Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Political Theory

Current research projects

Data Politics Lab

The Data Politics Lab explores how data is generative of new forms of power relations and social transformations. To understand these transformations the lab investigates the social, economic and cultural implications of digital technologies and promotes critical interventions in theory and practice.

The lab’s activities are organised around the following four themes:

  • The politics of data: As digital tools permeate virtually every aspect of our lives, the Lab investigates why data is political and the political always-already technical.
  • Data (in)equality: Digital communication holds both the promise of social interaction and inclusive participation whilst also often reinforcing gender and racial inequalities. How can we imagine more equitable data practices?
  • Automation and the future of democracy: Automation poses various challenges for democratic societies. How is democratic action viable under conditions of automated decision-making?
  • Surveillance and resistance: The changing relationship between technology and society raises questions about the role of domination and emancipation. What are the prospects for resistance in societies shaped by digital capitalism?

The areas of research and debate include (but are not limited to): algorithmic governance, data democracy, digital labour and capitalism, power asymmetries in the digital realm, prediction and the politics of pre-emptive analytics, algorithmic (in)equality, data-related activism, feminist data practices, decolonial data politics, and new forms of identity/collectivity on social media.


Participation and inequality ‘beyond the state’. An explorative study on the opportunities for participation of transnational civil society actors based on the example of institutions of global economic governance

  • funded by the DFG
  • Research associate: Christian Cromm

The project analyses the interactions between political participation and inequality in the context of institutions of "global economic governance". The question is whether and to what extent the opening up of international organizations to the participation of civil society actors in dialogue forums has reduced or strengthened existing structures of inequality, or whether they have even contributed to the establishment of new forms of inequality in global politics. The project is based on the observation that world economic organizations have reacted to accusations of a fundamental lack of legitimacy, which they have increasingly been confronted with since the end of the 1990s, by setting up so-called dialogue forums. These forums combine institutionalized but differentiated possibilities of participation according to status with situationally granted participation by the governing authorities. Preliminary empirical observations carried out in the preparation of this project proposal, which are to be followed up in the framework of the research project, suggest that the dialogue forums are supposed to cement and reinforce inequalities in at least two respects. Firstly, a thematic pre-selection is made, which does not include radical critics of the existing global order (political inequality and inequality of relations) and, secondly, to take part in the discussion on the question of whether or not to be able to deal with them. Against this background, the project pursues a twofold objective: Firstly, it aims to investigate the interactions between the dosed participation in and by means of the dialogue forums on the one hand and inequality structures on the other. As the first exploratory considerations seem to suggest, new forms of inequality have formed through the Dialogue Forums, or old forms, i.e. with a view to colonialism and imperialism, have been continued? Or are inequality structures being broken up and world economic questions politicized by these dosed forms of participation? Does the fact that actors appear in the dialogue forums who represent other views, behavioral patterns or discursive dynamics that were not foreseen in this form develop? Secondly, the research project seeks to reconstruct the ideas of (transnational) democracy and democratic legitimacy that guide and inspire reform efforts in general and the dialogue forums in particular.


Protest and Order. Democratic theory, contentious politics, and the changing shape of western democracies (POWDER)

  • ERC Starting Grant
  • Sole applicant
  • Funding amount: 1.373.000 EUR
  • Starting date: April 1st, 2018 
  • Research associates: Danniel Gobbi, Laura Gorriahn, Anton Haffner, Daniel Staemmler

The research project aims to analyze the interrelationship between protest and political order under the contextual conditions of the changing shape of modern western democracy. Two groups of questions are connected to this study perspective, which will be answered by means of a democratic-theoretically-led synchronous comparison of selected contemporary protest movements – anonymous digital protest movements, transnationally organized alter-globalization protest movements, the No Border movement and the rightwing identitarian protest movement: The aim is to clarify firstly (1) the extent to which the new forms of protest question the premises of democratic orders, what potential for further development lies within the new forms of protest on the one hand, and what are the challenges to democracy on the other. Secondly, the aim is to determine (2) the influence and relevance held by the democratic or-der itself in an age of the changing shape of democracy with regard to the specific formation of the new forms of protest, and what statements can be made on how the formation of the order is changed, in turn, by the new forms of protest themselves. In order to achieve these study perspectives, POWDER consists of an overarching democratic-theoretical framework project (TFP) and four empirical subprojects (SP 1-4), which each analyze one of the protest movements mentioned in the context of a qualitative approach (documentary analysis, participatory observation, qualitative interviews). The comparison of these protest movements investigates (I) recurring patterns, but also contrasting assessments with regard to the interrelationship between the political order and the protest movements, examines at a second level (II) the different manners in which the new forms of protest challenge democratic-theoretical dimensions, and attempts at the third level (III) to reconstruct a general democratic-theoretical determination of meaning of present-day protest movements.