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Technology, Power and Domination

The group explores how digital infrastructures change social domination and power. Our work focuses on the power implications, social conflicts and possibilities for democratic design entailed in digital platforms and artificial intelligence.

The digital society is characterized by a high and increasing degree of technical mediatization, where technologies play a key role as shaping agents and objects of institutions, political interests, as well as economic and cultural practices (to mention a few). The digitalization of processes and organizational forms perpetuates this mutual influence through new infrastructures and societal structuring principles. This results in new dimensions of legibility and control of social contexts, which lead to changes in power relations and forms of domination – which are very visible, for example, in the dominance of global technology corporations and nation-states’ leverage over dynamic and global markets.

The research project “Technology, Power and Domination” addresses these dynamics with regard to two structuring mechanisms: One is the organizational structuring principle of platformization, which shapes markets, communication, and social relations; the other is the epistemic structuring principle of AI, which we see as an automated form of knowledge generation and decision-making processes in contexts ranging from everyday behavioral regulation to the automation of public administration.

The research group devotes particular attention to the following sets of questions:

  1. What forms of domination are inherent in digital infrastructures? How do existing and emergent state and private domination potentials relate to each other? Which social conflicts arise and how do digital infrastructures become objects of regulation?
  2. How can the changed forms of power be democratically contained and linked to existing political institutions and social imaginaries? What options and strategies are available for shaping digital infrastructures in ways that democratically meet societal demands for individual and collective autonomy?

The research group investigates these developments on a theoretical and empirical level, drawing particularly on approaches from sociology, politcal science, law, and computer science. The group’s work sets itself apart from generalized diagnoses of the transformative power of digitalization by focusing on platforms and artificial intelligence to examine these two specific structuring forces in detail and in interaction. The analysis also looks at the social and political responses to the inherent forms of domination and shifts in power. For example, we examine how civil society actors produce alternative approaches to shaping and regulating technologies. Furthermore, the group takes an international comparative approach and relates different technologies, platforms, and national or regional regulatory and support strategies. This provides new impulses for the political shaping of digitalization and thus expands the common repertoire of regulatory approaches, as well as the possibilities for economic, social and political transformation.