Digitalization and Social Life

Squares connected by lines. Illustration.

The latest decade, we have witnessed a new wave of digitalization – by some called “deep digitalization – characterized by phenomena such as big data, machine learning, smart algorithms, artificial intelligence and advanced network solutions. “Semi-autonomous» digital infrastructures have been delegated increasingly more tasks, responsibility and autonomy in society, at the same time as they have become less opaque and transparent for the public. This effects social life in a wide range of areas: e.g. how we communicate and establish social networks, how we experience our workplace and conduct our work, how we access media and culture, and our relations to public agencies both as citizens and costumers/clients.

The research group «Digitalization and social life» is working with such research questions and is a leading social science research milieu om the relation between digitalization and processes of social change.

“Deep digitalization” are challenging the social sciences thematically, theoretically and methodically. A central concern for our research group is to open the new digital technologies and infrastructures as a thematic field and objects of study by researching how they are developed and put into use in an interplay between social and technological factors. It is easy to get seduced by the seemingly neutral, efficient and intelligent performance of modern computer systems. However, they are created for purposes that are often far from neutral: to create capital and profit, to nudge behavior and preferences in certain directions, and to identify, sort and classify people. To investigate and follow this encoding of social values through all phases of the development of modern computer systems – the establishment of big and small data archives, the development of algorithmic assemblages, and the design of human-computer interfaces – are one of the major tasks ahead for the social sciences. At the same time, more research are needed on how digital infrastructures are implemented and appropriated in social contexts, the negotiations taking place, the accept or resistance they face, and how users are transforming the technologies in various ways and employing them for other means than intended.

Our research group are also concerned with the development of theory and methods. “Deep digitalization” demand rethinking of established theories in sociology and social science more generally (e.g. theories in media sociology about filter mechanisms and gatekeepers, theories in cultural sociology about the establishment of cultural preferences, democracy theories about the constitution of the public sphere, interactionist perspectives of interaction orders and society building from below). Conceptual development is a prioritized area for the research group. Furthermore, digitalization demands and renders possible the development of new, both qualitative and quantitative methods and analytical tools. Members of the research group are working e.g. with new approaches to ethnography and text- and content analysis.

The members of the research group have a long-lasting and broad experience with research on the development of digital technologies and the interplay between technology and society. Examples of recent publications are found below. The group are engaged in several on-going, exiting research projects in the field:

  • “DICE: Digital infrastructures and citizen empowerment” – on the development of “smart” digital infrastructures and their influence in/on four central social fields: access to media and culture, enabling of citizen-government relations, empowerment in social interaction, and influence and autonomy in working life (Spilker, Røyrvik, Tjora).
  • «Trust and Transparency Through Blockchain Technology» – on how blockchain technology may transform the conditions for value creation and organization in private and public sector (Krokan)
  • «STREAM: Streaming the Culture Industries» – looks at the development of streaming solutions in the film, television, music and book industries, with a focus on technology development, changes in value chains, and the establishment of new user practices (Spilker).
  • «ESSI: Evolving Society as Social Interaction» – investigates  how material structures and technologies are constructing and are constructed by social interaction (Tjora, Levang, Skaar).

Other on-going projects and themes the research group are working with includes:

  • The use of health and lifestyle applications and the quantification of pregnancy (Støverstein, Sætnan, Spilker)
  • Personal technologies in public spaces (Henriksen, Tjora)
  • Economies of sharing, platforms and digital markets (Krokan)