Contemporary societies rely increasingly on digital infrastructures. We find our way through unknown cities not by consulting the locals or travel guides, but by using Google Maps and the apps of the city’s public transport provider on our smartphones. Global finance is not so much based on greed and personal networks but on the fiber-optic cables connecting 60 Hudson Street and Wall Street. National Security is more an issue of data storage and efficient number- crunching than of fences and border control. These social, political and cultural dimensions of digital transformations are the focus of my research. How to build digital infrastructures on public value instead of on platform models from Silicon Valley or China? How to organize software engineering as a social practice to open it up for critical engagement, democratic legitimization and oversight? And how to integrate alternative practices and methods from arts and critical design to change the way digital technologies are developed? Being trained in Sociology, Political Science and Computer Science, I have been an active “Science & Technology Studies” scholar for more than a decade. I contribute to disciplinary debates in Sociological Theory, Cultural Sociology and the Sociology of Technology as well as to inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations with scholars from such diverse fields as Computer Science, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, Political Science, Philosophy and History and actors from politics, civil society and the arts. My work focuses on three core areas:
Transdisciplinary Collaboration and Disciplinary Diplomacy
While Science & Technology Studies is by definition inter- and transdisciplinary research, en- gaged scholarship forces us into serious departures from the core of our home disciplines. I therefore believe that diplomatic encounters between discipline and interdiscipline are ur- gently needed. My work is grounded in Sociology – Sociological Theory, Cultural Sociology and Qualitative Methodology – and develops inter- and transdisciplinary engagements from there. Conceptually I work with a relational, operational and material approach to practice theory and post-actor-network theory, a theory-methods package developed after what has been called the “ontological turn” in cultural and political theory. In terms of methods my work is deeply influenced by qualitative approaches and reflexive ethnography, but also experimental when it comes to using new digital and participatory tools for mapping controversies or visual and data-driven analytics. Translating the results of inter-, multi- and transdisciplinary collaborations back to traditional disciplines like sociology, political science or computer science is therefore as crucial as the collaboration itself. My dissertation “Technology and Society” was such an attempt of disciplinary diplomacy that aimed at a better understanding of the locally and historically situated origins of Science & Technology Studies. My habilitation thesis “Sociology of Circum- stances” has been successfully defended in 2017 at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). It develops an actor-network approach to practice theory that links back to debates on social theory and methodology. I am actively engaged in the (“Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung”) and part of a group of younger scholars that works on reconnecting Sociology of Technology to international debates in Science & Technology Studies.
Politics of Digital Infrastructures
Governance as we know it is based on infrastructures crafted by science and poured into technology. After all, what are we to make of Max Weber’s claim about the legitimate use of state violence without the bureaucratic regimes crafted in economics and jurisprudence? Since 2011, Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU) and I have been organizing annual sessions at the meetings of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) and the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) on the technoscientific infrastructure of modern nation states and political entities like Europe, giving a growing group of scholars an academic home. With Ben Hurlbut, Chris Kelty, Sabine Maasen, Shobita Parthasarathy, Sebastian Pfotenhauer and Malte Ziewitz I successfully applied for a DFG-NSF Symposium on “Technoscientific Constitutions of Politics, Law and Public Reason” that took place in Washigton, DC in February 2019 connecting around 50 scholars from Germany and the US. I just organized a public session at the “Münchner Medientage 2019” on “digital sovereignty and public value infrastructure” and for the Bayerische Landesanstalt für neue Medien I prepare a research project on local media, democracy and legitimate technology oversight. I am part of an Erasmus + strategic partnership project on the use and governance of artificial intelligence technologies in HR. With a colleague from data engineering I work on a project in machine learning, EU regulation and trust and with partners from software engineering, media law and communication studies I will coordinate the project “Coding Public Value” on methods and tools for public value oriented software engineering practices.
Software Engineering, Interventions and Advocacy
Empirically I have worked on software engineering as a social practice and on the growing relevance of data collection, storage and processing, as well as the use of quantification and algorithms for a long time. With Josef Wehner and Tilmann Sutter I managed the DFG project “Numeric Inclusion” (2010-2013) to study the use of user tracking and recommender systems. Since April 2015 I am head of the MCTS Digital Media Lab at Technische Universität München, a group of junior scientists empirically studying digital transformations. With Sabine Maasen I was Co-PI of the EU H2020 Project IMPROVE (2015-2018) where we collaborated with mechanical engineering and industry automation to set up a big data infrastructure for process engineering. We are also PIs of a subproject of the DFG CRC 768 (2016-2019) to study the participatory design of digital innovation processes in engineering companies. Over the years my research agenda became more and more politically and practically engaged: Projects of empirically studying practices and processes for software engineering are also very rare opportunities to intervene, co-design and co-create digital technologies. In collaboration with the Bayerische Rundfunk (2016-2017) I studied and developed practices and strategies for designing and optimizing recommender systems that favor diversity instead of filter bubbles. With partners from the Netherlands, UK and Germany from research institutions, public broadcasting services and private media companies I started a network of engaged scholars, entrepreneurs and activists to lobby (politically) for a European initiative for a public value media infrastructure. And with AlgorithmWatch, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, I work on the BMBF project DataSkop on YouTube recommender systems, digital sovereignty and data donations.
I am engaged in public outreach and consultation, for example by being part of the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung Workshop on “Innovation Policy in Times of Digital Transformations”, the Siemens CKI Conference on “Autonomous Systems” or the “Bayerische Digitalgipfel”. Since 2018 I work closely with public service broadcasters and media policy actors to conceptualize and test the future design of the dual system of private and public service media in a world organized by platforms and intermediaries. I also have been an academic and independent policy consultant on state, national and EU level, for example for the Bayerische Staatskanzlei, the Bundeskanzleramt, the Bundespräsidialamt and the European Commission. On a very practical level I also think that political alternatives require alternative epistemic practice: A few years ago I started to organize public workshops and events at the intersection of digital technology, sociology and media arts to experiment with alternative knowledge practices and methods of critical design. Our 2019 workshop took place at the Muffathalle in Munich, a 2020 workshop will be part of a trilateral event accompanying Ars Electronic in Linz.
Conference Organization (last updated 2018)
|“Social Studies of Politics: State Affect”, Two Sessions in an Open Panel, Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Sydney, AU with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|STS and Grounded Theory Doctoral Workshop with Prof. Dr. Jörg Strübing, TUM
|Stakeholder Training Workshop of Non-Lineral Media and Data Curation, Bayerischer Rundfunk, München
|“Social Studies of Politics: What do we care for?”, Three Sessions in an Open Panel, Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Boston, MA with Prof. Dr. Govind Gopakumar (Concordia) and Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|4. Annual Workshop for Qualitative Video Analysis, with Felix Albrecht, Andrea Geipel, Benjamin Lipp, Ajit Singh, Dr. Rene Tuma, TUM
|“Social Studies of Politics”, Open Panel, seven sessions at the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) Meeting in Barcelona, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU) and Prof. Dr. Jan-Peter Voss (TU Berlin)
“STS and the State“ – editorial workshop for a special issue of “Engaging Science & Technology Studies” with Prof. Dr. Govind Gopakumar (Concordia) and Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“Co/Laboration. Science and Technology in, with and for Society” International Graduate School of Science and Engineering, TUM, Workshops for STEM Graduate Students
|“STS Figures to think with: Modest Witness, Invisible Technician,
Cyborg, Idiot”, Graduate Student Workshop with Prof. Dr. Ignacio Farias, Dr. Tomás Criado and Dr. Laurie Waller, TUM
|“Social Studies of Politics: Assembling Governance”, Open Panel, three sessions at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Denver, CO with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“Profile/s: Individual and Collective Classifications in Digital Media”, Working Group Data and Networks of the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft (German Association for Media Studies) in Braunschweig, with Dr. Theo Röhle, Dr. Jan-Hinrik Schmidt and others
|“Measuring the Body”, Annual Meeting of the Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung (German STS) in Tübingen, with Prof. Dr. Jörg Strübing
|“STS and ‘the state'”, Open Track, Biannual Meeting of the European Association for the Social Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) in Torun, Poland, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“STS and ‘the state'”, Open Panel, Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“Making data count” Spring Workshop, DGS Work Group “Sociology of Media and Communication” in Bielefeld with Thorben Mämecke and PD Dr. Josef Wehner
|“Struggling with Innovations. Social Innovations and Conflicts in Urban Development and Planning”, Leibniz IRS in Erkner with PD Dr. Gabriela Christmann, Kerstin Falk and Anika Noack
|“State Multiplicity, Performativity and Materiality: STS Research on State and Stateness” Triple-Session, Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in San Diego, CA, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|1. Summer School of the DFG Research Training Group “Innovation Society Today: The Reflexive Creation of Novelty” in Berlin
|“On States, Stateness and STS: government(ality) with a small g?” Double-Session. Biannual Meeting of the European Association for the Social Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) in Copenhagen, DK, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“Seeing the State and State Theory in STS” Double-Session, Annual Meeting, Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Cleveland, OH, with Prof. Dr. Nicholas J. Rowland (PSU)
|“Agency without Actors?” German-French University (DFH-UFA) Workshop in Bielefeld, with Florence Rudolf, HDr. (Strasbourg) and Dr. Birgit Peuker (HU Berlin)
|“Classes to Clusters?” Workshop, Bielefeld, with PD Dr. Josef Wehner