James MacLaren

Birmingham Law School
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

After a lengthy and successful career in teaching James returned to his studies. He completed an MA in Philosophy, whetting his appetite and enthusiasm, before embarking on a PhD study with Prof. Karen Yeung. This study considers the role of algorithmic  media personalisation at the BBC and looks to offer some moral and legal recommendations as to its application.


  • 2018 – MA: Distinction – Philosophy – University of Birmingham
  • 2003 - PGCE – Secondary, Religious Studies – University of Birmingham
  • 1997 - BA (Hons): First – Applied Theology and Philosophy – University of Wolverhampton


James had a late awakening in regards to his education and career after initially intending to be a rock star. Coming to his senses after stumbling into university, he realised that he was far better suited to Philosophy and matters of Theology. After graduation, he considered post-graduate study but a young family necessitated a career instead, so after a short spell as a researcher, he trained to be a teacher. Three years of Secondary and a further eleven at a Sixth Form College were  successful and satisfying but he did not want to retire a teacher, but to do something else. With this in mind, he returned to university to complete an MA. Towards the end of that year, he began to explore issues of media personalisation, the uses of machine learning and the sorts of questions that these might raise, especially in a Public Service Media environment.

Doctoral research


Prior to commencing my PhD, my career in teaching at A Level as well as my Masters, led me to focus on philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. The latter picked up considerably in the MA and encompassed applied ethics and issues of human rights. My dissertation at MA considered news personalisation especially on social media and the implications it has on democratic engagement.

My PhD research has extended the themes of my dissertation and draws in four broader areas of research:

1)     Machine learning, algorithmic profiling and recommender systems. I have been looking at how these have been developed and the implications that have begun to emerge for how they are used and the impacts that they might have on individuals and society more broadly.

2)     The BBC and Public Service Media. While it is plain that recommender systems are already in use and in full view in private commercial systems like Netflix and in various models of social media, the BBC is a different sort of beast; it is governed by the BBC Charter and has public service duties. I have been researching the BBC in itself, its history and the challenges it has faced from its inception in 1922 up the present day, as well as the nature of public service broadcasting and media and the issues that these raise.

3)     Democratic engagement as well as questions of political philosophy more broadly. In particular, thinking about the intersections between the media environment broadly and notions such as Habermas’ ‘Public Sphere’.

4)     The legal and regulatory environment of media and emerging artificial intelligence technologies (e.g. the BBC Charter in its various iterations as well as the various Committees from 1922 onwards, Broadcasting Act 1996, GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018)