Christian Pentzold

In this article, we take issue with an idea of autonomous and efficient automation that is upheld through the paradoxical conjunction of a flawed vision of the technological fix and the under-acknowledged human work required to fill in the gaps between machines and users. Our argument is based on two case studies that sit at opposite tails of automation processes: the frontend of self-service checkouts and the backend of content moderation. This juxtaposition allows us to surface three themes on how the hype around automation is enabled by human intervention: the ad-hoc sociality in situated practices of automation, the capture of mundane expertise, and the inverted assistance of humans to machines. We argue that this human fix is not a temporary repair of malfunction, but a permanent and constitutive feature of automated systems.

Whistleblowers have been instrumental in revealing the massive investments in state-sponsored and corporate digital surveillance and disinformation. Their personal accounts of what went on behind the scenes are usually presented in popular books marketed as offering insider stories. By interrogating the recapitulations of veteran data consultants, our article is interested in the way in which whistleblowers configure their role and place themselves in the context of their story in terms of agency and accountability. We examine and compare three recollections: Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record (2019), Christopher Wylie’s Mindf*ck (2019), and Brittany Kaiser’s Targeted (2019). Our analysis shows how these high-profile memoirs offer a look that is both intimate and distant. They at once promise to get close to and even behind what has escaped public scrutiny and in return try to dissociate themselves from their former trade. Their position of privileged precarity, which results from the casualization of digital labor, allows these data consultants to quickly become insiders whilst staying uncomfortable with many of the taken-for-granted ideological convictions and organizational orders. Rationalizing their involvement as disoriented diligence affords the whistleblowers the capacity to craft a story of enchantment, delusion, and subsequent awakening. Both their experiences and their position enable these disenthralled renegades to style themselves as honest moral arbiters in service of the public interest and brokers of exclusive knowledge.

The article attempts to clarify what today constitutes communicative remembering. To revisit this basic mnemonic concept, our theoretical contribution starts from available approaches in social memory studies that assume a binary distinction between cultural and communicative modes of memory making. In contrast, we use concepts that treat them not as structural, historically and culturally distinct registers but as a repertoire of retrospection that hinges on the evoked temporal horizon and media usage. To further interrogate this practical articulation of memories, we direct our attention to the habitual, communicatively realised engagement with the past. We finally turn to the ways communicative remembering is done in digitally networked environments, which provide us with a pertinent mnemonic arena where rigid dichotomies of communicative memory versus cultural memory are eroded.

Dieser Band ist ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch für theoriegenerierendes Forschen. Die Beiträge erklären Prinzipien der Grounded Theory und diskutieren deren methodisch fundierte Durchführung und Darstellung im Rahmen empirischer Vorhaben. An Beispielen aus der Forschungspraxis wird gezeigt, wie sich Methodologie und Verfahrensrahmen der Grounded Theory zur Analyse medienbezogener Lebenswelten einsetzen lassen.

Die Rede von Praktiken ist in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft weit verbreitet. Eine systematische Diskussion des Potenzials praxistheoretischer Denk- und Forschungsansätze steht dagegen noch aus. Das vorliegende Buch ist eine Einladung zur tieferen Beschäftigung mit Medienpraktiken und wirbt für eine entsprechende Neuorientierung von Kommunikationsforschung und Medienanalyse.

Dazu wird der Status Quo praxistheoretischer Ansätze in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft kompakt vorgestellt. Interessierte sollen einen Einstieg bekommen und Expert:innen Anschlussmöglichkeiten angeboten werden. Es geht sowohl um Grundprinzipien praxistheoretischen Denkens als auch um die sich daraus ergebenden Haltungen sowie um Zugänge für praktische Untersuchungen. Im Zentrum stehen aktuelle Herausforderungen und die Möglichkeiten, Praktiken in Digitalmedien und vernetzten Medienumgebungen zu analysieren.

Approaching datafication through discourse means to engage with the eminent reality-making power of communication, deliberation, and imagination. It foregrounds the work that goes into rendering datafication a socially relevant phenomenon and problem.

The Special Section we sets out from the idea that in modern societies the public understanding of technology is largely driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. It invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times. That way, the Special Theme does not merely interrogate the status quo of big data analytics. Rather, discourses also involve prospective ambitions and normative stances about potential, desirable, or unwanted innovations.

The project pursues a double objective: On the one hand, to systematically survey existing eParticipation offerings and the contextual conditions of their successful use and, on the other hand, to continuously incorporate the insights gained in the process into the future design of participation practice. Thus, the research dimension and the transfer dimension are integrally interlinked and they complement each other: scientific survey and analysis as well as transfer are thought together.

The project is funded by the Mercator Foundation (grant no: 220276). Together with my Leipzig colleague Christian P. Hoffmann I collaborate with Marianne Kneuer (TU Dresden), Maria A. Wimmer (Koblenz University), and Stefan Marschall (Düsseldorf University).

The article extends the study of frames in verbal media discourse. We mobilize insights from linguistic semantics and research in the related fields of cognitive science in order to formulate a frame-semantic understanding of frames as adaptive networks of meaning. It allows us to see frames as flexible scaffoldings whose elements are controlled by contextual configurations. This extension is helpful, we argue, because analyses of public discourse have, to date, mainly operated with a model of frames as fixed ensembles. Understanding frames not as invariant clusters but as adaptive networks has implications for empirical studies, too. Consequently, we outline the applicability of our proposition in an analytical scenario. Find the article here.

Approaching datafication through discourse means to understand and to engage with the eminent reality-making power of communication, deliberation, and imagination. It foregrounds the work that goes into rendering datafication a socially relevant phenomenon and problem.

The conference sets out from the idea that the public understanding of datafication is driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. The event invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times. That way, the conference does not merely interrogate the status quo of big data analytics. Rather, discourses also involve prospective ambitions and normative stances about potential, desirable, or unwanted innovations. The conference turns its attention to discourses whose programs of thought actively shape the social constitution of Big Data and translate into practices, organizational forms, policies, and institutions. Discourses are in fact integral to how we come to engage with datafication.

Inquiring into the semantics, interpretations, and cultural values that prelude, accompany, and surround investments and innovations into Big Data requires by definition interdisciplinary work. This includes, among others, critical data studies, STS, sociology, communication, linguistics, political science, cultural studies, geography and education, as well as security studies and gender studies.

Confirmed keynote speaker: Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki). Supported by the German Research Foundation. More info and the full CfP here.

Living Labs galore. Involving citizens and other stakeholders in science endeavors and integrating them in the design of new technologies and scientific inquiry is a core aim of contemporary research and development. Living labs are prime places in the quest of science to be more inclusive and to open up to people from all walks of life, including politics, design, and culture. Promising to foster participation, collaboration and co-creation around science, living labs have been mushrooming across the academe, from STEM subjects to the humanities. In fact, they have become the token for an up-to-date science communication that is not satisfied with conveying expert information but seeks an exchange with people that are addressed as the participants of, not just the audience for research. That said, it is also in living labs where the tension between the normative axioms and the precarious implementation of participatory science become succinctly apparent. The full article can be read here.

The “smart village” flourishes—at least in policy papers that envision the revitalization of rural areas through the civic deployment of networked media and telecommunications. Yet while such aspirations are widespread, little is known about the views of those tasked with supervising and supporting digitally driven public participation for rural progress. To address the lack of insight into what these intermediary administrators conceive as catalysts and challenges for the realization of smart village conceptions, we surveyed representatives of regions in Germany who oversee rural development schemes, most notably within the European LEADER framework. For these key actors, digital participation does not mainly hinge on broadband access and IT availability. Instead, they emphasize the importance of human and administrative resources as well as multi-actor collaboration, which we discuss in terms of digital readiness, digital willingness, and digital activity. Building the smart village, we conclude, seems not so much a matter of technological infrastructure but of sociotechnical infrastructuring. Full text can be read here.

This article unpacks the short-lived but momentous buzz around big data. Although talk about big data was once widespread, little is known about the efforts animating its semantics. Tracing this sociotechnical imaginary, we revisit how business insiders and IT commentators fueled the ephemeral yet potent excitement around the term. Our genealogical examination rests on a selection of publications from 2013 to 2017. We employ methods from critical discourse analysis to interrogate how big data was written into being and hyped into a topic of concern. In this aspirational discourse, tech evangelists and writers extrapolated from contexts in which large troves of data were already being harnessed to suggest that inescapable transformations were imminent. They sought to concretize abstract and unfathomable quantities while simultaneously overwhelming their readers with a sense of vastness that exceeds all contexts and outruns the most exuberant expectations. The term may have lost this luster, but big data technologies and practices are an integral part of today’s technological infrastructures. Read the article here.

In this practice insight contribution, we reflect on our learnings from configuring and upholding a living lab as a third place in an urban and distinctively non-academic environment. Trying to make space for an empowering hospitality necessitated withholding our schemes and workshop plans so to facilitate grassroots endeavors on the side of the people dropping in and staying around though they might follow unexpected paths. This follows no blueprint but requires researchers and science communicators to be open to surprises, to be patient and persistent, and to be willing to swap positions and be the learners, not the instructors. While the physical and technical infrastructures were at one point installed, keeping the social infrastructuring of continuous presence running remains an open issue that requires us to rethink how to fund and support living labs and their mission in the long run. Here is the full text.

Looking back at the 2019 Sharpiegate affair, the article investigates the articulation of “pre-truth,” which became evident when a willful ambivalence toward factual evidence dovetailed with a juxtaposition of provisional, future-oriented truth claims. In general, the maneuver works by taking predictive statements from the past and characterizing them as accurate from the standpoint of the present even when superseded by subsequent evidence. The notion of “pre-truth” adds nuance to conceptions of post-truth by looking more closely at the intertwining of veracity and temporality. Drawing lessons from the Sharpiegate affair, we show how the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account was employed to distort meteorological forecasts and challenge journalism’s privilege to premediate events as they unfold. In turn, legacy media organizations struggled to ward off these attacks. We investigate the snowballing U.S. news story around the affair using tweets and articles and reconstruct the frames bolstering the attempted pushback. None of the frames we found were new. Rather, they reflect yet another moment of public consternation and its limitations in coming to terms with the versatile repertoire of populist truth-tampering. Full text can be read here.

In this article, we propose to treat agency as something which is accomplished in the entanglement of humans with technologies. This redirects our attention away from the question of what distinguishes humans from smart machines and towards querying how people and automated apparatuses join in processes of mutual sociomaterial engagement. To further our argument, we look at self-service kiosks, which are ubiquitous yet largely overlooked components of mediated environments. We reflect on a participant observation in groceries stores and interviews with customers familiar with self-checkout facilities. They make us aware that operating this equipment is not an individual affair but a joint activity by default, taking place in a temporally regimented setting prone to human errors and malfunction when people try to respond to the terminals’ protocol. This sort of imperfect automation has ambivalent ramifications which rely on the capabilities of users and the capacities of an interface and its underlying operations. Agency, we conclude, thus becomes a matter of viable performance in which humans may act machine-like while machines perform an expanding share of activities.