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Public Goods and Private Data: A Dialogue on Infrastructures of Publics

Boris Vormann

Christoph Raetzsch


Infrastructures are conspicuous for their opacity. They are in Susan Leigh Star’s definition “something that other things ‘run on’”. They operate in the background of systems and become visible to users only when they stop or fail to function. With more processes of public concern running on private data and proprietary business models, we need to embed more attention to the menial ways in which infrastructures reshape the definition of public goods. What are the new infrastructures of publics and how do they remodel concepts of power, participation and equality? In this dialogue between political science and media studies, we want to address the notion of infrastructures of publics to offer analytic inroads to the changing nature of public goods and private data. The presentation is a joint exploration of how cities, global networks and digital communication assume infrastructural functions for publics, which are increasingly beyond the control of elected governments and citizens.

Biography: Boris Vormann

Boris Vormann is professor of politics and the head of the politics concentration at Bard College Berlin. He is also an associated researcher at the Chaire de Recherche du Canada en Études Québécoises et Canadiennes (CRÉQC), Université du Québec à Montréal, and affiliate at New York University's Institute for Public Knowledge. Vormann has held visiting positions at the CUNY Graduate Center, Harvard University, New York University and Sciences Po. He has lectured widely, in Germany and abroad, including talks and seminars in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Jordan. His research and teaching concentrate on key aspects of global governance, focusing specifically on the relationship between urbanization and globalization; changes in state-market relations and federalism as well as nations and nationalism. His most recent books are Die Krise der Demokratie (The Crisis of Democracy, Aufbau, 2017), Global Port Cities in North America: Urbanization Processes and Global Production Networks (Routledge, 2015) and a handbook on politics and policy in the United States (Springer VS 2016).

Biography: Christoph Raetzsch

Christoph Raetzsch is a post-doctoral research in media and journalism studies covering the fields of media history and digital journalism, media technologies and semantic structures, as well as qualitative methods for digital data. Currently, he is developing the concept of communicative objects in relation to the study of performative publics, challenging the centrality of journalism and journalistic media for the emergence of publics. Previously, he has been a researcher in the project OrganiCity (AU) and held lecturer positions in media and communication studies at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Christoph Raetzsch was Vice Chair of the Digital Culture and Communication Section of ECREA 2014–2016. His research has been published internationally in Digital Journalism, Journalism Practice, Journalism Studies, Tecnoscienza, Media History and the Journal of Computational Culture. Most recently, he has published an edited volume (with S. Foellmer and M. Lünenborg) on Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches (Routledge 2018).