Book review symposium – Safiya Umoja Noble’s “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism”

Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism was published by New York University Press in 2018. The book examines how negative biases against women of colour are embedded in search engine results and algorithms.

Search engines like Google are a far from equal playing field for ideas, identities, and activities; Noble argues that private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of search engines, lead to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of colour, specifically women.

Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance, understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is shown to be of utmost importance.


We’re pleased to make available here a fine set of reviews, together with a reply from Noble, organised by Blake Hawkins (Thompson Rivers University) and Ryan Burns (University of Calgary). The responses are engaged, critical and generous appreciations of the book, continuing the conversation started there, and situating it in wider discussions happening within and beyond critical geography.

Symposia like this are valuable for showcasing books “not as the final product of a singular genius, but as part of an ongoing, shifting, discursive and collective process of scholarship”. The author’s reply to them is a thoughtful reflection on the difficulty and necessity of interdisciplinarity. Many thanks from everyone here at Antipode to Ofurhe, Ryan, Jim, Blake, and Safiya. Their reviews can be read below.

Ofurhe Igbinedion (University of California, Davis)

Ryan Burns (University of Calgary)

James Thatcher (University of Washington Tacoma)

Blake Hawkins (Thompson Rivers University)

Safiya Umoja Noble (University of California, Los Angeles)