Research initiative: Discourses and practices of digital sovereignty

Digital technologies trigger an intensifying datafication and enable a growing legibility of individual, social and socio-technical processes. Against this background, questions of access to, ownership and protection of data, that is to say questions of the configuration of data circulations are negotiated—often under the label of a “digital sovereignty”.

“Sovereignty”, the “sovereign state”, the “sovereign subject” and the “sovereign organisation” are fundamental concepts of (European) modernity. However, conceiving sovereignty as a form of absolute self-determination has been criticised by many authors as a normative ideal—a myth. Conversely, positing sovereignty as relational de-essentialises and re-conceptualises sovereignty as social, thus enabling us to analyse negotiations of (potentially competing) claims for sovereignty.

The highly interdisciplinary research group “Discourses and Practices of Digital Sovereignty” aims at (I) analysing the debate on “digital sovereignty”, developing a concept of sovereignty as relational, and relating this concept to established disciplinary discussions of the concept of sovereignty.  The findings of “What ‘is’ digital sovereignty?” serve as an overarching framework to be challenged by a closely knit set of empirical studies. In nine empirical research areas (II) new configurations of data circulation are examined (see Fig. 1).

These studies interact along four research axes: Firstly, we compare how claims to sovereignty are articulated by the actors within the respective areas and to what extent the concept of a relational sovereignty helps to understand these empirical cases. Secondly, several studies analyse to what extent intensifying datafication facilitates increasing legibility of individual, social and socio-technical processes and how these growing data legibilities transform socio-economic and socio-political processes—enabling innovations and threatening established structures. Thirdly, intensifying datafication and increasing legibility are closely related to the areas of conflict between (concepts and practices of) data access, data ownership and data protection. At least four of the nine empirical studies deal with these political economies of data.

Last but not least, intensifying datafication and increasing legibility challenge individual and organisational competencies regarding data. Thus, lastly, five projects will deal with questions of data competencies.

Funded by the Emerging Fields Initiative of the FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg:


Sub-projects see here.