The University of Graz is organizing a Conference on Digital Transformation as Democratic Moment for young scholars and early career researchers. The Conference, organized in cooperation with the ARQUS Alliance, aims to provide young researchers with an opportunity to present their work to a larger community and will be accompanied by keynotes from well-known researchers, workshops on different topics focusing on interaction, knowledge creation and networking, and transfer events.
New forms of information technologies have always been tightly linked with the development of political systems. Even before the emergence of what we call “IT” today, the distribution, selection, and forging of information has been an important element of democratic societies. The emergence of mass media is closely linked to the (in) formation of democratic societies (Marres, 2007). This is just one way in which contemporary democracies are shaped and influenced by modern technologies. Digitization poses a grand challenge, as it questions and challenges the ways how democratic systems and its institutions are working to this day. New possibilities of reaching voters, enforcing laws, and enabling rights through algorithmic means, but also new forms of potentially overarching state power, e.g. through mass surveillance, call us to investigate the way how digital technologies impact and shape democracy at large. Personalized advertisement and voter information threaten the common public sphere, polarization hampers democratic discourse, algorithmic forms of social sorting create inequal treatment and infringe basic rights. But the question is not only how digital technologies are threatening or damaging modern democracies (Sunstein, 2009). Rather we want to ask how we can shape digital technologies and the innovation systems that ‘make’ them in a way that could actually benefit our democratic societies. This goes beyond a traditional understanding of politics, raising the question of what processes, infrastructures, and institutions are necessary to enable and foster democratic systems in the digital age.
At the upcoming UNITOPIA conference we therefore aim to open a discussion about the risks, but also the potentials that digital transformation brings for our democracies. What forms of regulation, or governance are necessary to align digital technologies with a common good? How would we envision future digital democracies? Which political theory concepts of democracy need to be adapted to the technological development and vice versa? How can we sustain and further develop central premises of democracy in a new socio-technical order? And how could we enable processes to build socio-technical institutions and orders for our future democracies? These are just some questions we want to tackle at the conference. We understand the digital transformation as a democratic moment. It forces and enables us to rethink and reconceptualize how we understand democracy in the digital age.
Deadline: 3rd of March, 2022