philosophy & Technology, n.p. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L., Proferes, N., & Zimmer, M. (2016). “Making the world more open and connected”: Mark Zuckerberg and the discursive construction of Facebook and its users. New Media & Society, 1-20. [PDF]
- Haimson, O.L., & Hoffmann, A.L. (2016). Constructing and enforcing “authentic” identity online: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities. First Monday, 21(6), n.p. [PDF]
- Zimmer, M., & Hoffmann, A.L. (2016). Preface: A decade of Web 2.0 – Reflections, critical perspectives, and beyond. First Monday, 21(6), n.p. [PDF]
- Medium: Data Violence and How Bad Engineering Choices Can Damage Society.
- Data Violence: Dignity, Discrimination, and Algorithmic Identity. Keynote delivered at the Electronic Resources & Libraries Conference (ER&L). Austin, TX. April, 2017.
- The Guardian: The Zuckerberg Files: Everything the Facebook CEO has said publicly
- The Guardian: Facebook is worried about users sharing less – but it only has itself to blame
- Los Angeles Review of Books: Inside Out, Silicon Valley, and Why Technologizing Emotion and Memory Is a Dangerous Idea
- Model View Culture: Reckoning with a Decade of Breaking Things: Facebook’s Enduring Contempt for the World
Social Justice, Technology, and Information Ethics
Historically, many debates in this area focus on distributions of resources—both theoretically (as in philosophical discussions of distributive justice) and practically (as in “digital divide” debates). But distributive frameworks have distinct limits when attempting to address issues of justice; to move beyond these limits, my early work focused on surfacing under-appreciated resources from feminist, capabilities, and disabilities critiques of John Rawls’ theory of justice in an effort to develop a novel framework for identifying social justice issues beyond distributions of resources.
This framework 1) highlighted the role of information systems in reproducing injustices in society’s basic structures and 2) foregrounded the relevance of self-respect for working towards and assessing justice along various lines (gendered or racial, for example). I demonstrated the efficacy of this framework through an ethical analysis of a large database of recorded human knowledge—Google Books. In doing so, I was able to identify three distinct issues—quality of the archive, information work, and the value of information—that would otherwise remain unaccounted for through strictly distributive frameworks.
Outputs from this project area
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2017). Beyond distributions and primary goods: Assessing applications of Rawls in information science and technology literature since 1990. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68(7), 1601-1618. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L. & Bloom, R. (2016). Digitizing books, obscuring women’s work: Google Books, librarians, and ideologies of access. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 9, n.p. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2016). Google Books, libraries, and self-respect: Information justice beyond distributions. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 86(1), 76-92. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2016). Social justice, self-respect, and design: Three challenges. Short paper for Exploring Social Justice, Design, and HCI, workshop at CHI 2016: The ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. San Jose, CA, USA. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2016). Privacy, Intellectual Freedom, and Self-Respect: Technological and Philosophical Lessons for Libraries. In U. Gorham, N.G. Taylor, & P.T. Jaeger (Eds.), Perspectives on Libraries as Institutions of Human Rights and Social Justice, (n.p.). Bingley, U.K.; Emerald Group.
- Britz, J., Hoffmann, A., Ponelis, S., Zimmer, M., & Lor, P. (2013). On considering the application of Amartya Sen’s capability approach to an information-based rights framework. Information Development, 29(2), 106-113. [PDF]
- Hoffmann, A.L. (2014). Google Books as infrastructure of injustice: Towards a sociotechnical account of Rawlsian justice, information, and technology (Doctoral dissertation). [PDF]
Other relevant work:
- ALA Choose Privacy Week: Privacy, Injustice, and Self-Respect
Data Science and Applied Ethics
While I am invested in furthering conceptual and theoretical understandings of justice, self-respect, and violence as they apply to technology, I also seek to translate philosophical and empirical knowledge into practice. Specifically, I am interested in emerging standards of ethics for both academics and industry professionals in the area of data science.
To this end, I am currently engaged in two funded, collaborative projects in research ethics and professional codes of ethics. One project presents a critical re-telling of the history of informed consent in United States research policy and its relevance to contemporary “big data” and online industry research, where debates around consent, respect, and online experimentation remain unsettled. The second project examines existing professional codes of ethics relevant to the ethics of data science. Importantly, however, this project goes beyond those codes that might be most obviously applicable (such as codes for computing professionals and statisticians) to also include professions inspired by the various metaphors used to discuss working with data today—from “data exhaust” to “data as nuclear waste” to “data as the new bacon,” emerging ethical standards for data scientists stand to benefit from expanding our sources of ethical inspiration to codes as far reaching as those for nuclear engineering, environmentalism, stewardship, and custodial professions.
Outputs from this project area
- Hoffmann, A.L., & Jonas, A. (2017). Recasting justice for internet and online industry research ethics. In M. Zimmer and K. Kinder-Kuranda (Eds.), Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Cases and Challenges, n.p. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang. [PDF]
Other relevant work:
- ICWSM Workshop: Challenges and futures for ethical social media research [PDF]
- Slate: Facebook doesn’t need a chief ethics officer
- The Guardian: Facebook has a new process for discussing ethics. But is it ethical?
- Women 2.0: Tech’s other diversity problem: Inclusive product design
- CTSP Blog: Data science and expanding our sources of ethical inspiration