Epistemic media and critical knowledge about the self: Thinking about algorithms with Habermas

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This article explores the ontology of personal knowledge that algorithms on digital media create by locating it on two axes: historical and theoretical. Digital platforms continue a long history of epistemic media—media forms and practices, which not only communicate knowledge, but also create knowledge. As epistemic media allowed a new way to know the world, they also facilitated a new way of knowing the self. This historical perspective also underscores a key difference of digital platforms from previous epistemic media: their exclusion of self-reflection from the creation of knowledge about the self. To evaluate the ramifications of that omission, I use Habermas’s theory of knowledge, which distinguishes critical knowledge from other types of knowledge, and sees it as corresponding with a human interest in emancipation. Critical knowledge about the self, as exemplified by psychoanalysis, must involve self-reflection. As the self gains critical knowledge, deciphering the conditions under which positivist and hermeneutic knowledges are valid, it is also able to transform them and expand its realm of freedom, or subjectivity. As digital media subverts this process by demoting self-reflection, it also undermines subjectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1309-1324
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number7-8
StateE-pub ahead of print - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Habermas
  • algorithms
  • critical theory
  • digital media
  • media studies
  • subjectivity
  • theory of knowledge


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