spring in Berlin

We are in Berlin! And the sun has come out! :)
I’ll be based at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. I’m excited to be working with Christian Katzenbach and all the other great HIIG people. There are a couple of things I’ll be doing here – besides hanging out with the family and doing fancy Berlin stuff 😉

  1. Christian and I are organizing the workshop “We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. We are happy about the awesome line-up and that Sally Wyatt will deliver a keynote. Given the great number and variety of submissions we’re also thinking about putting together a special issue on the matter. So stay tuned!
  2. I’ll be doing fieldwork! Two out of my three case studies on alternative search engines – the open web index and the peer-to-peer search engine YaCy – are based in Germany. I’ll take the opportunity to do interviews and, most probably, mind-scripting workshops with the developer teams (in cooperation with my ITA colleague Doris Allhutter). In addition, I’ll go to the Open Tech Summit to enjoy some more of the free software spirit. It always feels good to go right “into the field”.IMG_5243
  3. I’ll be talking about my habilitation project “Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions and values in the shaping of search engines” (FWF) on various occasions. At the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society as part of their brown bag lunch series. At the Freie Universität Berlin, Human-Centered Computing, where Claudia Müller-Birn kindly invited me. Maybe – most probably not – at the Re:Publica where I got a rejection at the last minute (they call it “long list” since there is the option to drop in if someone else drops out; I’d call it waiting list..)
  4. Some other things are still to be explored.. It’s only week two.
  5. But the kids are alright..


“we are on a mission”

This is great news! I’ll be based in Berlin at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in April and May 2018!!! yay!

As part of this research stay Christian Katzenbach and I are organizing a workshop on the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. It will take place on 27 April 2018 at the HIIG in Berlin. We are really happy that Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University) will hold a keynote!!

WeAreOnAMission_Banner_2See further details of the workshop here. If you’d like to participate in the workshop, please send an english language abstract (300-500 words) until 2 March 2018 (beware of the tight deadline!!!). We encourage you to also submit work-in-progress.

Please contact me if you have further questions! We’re looking forward to your contributions!

Here’s the full CfP:

“We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology

Call for Abstracts
Deadline: 02.03.2018


Friday, 27 April 2018

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Französische Straße 9,

10117 Berlin, Germany

Keynote: Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University)

“We are on a mission to build a more open, accessible, and fair financial future, one piece of software at a time” promises the software platform Blockchain. “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving” envisions the self-driving car company Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.). “The Regulation is an essential step to strengthen citizens’ fundamental rights in the digital age and facilitate business by simplifying rules for companies in the Digital Single Market” claims the European Commission with regard to the General Data Protection Regulation.

These examples show how imaginaries of future societies are enacted to promote digital innovations or legitimate certain modes of internet governance. They illustrate how software providers, tech companies and legislators dig into the rich pool of cultural norms, visions and values to support (or question) digital tools, rules and regulations. Future prospects seem to be central for making decisions in the present.

What role do future imaginaries perform in the making and governing of present digital technology? How are they mobilised to push or oppose digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain technology or open source/open data projects? How are prospective imaginaries shaped in policy discourses and governance practices regarding networked technology and global data flows? What significance do European specificities have in global technology imaginations? Can different mechanisms be identified in mainstream discourses and counter-narratives? What happens if future scenarios are contested and digital promises become contradictory?

Themes of the Workshop

These are central questions to be discussed in our workshop. We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions that help us understand how the future is mobilized to make and govern digital technology in the present.

The workshop is organized around three central themes:

  1. Theories and concepts to analytically grasp future visions and their roles in the making and governance of digital technology
  2. Methods and tools to analyze the nexus between future imaginations and their functions in and impact on policy-making and technology development
  3. Empirical research and case studies on future imaginaries and their roles in the making and governing of present digital technology


We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions from various disciplines that speak to the themes of the workshop. Please send an english language 300–500 word abstract including title that describes your contribution to the workshop. We encourage you to submit work-in-progress.

Abstracts are submitted via e-mail to astrid.mager@oeaw.ac.at before 2 March 2018. We will send out notifications on 13 March 2018.


Astrid Mager

Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences
Elise Richter Fellow, Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project no. V511-G29

Christian Katzenbach
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society


#ITAwien @ knappenhof

I spent the first days of the week in a wonderful hotel in the middle of Austrian nowhere; or more specifically: in the hotel Knappenhof, close to Reichenau half-way on the Rax. A picture describes the place the best, I guess.

The reason for this trip to the countryside was my first “ITA Klausur”, which annually takes place in June. The major task of our intense three-day meeting was a kind of self-discovery in times of budget cuts and precarious futures. The SOS ÖAW initiative speaks for itself. Despite these challenges – or maybe even because of them – we had very productive discussions on mission statements, PR work, academic work flows and policy advice, evaluation criteria of scientific and consulting achievements, discrepancy between long-term measures and short-term goals, integration of different employment contracts, perspectives and needs, and – last but not least – the very nature of technology assessment and its role in academia, society and the policy realm. We finally made a list of different tasks and identified measures how to reach them in due time.

Even though a lot of work lies ahead of us the atmosphere and general “vibes” were really positive and motivating. The ITA culture of communication seems to be pretty inclusive, democratic and well balanced. Having just started my job in March, and hence still being an ITA “novice”, I felt very welcome and integrated. The Klausur was a really good opportunity to gain insights in both ITA dynamics and the nitty-gritty of technology assessment! (Hopefully the weather will be better next time!)

issue mapping online / london

That’s how issue mapping looks like when new media scholars from Goldsmiths, Sociology/ London and the Digital Methods Initiative/ Amsterdam meet. Rather than lectures and passive entertainment the workshop consisted of hands-on projects carried out on site and actual work. As always, a highly enjoyable exercise! Compared to the Digital Methods Summer School annually taking place in Amsterdam more “issue experts” – from the Open Society Foundations, for example – were involved this time. Their practical knowledge and expertise in certain issue areas clearly stimulated the discussions since issue mapping requires both software tools/ visualization techniques AND background knowledge on the object of study – be it climate change, ageing or privacy. Only the combination of “digital methods” and “issue expertise” produces new insights and findings in my opinion (even though we didn’t carry out the Turing test to proof this hypothesis 😉 )

The workshop was organized by Noortje Marres & Carolin Gerlitz – both from Goldsmiths. It is well documented on the website issuemapping.net (including the workshop agenda, readings and a box of tools and tactics for “Issue Mapping Online”). A second workshop is planned for the fall; not least to think about future projects and further software developments; since issue mapping means constant experimentation with and refinements of the methods at hand.

“Black Box Suchmaschine” Video Archive

Yesterday we had a great event at the Museumsquartier in Vienna: our “Themenabend Black Box Suchmaschine” (see program below). For those who missed the event and can’t wait to watch it online (or parts of it 😉 ) we archived the video stream here:

Thanks to Axel Kittenberger for the technical support & the stream! & everyone, who participated and made this evening a great contribution to the politics of search, modes of ordering knowledge, privacy and regulation (which triggered a heated debate, as you can see towards the end of the video)..

Finally, René König presented the newly formed network Re:Search – a mailinglist established in co-operation with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam (Geert Lovink). Subscribing to the list is only the first step, further activities will follow – Blog posts on the Society of the Query Blog, events, a publication hopefully! So stay tuned 😉

workshop “studying digital cultures” / lund

I just returned from a great workshop on “studying digital cultures” organized by Jutta Haider, Sara Kjellberg, Joost van de Weijer & Marianne Gullberg (from HEX, the Humanities Lab, and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences). They invited me and Kim Holmberg (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University/ Finland) to present tools and methods to study digital cultures. Drawing on our own work we presented, explained and discussed the tools we used and for what purposes.

Referring to his dissertation work Kim presented tools, which have been developed by Mike Thelwall, the SocSciBot and LexiURL in particular. Since I’ve been reading quite some of Thelwall’s publications I found it highly interesting to learn more about the technicalities involved in these link network visualization methods. If you’re willing to invest some time to understand the various tools (and have a PC since the tools don’t work on macs) you could do some pretty neat stuff with them (including YouTube searches with LexiURL). The advantage of these tools is that they are free to use; the downside of LexiURL is that it only includes Bing searches. Besides serious research tools Kim also showed us some fun stuff including the Twitter Sentiment Analysis Tool or the We Feel Fine websites, that enables you to explore human emotions (both didn’t seem to work properly though, but try it for yourself).

© photo credits: digital cultures blog

Compared to the methods Kim presented the tools developed by Richard Rogers and his team are user-friendly and easy to use. Both the Issuecrawler and related tools, such as the Issue Discovery tool or the Google scraper, are ready-made software packages that allow the user to create link network visualizations by clicking on a number of settings (which make them appealing to social sciences and humanities scholars with limited technical skills and less appealing to people, who want to modify/ adapt the tools for their own research purposes, as I’d assume). To really understand what you see on the Issuecrawler link network maps, however, also requires a certain understanding of the software and the algorithm it incorporates, which I tried to explain during the workshop by walking participanst through the software. The log-in for the Issuecrawler is easy to get and 10 crawls are for free. After that individual terms of use may be negotiated depending on whether researchers have funding or not. For more advanced users I suggested Gephi.org, a network visualization tool free to use with great capacities (ask Bernhard Rieder for details, he knows all about it). Finally, we played around with Wordle, a tool that creates beautiful issue clouds out of text (with one mouse click).

After the presentations participants tried to make use of the tools for their own research purposes. It was a mixed crowd with different research interests, which was fun. Further, Joost van de Weijer showed us the Lund Humanities Lab, which appeared to be really different from the Umeå HUMlab since it mainly focuses on eye tracking, motion tracking and similar technologies (it was impressive to see their “experiment” rooms!). All in all we had a great time and a delicious dinner after a long day of digital work 😉 Thanks again to the organizers for having made this event happen & all the participants for having shared their ideas with us! Finally, I want to thank Olof Sundin, who gave me the opportunity to speak about digital methods in his methods seminar, and Karolina Lindh, who let me and Mike Frangos stay at her gorgeous apartment in Lund. You guys really made my stay – as always – a great pleasure! Take care & hope to see you again soon!!!