Research Programme: Evolving Digital Society/Enwicklung der digitalen Gesellschaft

The digitization of society, politics and economy affects the foundations of societal life and prompts many questions: Do we witness the revival of democracy through increased participation and transparency or rather its demise due to fragmentation and populism? Is the economy becoming more innovative through digitisation and interconnectedness or is it concentrating on single platforms? Does the “Sharing Economy” facilitate more exchange and better living conditions for everyone or does it rather undermine solidarity and reinforce social inequality? Are services fueled by algorithms and “Artificial Intelligence” helping us to organize our private and business lives or do they automate complex social process into technological solutions that are amenable to fraud, discrimination and profit-maximization?

Research Program I – The Evolving Digital Society

Hence, what is the digital society? What’s the difference? Such fundamental questions pose a challenge for research. Empirical studies only offer answers for very specific parts of the puzzle. Long-term and comprehensive changes are hard to proof and to explain. Furthermore, research has to question whether prevalent concepts and theories are able to capture the current transformations and the emerging digital society.

Within this research program we combine the study of these overarching questions in the form of studies, publications and events. In this endeavor, we distinguish two analytical levels: The level of the subject matter, i.e. the factual or assumed societal transformations and disruptions; and the level of observation, i.e. the articulation and explanation of these processes are in public and scientific debates

Discourses and theories

In the first phase (2017/18) of this research program, we focus on the level of discourses and theories. We assume that in these times of disruption, discourses and theories do not only portray a change. Rather, they contribute to shaping the digital society by setting priorities, providing explanations and politicizing issues. What is the relevance, what are the opportunities and risks that are currently ascribed to algorithms and artificial intelligence? What are the implications of understanding dominant players like Google and Facebook as platforms? Is the sharing economy really about sharing?

Current Projects

Planned Projects

  • Empirical studies on discourses about key notions of the digital society (among others algorithms, automation, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence)
  • Emerging handbook on key concepts (compendium) of the digital society.

Selected Publications

Hofmann, J. (2017). Constellations of Trust and Distrust in Internet Governance. In European Commission, Trust at Risk:. Implications for EU Policies and Institutions., European Commission (pp. 85-98). Brussels: European Commission. Publication details

Hofmann, J. (2017). Demokratie im Datenkapitalismus. Das Verhältnis von Medien und Macht muss neu vermessen werden. WZB Mitteilungen, 155, 14-17. Publication details

Katzenbach, C. (2017). Die Regeln digitaler Kommunikation. Governance zwischen Norm, Diskurs und Technik. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Publication details

Pentzold, C. & Katzenbach, C. (Eds) (2017). M&K: Komplexitätssteigerung und Komplexitätsreduzierung in der kommunikationswissenschaftlichen Theoriebildung. Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 65(3). Publication details


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