Subprojects | Project Area B | Spaces of Digital Mediatisation

Control/Space: The Spatiality of Digital Infrastructures in Contextures, Maps and Discourses

In the first funding period, the subproject’s focus lay on the question of how digital mediatization affects the work of and in control rooms. Changes in translocal control work were particularly evident in the phenomenon of polycontexturalization, i.e., the simultaneous observation and management of a wide variety of spaces. This is made possible by the digital integration of control centers, which connects human control actions as part of cyber-physical systems with the controlled spaces.

In the second funding period, the subproject will investigate the spatiality of digital infrastructures focusing on control and data centers of “the Internet”. In doing so, we use the insight gained during the first phase that the control of infrastructures remains dependent on interpreting agents despite progressing automation. A broadening of our research perspective seems necessary, since digital infrastructures exhibit their own materiality and spatiality and are closely connected to both representations that guide action as well as spatial imaginaries. In order to engage with the complex spatiality of digital infrastructures, we follow a threefold strategy: Following on from the first funding period, we (a) use focused ethnography, videography, and expert interviews to examine what can be understood as “control spaces of the Internet”, that is, the contextures of control work in data centers and Internet Exchange Points. In a diachronic as well as synchronic comparison, we (b) collect typical chartings and mappings of the Internet since the late 1960s and analyze them from the perspective of the sociology of knowledge. With the help of discourse analysis, we (c) collate the imaginaries and metaphorical descriptions of digital spaces as they can be found in governmental, scientific, entrepreneurial, net activist, and pop cultural texts. The empirical entry points are Germany and India. From the triangulation of the three project levels, we expect to unfold a complex understanding of the spatiality of digital infrastructures. The project thus aims at an understanding of the refiguration of spaces generated by digital mediatization. It intends to further define the spatial figure of the network (as well as possible conflicts with other spatial figures) and addresses the connection between space, infrastructural regimes, and power in a comparative way that also promises to provide insights into the multiple spatialities of the digital.


Phase 1 (2018-2021)

Centres of Coordination: The Polycontexturalisation of Power in Control Rooms

The focus of the research project “Centres of Coordination” is on control rooms and coordination centres, in particular those of “Smart Cities” that are equipped with technical information and communication systems and infrastructures to monitor, record and regulate specific processes within a controlled area. Since these centres are an emblem for the translocalisation and mediatisation of spaces, the aim is not only to observe and explain particular changes, but also to use this information as an indication for the overall re-figuration of spaces in late modernity.

Considering recent developments of communication technology, we are, on the one hand, interested in the mediatisation of communicative actions within and between control rooms, as well as in transformations concerning the relation between control rooms and their external environment. On the other hand, we investigate the impact of ever-changing mediatisation processes on modes of control, the ways in which they influence communicative action in control rooms, and how this leads to changes in the way space is perceived, performed and synthesised.

In order to capture long-term changes since 1990, former control room data will be compared to videographic surveys from currently operating control rooms, in addition to research on advanced “integrated operations centres” in Smart Cities.

We are confident that our empirical analysis has ample potential to further clarify the polycontexturalisation of space, particularly in terms of shifts in social control and power.