The Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society spent 6–8 May 2019 at re:publica 19, where more than 70 guests joined Policy Lab sessions to discuss, consider, argue about, and reflect on how the balance of power and collaborative relationships are evolving in the digital transformation.
The Policy Lab’s current focus: power and collaboration
The digital transformation is changing our day-to-day culture and the way we communicate, learn, read, shop, work, and do business. It is also having a fundamental impact by changing the foundations of our relations – the “between us”, i.e. the public, political, structural and intersubjective, in other words, all the individual facets that make up society.
Questions of power are being reformulated everywhere. In the past, “liquid” images were common: the “sea of data” was casting established forms adrift, borders appeared to be “dissolving”, the “aggregate state of society” seemed to be changing, and “liquid democracy” was discussed as a possible response. In the meantime, it is becoming clearer what the digital transformation is all about: namely a complex and far-reaching shift in the balance of power – may this be the balance between the state and civil society, between producers and consumers, between policymakers and the media, in hierarchies in an education or employment context, between states or companies among themselves, between humans and machines, or the relationship of individuals to themselves. This raises basic questions: what is power in the first place? What distinguishes it from domination? What institutions can render power useful and contain it? Are our checks and balances in politics, society, business, and labour still effective? Or do they need to be updated or realigned? How do we handle power personally? And what does it do to us and our individual relationships?
The awareness of power has been rekindled and can pick up from where comprehensive analyses in earlier centuries left off. The productive aspects of power were described in detail in the 20th century in particular. In this context, a new perspective is emerging from the still young discipline of anthropological collaborative research. According to these findings, the ability to collaborate is the true reason for the success of the human species. For better or for worse, the digital transformation appears to be favouring this ability. Thus, new, digitally organised movements and forms of organisation are growing in importance and, in this way, gaining power, something which is raising entirely new questions.
In a programme extending over a period of roughly one year, the Policy Lab Digital Work & Society within the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs explored the shift in the balance of power and collaborative relationships in the digital transformation. Launched at re:publica 2019 the programme continued to pursue these questions at various events and in various publications until mid-2020.