I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University with graduate field membership in Information Science and Media Studies. An ethnographer and sociologist, I study the changing role of governance and regulation in, of, and through digitally networked environments – the dynamics at work, the values at stake, the design options at hand.
My work has been supported by an NSF Career Award, a McCloy Fellowship, a PGP Corporation Scholarship, and grants from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the NSF. At Cornell, I direct the Digital Due Process Clinic. During the 2023-2024 academic year, I will be a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.
Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow at New York University's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and Information Law Institute. I also worked as a junior researcher at the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research. I hold a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, an M.P.A. from Harvard University, and a First State Exam in Law from the University of Hamburg. In my previous life, I was a radio reporter, copywriter, and one of the team building Free Cakes for Kids UK.
Pronouns: he/him | Pronunciation: ['mull-teh 'zee-wits]
social, organizational, and ethical aspects of data-driven technologies; audit cultures, esp. scoring, rating, ranking schemes; new forms of governance and regulation; politics of provocation; science & technology studies; ethnomethodology; ethnography
Merchants of Clout | This project explores the cultural work of optimization in the shadow of an algorithmic system. Based on long-term fieldwork with the search engine optimization (SEO) industry in the U.S. and the UK, I trace how a new cast of marketing professionals helps businesses, activists, and individuals to improve their standing in Google search rankings. Often dismissed as spammers, evildoers, and opportunists, these self-taught experts turn out to play a crucial role in mediating the relations between data subjects and machines seen as inscrutable.
Restoring Credit: How People Understand and Interact with Credit Scoring Systems | Recovering from a broken credit score can be an existential challenge. While credit bureaus, banks, and regulators tend to suggest that errors can be fixed and scores improved without the need for special expertise, especially low-income Americans and traditionally disadvantaged groups are struggling with these systems. How do ordinary people make sense of, understand, and challenge credit scoring? What kind of strategies and tactics do they use to remedy the situation? What is the role of tools and intermediaries, such as credit repair consultants, in this process? Following the credit repair practice of a small number of Upstate New Yorkers over an entire year, Ranjit Singh and I develop a new way of studying and understanding the concerns of data subjects in teh shadow of the system.
Governing Algorithms | Algorithms have become a widespread trope for making sense of social life. Science, finance, journalism, warfare, and policing—there is hardly anything these days that has not been specified as “algorithmic.” Yet, although the trope has brought together a variety of audiences, it is not quite clear what kind of work it does. Often portrayed as powerful yet inscrutable entities, algorithms maintain an air of mystery that makes them both interesting and difficult to understand.
Feedback as Governance | What does it takes to capture the experiences of patients and make them useful for improving care? This project explores how public reviews govern public services, using the example of the British healthcare system. Based on long-term fieldwork with Patient Opinion, a not-for-profit social enterprise that set out to change the National Health Service (NHS) through web-based patient feedback, I follow stories from the beds and living rooms of patients through the database and moderation systems back into the wards and offices of hospitals and trusts. Attending to how stories do their work in different places, I develop a novel way of thinking about the status of experience as a key trope in contemporary governance.
On Data, Methods, STS
Additional bibliographic information on Google Scholar.
Want to meet?
I am on sabbatical for the 2023–2024 academic year and will not be holding regular office hours. Email me directly if you want to chat. :)
Writing about postdoctoral opportunities?
If you are applying for your own postdoctoral fellowship and want to explore collaborations with me, please explain the connection you see between your work and mine in your email. Include a project proposal and your CV. Please know that I do not currently have funding to support postdoctoral scholars and will only be able to respond to personalized inquiries.
Writing as a prospective PhD student?
I am happy to discuss research directions. However, I won’t be able to offer feedback on application materials such as statements of purpose.
If you email me, include (a) a short description of the phenomenon or problem you would like to study, (b) a paragraph on why you think that STS would be the best home for such a project, and (c) a CV or résumé. Note that almost all the work we do is empirically grounded (ethnographic, interpretive, qualitative, archival, etc.) and informed by STS.
Also, know that our graduate students are admitted to the program in general, not to work with any particular advisor though you are welcome to explain advisors with whom you see a close fit. Most commonly, students come in and take courses for a year or two and slowly find an advising relationship that works with their changing interests.
Writing because you want to get involved in research?
Tel. +1 (607) 255-3810 (department office)