Quantification and Social Regulation - Project at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society


The research group “Quantification and Social Regulation” investigates how regulation changes when it makes use of contemporary automated information and decision-making systems. Ubiquitous computing, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) entail new practices of quantification and valuation whose role for regulation and for democracy require further examination. The research group undertakes this endeavor by combining perspectives from social science and computer science.

Regulation as a feature of modern societies

Regulation can be understood as the intentional steering of individual and corporative actors’ behavior by state and non-state organizations and is a key component of modern social life. Forms of regulation change with the underlying practices and technologies: at present, big data and artificial intelligence raise questions about changes in regulation the same way the development of statistics and accounting did in the past.

Influence of modern computer technology on regulatory processes

Digital technologies increasingly pervade modern societies at all levels. Individual life decisions are more and more shaped by online environments and digital devices. Concurrently, state, political and economic organizations increasingly adopt algorithmic procedures and AI to optimize their workflows. Modern computer technologies seem to render regulation more encompassing, tailored and effective – simply more powerful.

Analysis of concrete cases

Yet only empirical studies can reveal how exactly automated information and decision-making systems work in a specific institutional context and how they are interrelated with organizational structures, power relations, and professional norms and identities. We thus analyze concrete cases where quantification and datafication are deployed in regulation. These include big data and AI in policing, in social policy, for jurisdiction, for policy-design, in the development of political strategies, in social sciences and in the management of labor.

The research group is composed of scholars from political science, sociology and computer science and positions itself in the research fields of governance and regulation research, public policy research, the sociologies of classification, quantification and valuation as well as in science and technology studies, critical computer science and critical algorithm studies.

A detailed project description can be found here.

Website: https://weizenbaum-institut.de/en/research/rg18/

Contact person: Dr. Lena Ulbricht

Main content

Selected Publications

Eyert, Florian (2020): "Agent-based Modeling und Politikberatung". In: Tanja Klenk/Frank Nullmeier/Göttrik Wewer (Hg.): Handbuch Digitalisierung in Staat und Verwaltung. Living Reference Work. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 1-12 (online publiziert 07.02.2020).
Ulbricht, Lena (2020): "Data mining für responsive Politikgestaltung". In: Tanja Klenk/Frank Nullmeier/Göttrik Wewer (Hg.): Handbuch Digitalisierung in Staat und Verwaltung. Living Reference Work. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 1-10 (online publiziert 01.01.2020).
Katzenbach, Christian/Ulbricht, Lena (2019): "Algorithmic Governance". In: Internet Policy Review - Journal on Internet Regulation, Vol. 8, No. 4, Special Issue "Defining Concepts of the Digital Society", edited by Christian Katzenbach/Thomas Christian Bächle, S. 1-18.
Ulbricht, Lena (2019): "Big Data und Governance im digitalen Zeitalter". In: Jeanette Hofmann/Norbert Kersting/Claudia Ritzi/Wolf J. Schünemann (Hg.): Politik der digitalen Gesellschaft. Zentrale Problemfelder und Forschungsperspektiven. Politik in der digitalen Gesellschaft, Bd. 1. Bielefeld: transcript, S. 289-307.
Ulbricht, Lena/Römer, Magnus (2019): "Vielfalt und Einheitlichkeit in der deutschen Datenschutzaufsicht". In: Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft/Comparative Governance and Politics, Jg. 13, H. 4, S. 461-489.
Eyert, Florian/Berg, Sebastian (2018): "Ein neues Recht für die digitale Gesellschaft? Tagungsbericht 'Demokratie und Künstliche Intelligenz' (Trier)". In: Theorieblog.de - Politische Theorie, Philosophie & Ideengeschichte, 22.03.2018.
Eyert, Florian/Irgmaier, Florian/Ulbricht, Lena (2018): "Algorithmic Social Ordering. Towards a Conceptual Framework". In: Günter Getzinger (Ed.): Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies. Conference Proceedings of the 17th STS Conference Graz 2018, 7th-8th May 2018. Graz: Verlag der Technischen Universität Graz, S. 48-57.
Kappler, Karolin/Schrape, Jan-Felix/Ulbricht, Lena/Weyer, Johannes (2018): "Societal Implications of Big Data". In: KI - Künstliche Intelligenz, Vol. 32, No. 1, Special Issue "Algorithmic Challenges and Opportunities of Big Data", edited by Kristian Kersting/Ullrich Meyer, S. 55-60. (vorab online publiziert 20.12.2017)
Ulbricht, Lena (2018): "When big Data Meet Securitization. Algorithmic Regulation with Passenger Name Records". In: European Journal for Security Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, S. 139-161.