The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society is organizing its 2020 annual conference on the subject “Democracy in Flux – Order, Dynamics and Voices in Digital Public Spheres” and invites interested scholars to submit abstracts and papers for presentation on Thursday, 4 June and Friday, 5 June 2020 at the Urania in Berlin.
The spread of digital technologies has contributed to a multi-faceted change of democratic orders, actors, and practices. At the intersection of long-term evolution of democracies and the emergence of social media, we observe a profound redistribution of communication and political power. Traditional mass media are losing their privileged position as gatekeepers of the public sphere; social media are establishing new norms of social relevance and simultaneously give voice to ideas, opinions, and actors, which used to be marginalized. This development seems full of ambivalences. Thus, the changing conditions of communication have spawned a situation of democracy in permanent flux.
The debate on how digital technologies have changed public spheres and impacted democracy has been scattered across different scientific disciplines, political arenas, and civil society. The 2020 Annual Weizenbaum Conference aims to bring together these various perspectives and seeks to initiate an interdisciplinary exchange on the linkages between digital public spheres and democracy.
The conference seeks to organize panel discussions along three tracks:
(1) The first track on creating and opposing social orders addresses the structuraldimension of democracy in flux. It centers on digital technologies as a source ofpower and asks questions about the potential implications for democratic conceptsand norms.
(2) The second track deals with the dynamics and processes of the use of digitaltechnologies and discusses the interlinkages of digital affordances with powerrelations, information flows, political mobilization, and their consequences.
(3) The third track on voices and agency examines the question of how technologiesused by citizens and political actors shape public discourse and influence citizenship,democratic processes and practice and how technologies have become actors in theirown right.
Track 1: Creating and Opposing Orders
For the first track of the conference, we invite contributions that discuss the relationship between digital technologies and social orders with a strong focus on structures and their democratic implications.
Panel 1 on rulemaking by digital technologies focuses on socio-technical orders and their democratic implications as digital technologies enable the re-definition of democratic concepts.
Panel 2 on the regulation of technologies deals with rules such as privacy, fairness and accountability that shape digital technologies, as in constitutions, laws, standards and principles.
Panel 3 on (de)institutionalization discusses how organizations such as political parties, social movements or media institutions are challenged in their structure and agency through the advent of digital communication and digital analytics.
Track 2: Dynamics and Processes
For the second track of the conference, we invite studies that highlight how digital technologies influence the dynamics of public spheres, the flow of political information and their consequences for political power.
Panel 4 on power and information flows in digital media environments explores models and approaches about how digital affordances disperse communicative power on the one hand and how the concentration of information on digital platforms create centralization on the other hand.
Panel 5 on political information in election campaigns invites fresh insights on how political parties and candidates are adapting to the dynamics of network media logic and on citizens’ use of digital media for electoral information.
Panel 6 on fragmentation in digital public spheres invites papers on diffusion processes and information sharing in digital platforms such as the spread of false and misleading messages or the promotion of functional public discourses through fact checking.
Track 3: Voices and Agency
For the third track of the conference we invite papers on the effect of social media platforms on opinion expression, political discourse, and collective action. The panels deal with the role and linkages of actors beyond established institutions in the politics, media and civil society.
Panel 7 is devoted to studies on the role of intermediaries and how they interact with democratic will formation. What are the consequences of public monitoring and political targeting for democratic orders and practice?
Panel 8 invites contributions that highlight changing notions of digital citizenship and their relations with norms and values. It also discusses lay perceptions of digital citizenship in the light of online activism and online commenting.
Panel 9 seeks to stimulate discussions on how technology enables interactive modes and therefore allows for novel linkages and networks between and across actors from politics, media and the economic sector.