Something and Nothing

On Undoing the Algorithm, Deletion, Accountability and Value

  • Daniel Neyland


This paper explores the ways that qualities and quantities can be enacted, bringing realities into being and how qualities and quantities might also be undone, and sometimes in order to do realities better. In particular, undoing has become a focus for accountably resisting quantification. Utilising the neologism of the qualculation, the paper begins by exploring a particular kind of undoing: deletion. Questions are raised regarding the legal, technical and organisational aspects of deletion and then how we might bring ideas from Science and Technology Studies (STS) together to pose questions of deletion and accountability. Subsequently, data from a study of the development of an algorithmic deletion system is presented to explore qualculation, undoing, deletion, accountability and market value in action. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the nature of undoing qualculations, of how undoing is a constitutive action in itself.