Digital infrastructures and citizen empowerment (DICE)
Digital infrastructures both supports, transforms and co-creates social institutions and social life. In this project, we define digital infrastructures as software-based assemblages constituted by archives for classification and logging of data, algorithms for processing them, protocols and mechanisms for interacting with other systems, and interfaces towards the world of operators and users. Society and people are critically dependent, in increasing degree, upon digital infrastructures. With semi-autonomous, «smart» and «learning» algorithms, digital infrastructures have been delegated more responsibility and autonomy in filtering, sorting, and classifying vital information, and also with providing advice and making decisions, at the same time as they become less transparent to public scrutiny. Thus, digitalization transforms society and citizens more intensively both in scope and depth – not least in terms of potentials and risks related to democratic participation and empowerment. At the same time, this development is only to a limited degree conceptualized by the social sciences. This project will thus make a strong impact and push the research frontier in this area.
DICE will analyze and evaluate both the public benefits and risks that digital infrastructures pose to democracy and citizen empowerment across four key fields of social life: access to media and culture, enabling of citizen-government relations, empowerment in social interaction, and autonomy and influence in working life. The project is thus the first truly comparative study internationally of the influence of digital infrastructures across social fields.
The circuit-of-infrastructures methodology – studying both the inception, development and influence of digital infrastructures – will produce deep insights into ways in which digitalization effects citizen empowerment. A coherent research plan – with a both “vertical” and “horizontal” structuring of sub projects – ensures the delegation of responsibilities to drive publications forward. At least four top-level publications – as well as a policy white paper – are planned to extract and harvest the cross-cutting, comparative findings of the project (see dissemination plan).
Four core fields
DICE plans to study the relationship between digital infrastructures and citizen empowerment within four core fields of society. Each field will be studied through 2-3 empirical studies:
Access to media and culture
The first project will investigate how digital infrastructures prioritize and make media and cultural content searchable, visible and ‘usable’, shaping what citizens know, discover and experience; how the citizens develop tactics and strategies in the encounter with the infrastructures; and how the media and cultural lives of citizens are transformed.
Enabling of citizen-government relations
The second project will investigate the effects of the rise of what we call “algorithmic governance” of citizens as clients and/or customers of public services.
Empowerment in social interaction.
The third project will investigate the role of social networking services in the formation of social ties and relations; how they order social contacts through inclusion/exclusion, hierarchization, and other mechanisms; the tactics and strategies the citizens develop in the encounters with the infrastructures; and how the social lives of the citizens are transformed.
Autonomy and influence in working life
The fourth project will investigate the citizens’ empowerment in their roles as workers, identifying challenges and opportunities related to worker’s autonomy and influence in the age of automation and robotization. How are practices, competence, control and power restructured through digital infrastructuring?