Algorithmic Psychometrics and the Scalable Subject

Luke Stark

As a follow up to our recent post highlighting Luke Stark’s Slate piece on “The Long History of Computer Science and Psychology Comes Into View,” we point you to Stark’s forthcoming piece in the April issue of Social Studies of Science. Now available online as a preprint, the article explores what Stark terms the “scalable subject” in relation to the history of the psy-disciplines and the ongoing big data controversies around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Full details below.

“Algorithmic Psychometrics and the Scalable Subject,” by Luke Stark. Abstract:

Recent public controversies, ranging from the 2014 Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ study to psychographic data profiling by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 American presidential election, Brexit referendum and elsewhere, signal watershed moments in which the intersecting trajectories of psychology and computer science have become matters of public concern. The entangled history of these two fields grounds the application of applied psychological techniques to digital technologies, and an investment in applying calculability to human subjectivity. Today, a quantifiable psychological subject position has been translated, via ‘big data’ sets and algorithmic analysis, into a model subject amenable to classification through digital media platforms. I term this position the ‘scalable subject’, arguing it has been shaped and made legible by algorithmic psychometrics – a broad set of affordances in digital platforms shaped by psychology and the behavioral sciences. In describing the contours of this ‘scalable subject’, this paper highlights the urgent need for renewed attention from STS scholars on the psy sciences, and on a computational politics attentive to psychology, emotional expression, and sociality via digital media.

You can find the full piece here.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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