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Seminar: Anne Kaun

Time Tuesday 19 September, 2023 at 13:15 - 15:00
Place Humlab

On Prisons, Welfare Service Centers, and Public Libraries: Interfaces and Backends of the Digital Welfare State

You are warmly invited to a seminar with Anne Kaun, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University Sweden.

In this talk, I bring together empirical explorations of institutions at the margins of the digital welfare state, namely the prison, welfare service centers and public libraries. These institutions emerge as interfaces and backends of the digital welfare state. That means they are often the first and sometimes only entry point for marginalized people with the welfare state. Many people interacting with the digital welfare state through these interfaces are newly arrived migrants, economically and socially marginalized as well as people with a learning disability. These institutions undergird invisibly many of the operations of digitalization as large-scale, societal infrastructure project. Through extensive archival and ethnographic work, I explore the prison, welfare service centers and public libraries as constitutive of the digitalization of the welfare state, which has been a stated goal since the first introduction of computers in public administration in the 1970s.

While often neglected in contemporary debates and future visions of welfare that is powered by digital data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, these institutions constitute important pillars and avenues of the governance reform that is the digital welfare state. Their significance emerges in their role for testbedding (surveillance technologies in prisons), maintaining (welfare service centers promoting digital services) and ‘care work’ (public libraries helping digitally excluded to navigate the digital public administration) digital technologies for welfare provision. 

In this talk, I elaborate on the specific character of these spaces, relying on approaches from postcolonial theory, critical design studies as well as science and technology studies, while analytically drawing the contours of the emergent digital welfare state that is currently often presented in relation to the revolutionary potential of algorithmic automation and artificial intelligence, but that was and is grounded in places rarely connected with emergent technologies. Following institutions that are in the margins of yet central to the digital welfare state allows to debunk dominant myths of its efficiency and fairness and reveals that it continues to be based on inequalities and exclusions.

Speaker presentation
Anne Kaun is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University Sweden. She publishes widely on questions of social justice in relation to digital technologies including algorithmic decision-making systems in the public sector across domains. She has been expert advisor on questions of inequality and artificial intelligence for European think tanks, the Swedish government as well as several Swedish public agencies. In her work, she promotes comparative research across welfare domains and across national welfare regimes to better understand the role of technology for human flourishing.


Event type: Seminar