Core faculty

Joy Rohde

Associate Professor of Public Policy; Associate Professor of History (by courtesy)

Joy Rohde is an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She is a historian who works at the intersection of science and technology studies, U.S. intellectual and political history, and the history of U.S. foreign relations.

Rohde is interested broadly in the relationship between science, technology, and state power. Her first book, Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War (Cornell, 2013), investigates the Cold War origins and contemporary consequences of the Pentagon’s social research contracting system.
Rohde’s current book project, People of the Machine: Social Science, Computers, and the Cold War Eclipse of Autonomy, is a history of current efforts to manage society and politics with computers. Typical accounts of today’s predictive policy systems locate their roots in recent advances in big data and machine learning technologies. People of the Machine shows that the aspiration to manage politics via computers are rooted Cold War era U.S anxieties and ambitions. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, international relations experts joined forces with computer engineers and government officials in a bid to make political science scientific and foreign policy predictable. But they also worried that their projects ceded too much intellectual autonomy and political agency to machines and recapitulated the racially discriminatory logics of U.S. national security. People of the Machine uses history to deepen and clarify the political and intellectual stakes of contemporary computational governance projects. It shows that the quest to depoliticize behavioral knowledge and public policy through technology has long been an ambivalent political agenda. Beneath debates over racial biases in algorithms and the threat of misinformation posed by generative AI are deep anxieties about experts’ and citizens’ intellectual and political agency in an increasingly fractured and persistently unequal mass polity and international political system.

At Michigan, Rohde directs the Science, Technology, and Society Program and is a faculty affiliate of the Department of History and the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program.

In 2020-21, Rohde was a Member in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, with support provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Her work has also been supported by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Jefferson Scholars Foundation National Fellow program.