The Ghost in the Legal Machine Algorithmic Governmentality, Economy, and the Practice of Law

Adam Harkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
1020 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose - This paper investigates algorithmic governmentality - as proposed by Antoinette Rouvroy – specifically in relation to law. It seeks to show how algorithmic profiling can be particularly attractive for those in legal practice, given restraints on time and resources. It deviates from Rouvroy in two ways. Firstly, it argues that algorithmic governmentality does not contrast with neoliberal modes of government, in that it allows indirect rule through economic calculations. Secondly, that critique of such systems is possible, especially if the creative nature of law can be harnessed effectively.

Design/methodology/approach - This is a conceptual paper, with a theory-based approach, that is intended to explore relevant issues related to algorithmic governmentality as a basis for future empirical research. It builds on governmentality and socio-legal studies, as well as research on algorithmic practices and somed ocumentary analysis of reports and public-facing marketing of relevant technologies.

Findings – This paper provides insights on how algorithmic knowledge is collected,constructed, and applied in different situations. It gives examples of how algorithms are currently used, and also how trends are developing. It demonstrates how such uses canbe informed by socio-political and economic rationalities.

Research limitations – Further ethnographic research is required to test the theoretical findings.

Originality/value - This paper takes up Rouvroy’s question of whether we are at the end(s) of critique, and seeks to identify where such critique can be made possible. It also highlights the importance of acknowledging the role of political rationalities in informing the activity of algorithmic assemblages.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society
Early online date26 Jan 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 26 Jan 2018


  • Algorithmic governmentality
  • Economy
  • Socio-technical systems
  • Information and power
  • Legal practice
  • Law


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