The Politics of Information Technologies

Internet applications such as social networks, search engines, or media streaming platforms are in the centre of our daily life. However, we often forget that these technologies are hardly neutral tools, but stand for particular interests.

Information technologies are formed and negotiated in society and therefore reflect social and cultural aspects.

Technology as a social phenomenon

Technology philosopher Bruno Latour has described technology as ‘society made durable’. He suggests that technologies not only have socio-political effects but they also carry various norms, values, ideas and even ideologies.

An example: commercial search technologies such as Google openly pursue profit-oriented interests. Business models that rely on user-targeted advertising clearly shape these search tools – just think about the extent of paid ads in your search results. Universal search engines thus represent consumer societies and capitalist economic structures.

Society made durable in technology

At the same time, the millions of users of commercial platforms contribute to capitalist practices. Be it Facebook, Amazon or Twitter – business models based on advertising profits come along with privacy issues. Companies that compile detailed user profiles for personalising ads and adapting them to the users' preferences and interests reinforce the trend to citizen surveillance throughout the internet.

Technologies also express gender relations and other power structures. Computer games frequently rely on gender clichés that are often more than just ironic. Thus, technologies can be seen as political actors in society.

Development contexts and network structures

While other ITA research areas focus on the implications of this development on our right to data protection (link), privacy (link) and security (link), this research area deals with the development and negotiation of information technologies in socio-political contexts.

How can social values and norms be taken into account in concepts and methods of software design? How can search engines be developed regarding the conflicting trajectories of global information economy and local policies? We further investigate the roles of stakeholders from the areas of politics, economy, law, data protection, net politics etc. in the development of global technologies and how they can strengthen their position in global actor networks.

Research interests

The aim is to identify the implicit politics of information technologies and to enhance transparency by analysing development practices and actor networks. In this way, cultural norms and values, hegemonies, gender relations and other power structures becoming effective through software can be critically reflected and re-negotiated. The results of this research are fed back into the political arena and design practice as well as provided to a broader public.

Social norms and values are inscribed in information technologies.