• GEM LAB

Joshua Neves and Fenwick McKelvey edit & introduce Review of Communication's issue on Optimization

Review of Communication has published its latest issue, Optimization: Towards a Critical Concept, with an introduction co-written by GEM Lab director Joshua Neves and Fenwick McKelvey (Communication Studies, Concordia). Drs. Neves and McKelvey also co-edited the issue. You can find the essay-length "Introduction: optimization and its discontents," here. Below is the article abstract:


Optimization is seemingly everywhere and yet elusive. Our bodies, tools, and institutions are now understood as endlessly optimizable. But what does optimization mean? Or more crucially, what does it do? Who or what is optimized or dis-optimized? This themed issue introduces optimization as a critical concept to analyze the governance and governmentality of large technological infrastructures, platforms, and self-management apps. We define optimization as a form of calculative decision-making embedded in legitimating institutions and media that seek to actualize optimal social and technical practices in real time. Our Introduction outlines the techniques, legitimations, and social practices of optimization that have spread in many forms across the globe. By questioning optimization, our Introduction considers the social practices, geopolitical networks, and forms of organization (and violence) shored up by the desire for optimum performance.


Four more contributions from the issue explore these questions in deeper detail, in the context of infrastructures of control, algorithms, and media platforms:

  • Nikki Stevens, Anna Lauren Hoffmann, and Sarah Florini. “The unremarked optimum: whiteness, optimization, and control in the database revolution.”

  • Rebecca Uliasz. ““Optimize user experience”: optimization techniques and the simulation of life, from the model to the algorithm.”

  • Ben Lyall. “The ambivalent assemblages of sleep optimization.”

  • Jeremy Wade Morris, Robert Prey, and David B. Nieborg. “Engineering culture: logics of optimization in music, games, and apps.”

You can find these essays in the complete issue here.