Department:School of Journalism and Communication


Sandra Robinson studies the role of algorithms in contemporary media culture. This work engages with critical concerns around software design, big data, privacy, surveillance, and power, in relation to how algorithms predict, pre-empt, and control information about people, processes, and things. Her teaching explores aspects of communication, culture, and regulation, algorithmic culture, communication infrastructure, networks, and materiality, and social media monitoring and visualisation.

Dr. Robinson holds a PhD in Sociology from Queen’s University, an MA in Legal Studies (Carleton University), an MBA in digital technology management (Royal Roads), and a BA in Anthropology (University of Alberta). Before, during, and in between all of that she worked in some really weird jobs, but finally ended up in the software industry prior to returning to university to research and teach.

Current Research

  1. Algorithmic vitality: an exploration of the materiality of communication understood through the ‘vital network’ as a platform for control making possible processes such as micro-targeting and surveillance, algorithm-based content curation, and social profiling. Algorithmic vitality highlights the turn to software simulation as a primary (and problematic) means of computing the future. This project is an attempt to think with, and think through, the algorithm as central to our contemporary media platforms and culture.
  2. Data literacy and social media visualisation: exploring data (and digital) literacies through experiential learning and data analysis platforms. This project has been funded by the FPA Teaching Fellowship and the Provost’s Teaching Achievement Award.


2017 Provost’s Teaching Achievement Award

2017-2019 Faculty of Public Affairs Teaching Fellowship


Law’s Expression: Communication, Law and Media in Canada, Second Edition, with co-author Sheryl N. Hamilton (Toronto: LexisNexis, Fall 2019)

2019   “A platform approach to experiential learning. Data literacy and technical skills development,” NETCOM: Réseaux, communication et territoire, 33(1-2).

2018 “Doppelgängers and databases: New articulations of power.” Configurations 26 (4/October).

2018 “Mining, making, and meaning: Building digital literacy skills in an era of big data,” In Reseaux Sociaux, Traces Numerique, et Communication Electronique. Eds. S. Zlitni and F. Liénard (Le Havre: University of Le Havre).

2016 “The Vital Network: An Algorithmic Milieu of Communication and Control,” Communication +1 (5).

2016 ‘What is Communication?’ in Questioning Sociology, eds. G. Pavlich and M. Hird. Oxford University Press.

2017 Review essay: Sean Cubitt’s Finite Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technologies. Theory, Culture & Society (June).

Recent Conference Papers

2018  ‘The Ethical Tempest in silico: Neuralink and ‘Thinkability’ Out of Mind,’ SLSA Toronto Conference, October 17-19, 2018

2018   ‘Platforms for Politics: Algorithmic intelligibility and micro-targeting on Twitter,’ at The Emerson Blanquerna Global Summit: Politics, Propaganda and Strategic Diplomacy, Washington, DC, October 5, 2018.

Public Engagement

2019 ‘Imperfect writing machines: Searching for civility on social media platforms,’ presentation at Session 1: Civil and Uncivil Society, March 27, 2019. Civil Society and Governance in Canada: Rebuilding Trust and Supporting Collaboration at the Institute on Governance, Ottawa.

2018 Algorithms for Good! Guest speaker at Conversations in the Commons, MediaStyle, Ottawa, 14 March 2018.

2018 Post/Riposte, episode 6 “The Problem with ‘Al’” The School of Journalism and Communication podcast, January 2018.

2017 Bias in the Media: Piercing the Filter Bubble, Co-panelist and presenter, with Susan Delacourt and Dr. Darrell Dean, Interdisciplinary Conference in Psychology, University of Ottawa, 18-19 May 2017.

2016 Expert Witness, Standing Committee on the Status of Women speaking on, ‘Automated algorithm-based content curation.’ 5 December 2016.