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The Digitalisation of Working Worlds. Conceptualising and Capturing a Systemic Transformation

Mittwoch 30. November 2022

Deadline for Workshop: 13 September 2022

Deadline: 30 November 2022

The Priority Programme assumes that the digitalisation of the worlds of work represents a systemic transformation that will change all the institutional systems of the society of work in a fundamental and lasting way. This programme’s intention is to research the digital transformation as an interaction of three process dimensions in which this socio-technical change is: a) socially prepared, b) technically enabled and c) discursively negotiated and socially mastered. At present, the research on digitalisation is fragmented and focuses strongly on isolated technical phenomena. The Priority Programme, in contrast, seeks to investigate the societal conditions and ways of shaping the current digitalisation of the society of work as a whole as well as the dynamics and impact of this systemic transformation, which is at once nonsynchronous, interdependent and contradictory. The programme plans to achieve and deepen an interdisciplinary combination of perspectives from the social sciences, economics and history on new configurations of work and technology, on multi-layered dynamics of change and on changing forms and places of value creation.

The Priority Programme investigates systemic transformation as a process that simultaneously manifests itself in three overlapping motion dynamics: permeating (e.g. work processes are permeated by digital technologies), making available (e.g. data on individual workers and operations are made available) and perpetuating (e.g. the emergence of autonomous systems). The digital transformation will be investigated at three levels: (1) at the micro level, in the interplay of working subjects/practices with digital artefacts, (2) at the meso level, in the interplay of enterprise and network structures, value chains and digital systems, and (3) at the macro level, in the interplay of social institutional structures and digital infrastructures. From an economic perspective, diminishing effects of information and communication technologies (ICT) on information asymmetries evoked by the interplay of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in different inter- and intra-organisational relationships and compositions of value-adding structures is of particular interest. The programme includes a deep historical understanding of the current transformation process by focusing on actors of digitisation and their negotiation processes as well as on social conflicts from a historical perspective. Further, different temporalities of the process may be analysed as well as questions about long continuities or discontinuities asked. The debate surrounding the 1970s and 1980s as a time of structural change or epochal break is of particular interest.

The Priority Programme comprises two funding phases, each lasting three years. In the first funding phase, the aim was to identify and empirically research the individual structures, processes and mechanisms in which the systemic transformation of the worlds of work manifests. In the second funding phase, the programme will continue to focus on current developments (and asynchronisms) but also on the historical precursors and dynamics of the digital transformation. Overall, the corpus of projects to be funded in the second phase should again ensure a good balance between the micro, meso and macro levels. It is expected that the project proposals refer systematically to the heuristics of motion dynamics described above and locate themselves within them comprehensively. The individual projects are expected to establish interdisciplinary connections between two or more of the fields of research contributing to the Priority Programme. The kind of interdisciplinary collaboration must be specified in the project proposal in terms of content and formats of interdisciplinary exchange. Interdisciplinary collaboration can be realised in different ways: by interdisciplinary projects, in which researchers from different fields of research work together; by organised interdisciplinary collaboration between individual projects; or by obtaining the interdisciplinary expertise necessary to conduct the proposed project in other ways.

The Priority Programme aims to fund projects that will make basic research contributions to the understanding of socio-technical change in the field of digitalisation of the worlds of work. It particularly addresses sociology, economics and history, but also other disciplines of the social sciences that investigate the worlds of work (e.g. political science, ergonomics, work and organisational psychology, economic geography and business informatics, educational research). Project proposals with a comparative design (including international comparisons) are especially welcome.

The research envisaged here is to focus on various forms of paid employment, including dependent employment and self-employment. The projects can focus on the transformation of work in traditional service and industrial sectors as well as on the development of new forms of platform-mediated solo self-employment or digital “shadow” work. The individual projects can examine the forms of digitalisation currently under discussion as well as longer existing automation, computerisation or informatisation phenomena and thus the digital transformation of historically conditioned processes and developments.

All applicants are invited to participate in a workshop that will provide detailed scientific and administrative information on the call. The workshop will be held online, on the 16 September 2022, 10 am to 3 pm (approximately). To register for the event, please send an e-mail to: jennifer.seemann@dfg.de, not later than 13 September 2022.

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