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Inequality and Digital Sovereignty

The term digital sovereignty has been used to describe a new model for people and collectives in the digital world that focuses on competences, duties and rights. The research group used integrative approaches of practice-oriented design research to investigate the constitution and coordination of personal and collective scope for action and decision-making with regard to the use and appropriation on one hand, and the designability on the other.

This research group conducted research at the Weizenbaum Institute from 2017 to 2022. In the newly launched research program, research will henceforth be organised in 16 research groups. These will be flanked and supported by the new Weizenbaum Digital Science Center.

The term digital sovereignty has been used for some time as a new leitmotif for navigating the digital world, that focuses on the competences, duties and rights of the individual in times of increasing data analysis, profiling and dwindling privacy. At European and national governance levels, the definition and safeguarding of digital sovereignty of citizens and organisations is increasingly being put on the agenda. The different discourses thus encompass both the sovereignty of individual users and the sovereignty of collectives and states.

Against this background, the task of Research Group "Inequality and digital sovereignty" was to develop a better understanding of the various dimensions of digital sovereignty and thus contribute to the construction of the concepts and leitmotifs under discussion. The constitution and coordination of personal and collective spaces for manoeuvre and decision-making came to the fore at two levels:

  • The first was how individuals and collectives deal more or less confidently with increasingly complex technologies, i.e. the sovereign use of digital infrastructures. Relevant for this were central topics such as digital competence, consumer sovereignty and the digital divide.
  • On the other hand, positions of inequality and sovereignty with regard to the formability of lifeworlds were examined, which increasingly brings aspects of the social into the transformation discourse. With such a perspective, the research group developed practical and project-led approaches that allow technology and digitality to be understood as processes that can be shaped.

The different perspectives of the research group are rooted in participative and transdisciplinary design research, in which methodological approaches such as “Reallabore” and social living labs are anchored. The integrative approaches addressed real-world questions along the lines of practices and value systems from civil society, the public and private sectors. Against this backdrop, complex possibilities of knowledge transfer and knowledge integration were identified and developed, which at the same time outline social, political and economic options for action.



Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost, Principal Investigator
Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schildhauer, Principal Investigator
Dr. Bianca Herlo, Research Group Lead

  • Elizabeth Caldéron Lüning
  • Corinna Canali
  • Athena Grandis
  • Lisa Hofmann
  • Dr. phil. Daniel Irrgang
  • Jan-Willem Marquardt
  • Marie Munz
  • Dr. Andreas Unteidig



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