Practicing Democracy in the Digital Age

DigiGov Lecture Series @ University of Vienna

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What does democracy mean in the digital age? The lecture series gave an overview of key debates on democracy and digitisation at the intersection of political science, legal studies and Science & Technology Studies. 

At the centre of this lecture series were questions of power, representation, and practices of participation. The first part of the lecture series introduced core concepts and theories, the second part explored a set of topical cases and applications. 

The lecture was organised by the cross-faculty research platform ‘Governance of Digital Practices’ and was targeted at a non-specialist multidisciplinary audience with an interest in the politics of technology.

General information

The lecture series took place in the winter semester 2022/23 in English on Mondays from 18:30 to 20:00 CET online via Zoom. A more detailed lecture schedule and recordings of the sessions can be found below.

 Schedule for the winter semester 2022/23

10 October 2022

Introduction: Democracy in the Digital Age

with Lukas Schlögl (DigiGov)

The session gives an overview of the lecture, the elearning platform and the requirements on students. It gives a broad introduction to the field and our disciplinary approach at the intersection of political science, legal theory and technology studies. The lecture broadly introduces a set of core concepts.

24 October 2022

What is digital democracy?

with Rahel Süß (Humboldt-University of Berlin), moderated by Lukas Schlögl (DigiGov) 

For almost a decade now, technology has often been viewed as a threat to democracy. What is needed is an analysis of how digital technology offers new opportunities to imagine and define democratic politics in the digital era.

31 October 2022

Algorithmic Regulation and Algorithmic Governance

with Florian Eyert (Berlin Social Science Center), moderated by Seliem El-Sayed (DigiGov)

From the domain of the state to the digital economy, algorithmic systems play an increasing role in shaping the behaviors and opportunities of individuals and populations. The lecture investigates this phenomenon through the lense of the emerging concepts of "algorithmic regulation" and "algorithmic governance". It gives an overview of the work done in this area in recent years, provides examples to illustrate key aspects and discusses implications for democratic practice. 

7 November 2022

EU Digital Policy and Democracy

with Gerda Falkner (Centre for European Integration Research), moderated by Nikolaus Forgó (DigiGov)

The lecture will start with discussing various pillars of democracy and how they are all affected by the process of digitalisation. Considering the specifics of how the ‘digital revolution’ has proceeded, to date, a downward spiral seems probable with the components of the political system (at large) driving each other further in the direction of a less democratic system. Can and will regulatory initiatives at EU level turn this around?

14 November 2022

The Unrealized Ambitions of British Self-Service E-Government

with James Besse (University of Edinburgh), moderated by Rasmus Kvaal Wardemann (DigiGov)

This presentation explores developments in British self-service e-government during the Brexit transition. First, I discuss the transition away from Freedom of Movement rights and toward the EU Settlement Scheme, and the adjustment this entailed. I then describe developments to the the website and how it was seen as a way for EU citizens to interact with the British government, including accessing information and proving their immigration statuses, remotely and without support. I then describe the compensatory mechanisms that emerged during the Brexit transition to help people navigate this, many of which were a rebuke of the aforementioned ambitions. Finally, I reflect on implications for further developments in British e-government and e-government projects elsewhere.

(Initially, Orit Halpern was scheduled to speak. She is replaced by James Besse.)

At the request of our guest speaker, this session was not recorded.

21 November 2022

Voice, participation, representation in technological decisions

with Ulrike Felt (Department of Science and Technology Studies), moderated by Elisabeth Steindl (DigiGov)

This lecture will take us to the health sector and specifically explore how emerging fields of digital health innovations have been in the focus of major governance efforts. However, we will not look into formal regulatory efforts or legal framings as forms of democratic governance, but explore how citizens and other stakeholders can govern the development of digital health technologies through co-creation approaches. This will allow to reflect who can claim voice and exercise participation rights, in short how can we understand representation in the context of technological decisions in complex digital health environments. But it also means reflecting how digital health technologies start to shape a new kind of digital health citizenship. Drawing these reflections together will allow us to explore questions of justice and inequality that potentially emerge as a spill-over effect of innovation processes and the accompanying governance models.

28 November 2022

How the influence of industry forms our political opinion: what we learn from civil society research

with Amber Macintyre (Tactical Tech), moderated by Katja Mayer (DigiGov)

Behind the political content we see, read, and hear, is a wide collection of companies. Campaign consultants, data brokers, and advertising production firms advise political parties both on how to profile, segment, and target their audiences, and what content, framing, and format the messages should take. In this talk we will hear about how the NGO, Tactical Tech, has carried out unique investigations to document 500 companies in this industry, the work they are doing, and how it applies across the world. 

30 November 18:30-20:00 CET - rescheduled from October 17

Democracy Under Siege

with Brigitte Seim (Vdem Digital Society Project), moderated by Theresa Henne (DigiGov) 

This presentation will use data from the Digital Society Project to examine the digital practice of democracy. Specifically, we evaluate how coordinated information operations, online media polarization, and social cleavages are undermining democracy. We also assess whether digital media freedom and internet regulation are mitigating these undemocratic forces.

5 December 2022

There Are No Markets Anymore: From Neoliberalism to Big Tech

with Kean Birch (York University), moderated by Saskia Kaltenbrunner (DigiGov)

Rather than simply monetizing personal information, Big Tech firms have gone far beyond the ‘surveillance’ fears of many critical thinkers. Digital technologies have enabled Big Tech firms to monetize the very information on which markets are supposedly dependent; this information is meant to be transparent and truthful to ensure competition, but it is increasingly hoarded and hidden in data enclaves constructed by Big Tech firms to secure their monopolistic positions. Today, however, Big Tech firms face challenges on different fronts: from politicians and policymakers developing new frameworks to curtail their power; and from the internal contradictions and dysfunctions in their own operations. Will markets come back, or is this their end?

12 December 2022

Participation and inclusiveness at digital environmental negotiation sites

with Alice Vadrot (DigiGov), moderated by Paul Dunshirn (DigiGov)

This session explores the effects of the Covid-19 induced ‘digital turn’ on global environmental negotiations. It focuses on how forms of participation and inclusiveness amongst state delegations and non-state observers have been affected in the process and considers implications for global (democratic) practices. 

09 January 2023

The power of digital platforms. What do platform giants have in common with illicit drug markets?

with Meropi Tzanetakis (University of Manchester), moderated by Lukas Schlögl (DigiGov)

Digital drug platforms are infrastructures for the mediation of buyers and vendors; however, they are also designed to extract data on the activities of their users. This lecture uses the concept of platform capitalism, commonly applied to large tech giants, to show that power relations on digital drug platforms mimic those in platform capitalism in general.

16 January 2023

Overcoming data coloniality: Why collective organisations, and not individuals, should own data

with Felix Stalder (Zurich University of the Arts), moderated by Barbara Prainsack (DigiGov)

Practices of pervasive data extraction for private gain exhibit many social and economic features of coloniality. Neither individual data ownership nor the “openness” of data can solve this problem. Rather, there is a need to develop collective forms of data ownership. Not only are such forms closer to the transactional, collective processes of data generation, they also could provide a democratic counter-weight to commercial interests in determining the future use of such data.

The video of this session is unfortunately not available due to technical difficulties with the recording. 

23 January 2023

Conclusion: Democracy in the Digital Age

with Lukas Schlögl (DigiGov)

This session draws together and recapitulates key concepts, findings and debates. It sketches emerging trends, open questions and future areas of research. The session provides guidelines for exam preparation.