Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction: A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism

Philippa Thornton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Adopting the framework of Benjamin's 1936 essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (1999, 2008), and thinking through central themes of value, context and circulation, this thesis examines how language moves through digital space. Concentrating on Google's search and advertising platforms, the thesis explores the concept of 'linguistic capitalism' (Kaplan 2014), arguing that the ongoing effects on digitally mediated language are both linguistic and political. Indeed, the politics and power which lurk behind these technologies are often obscured, or normalised, by their ubiquity and aesthetics, a process which, following Benjamin, can perhaps only be exposed by the repoliticisation of language through art. Using poetry and classic texts such as Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', as well as existing and experimental writing, the thesis harnesses the power of language and literature to critique and resist the technologies that exploit it in today's digital economy. Adopting what I am calling a post-digital (auto)ethnographic approach, the thesis offers an innovative new method in order to make visible the workings and effects of linguistic capitalism, using data gathered from Google AdWords for both quantitative and qualitative analysis, as well as introducing and documenting the development and reception of my own piece of 'political' art in the form of a critical creative intervention called {poem}.py.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Award date1 Apr 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019

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