Historical Social Research - Special Issue
Digital Transformation(s) On the Entanglement of Long-Term Processes andDigital Social Change There is broad consensus in both academic and public discourse that the omnipresent transformation process subsumed under the term ›digitalization‹ is one (if not the major) dominant driving force of social change in contemporary society. A broad range of disciplinary perspectives and research areas are focusing their interest on digital phenomena and conducting intensive empirical research. However, studies of digital transformation have largely concentrated on contemporary manifestations, with little attention paid to the socio-historical conditions in which digital(ized) social change occurs. Consequently, works on methodology by process-oriented scholars have only been used to a very limited extent to understand the historical antecedents and heterogeneous entanglements that have led to the evolution of contemporary society›s digital transformation. In this special issue, we are soliciting interdisciplinary, socio-historical, and comparative perspectives that address the structural characteristics of the current digital transformation and thereby demonstrate the ›added value‹ of a process-oriented and cross-cultural comparative perspective on digitalization research.
In current fields of research on digitalization, the technologies under analysis are as multifaceted (Gläser et al. 2018) as the socio-technical constellations in which they cause social change and are actively shaped. Research projects are evaluating digital change at all levels of social aggregation, such as society (Zuboff 2018; Schultze et al. 2018; Nassehi 2019), the global re-figuration of spaces driven by digitalization (Bratton 2016; Knoblauch & Löw 2018; Möllers 2020), and organizations (Büchner 2018a; Alaimo & Kallinikos 2020). There are also numerous studies on the effects of digitalization in particular areas of society, such as digital (surveil-lance) capitalism (Schiller 2000; Zuboff 2015, 2018), digitalized health care, or (technological) assistants (Biniok & Lettkemann 2017). Additional lines of enquiry include the changes wrought upon lifeworlds, daily routines, and practices by digitalization or the mediatization of everyday life (Hepp 2018; Faimau 2018). Another focus of interest is clustered around prominent digital technologies, such as studying the potentials and effects of big data (Constantiou & Kallinikos 2015; Diaz-Bone 2019; Baur et al. 2020), the platform economy (Gillespie 2018; Egbert 2019; Alaimo & Kallinikos 2020; Kirchner & Matiaske 2020), or artificial intelligence (Bader & Kaiser 2019; Bechmann & Bowker 2019; Grønsund & Aanestad 2020), all of which are fundamentally transforming ongoing social processes. Hence, there is no doubt that a fundamental transformation process of the social and economic institutions of contemporary society has taken place in recent years.
If we reflect on this profound diagnosis from a process-oriented and socio-historical perspective, the assumed certainty of the digital transformation‹s omnipresence and its alleged coherence becomes much less clear. From a methodological point of view and with an interest in comparative analysis, the term ›transformation‹ raises the questions as to which (pre-)existing structures are transformed by digitalization, digitization, and datafication (Leonardi & Treem 2020, Jarke & Breiter 2020), and how this occurs. Such questions help sharpening the focus on the modus operandi of digital transformations and specifying the causal paths along which digital transformation occurs (Büchner & Hergesell 2021). What is specific about social changes referred to as ›digital transformation‹? What is new about the modus of digitally induced social change, for instance in comparison to previous fundamental social epochs, such as the Renaissance or Industrialization? From a cultural-historical viewpoint, this also leads directly to the question of what specific qualities are evinced by (extremely heterogeneous) digital technologies, particularly in comparison to earlier technologies with transformative potentials, such as the epoch-making invention of the yoke, the steam engine, the alphabet or the broad introduction of business analytics in the 1950s (Aradau & Blanke 2016). This is where we see the strong potential of process-oriented and cultural comparative perspectives: They allow a deep and contextualized understanding of digital transformation and its socio-historical origins in order to identify and explain the sociogenesis of digital phenomena and their integration into extant processes (see Schützeichel 2004; Bowker 2014; Schwietring 2015).
This Special Issue aims at gathering interdisciplinary contributions that, irrespective of their empirical subjects or theoretical approaches, involve one or several of the following process-oriented and cultural comparative issues:
- Identification of Temporal Patterns in Digital Transformation Processes
- Comparative and Cross-Cultural Digitalization Research
- The Micro-, Meso- and Macro-Level of Social Change in the Digital Transformation