IPSA’s 2017 International Conference on “Political Science in the Digital Age: Mapping Opportunities, Perils and Uncertainties” was held at the spectacular Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover, Germany from December 4 to 6, 2017. The conference drew about 200 high-profile participants from all branches of political science as well as various foundations, research institutes, thinks tanks and publishing houses across the world.
The event gave scholars from various world regions the opportunity to reflect on the state of the discipline and the considerable challenges posed by digitalization. It was also intended to foster regional stock-taking and promote further exchanges between IPSA officials and members of IPSA’s national political science associations and research committees.
Some 24 panels and seven roundtables provided ample opportunity to bring a multi-pronged approach to the discussion on digitalization by drawing on all subfields of political science. Rounding out the conference were peripheral events, including a book panel with Peter Cowhey (San Diego) and Jonathan Aronson (University of Southern California), presenting their pathbreaking examination on “Digital DNA Disruption and the Challenges for Global Governance.” Workshops on methods were offered as well, and SAGE hosted a reception to present the new textbook by Leonardo Morlino, Dirk Berg-Schlosser and Bertrand Badie, entitled Political Science - A Global Perspective.
The conference opened Monday, December 4, with warm words of welcome from Program Chairs Marianne Kneuer and Helen Milner, as well as the head of the Volkswagen Foundation, Wilhelm Krull, and IPSA-President Ilter Turan. Marianne Kneuer, who also serves as first Vice President of IPSA, outlined the idea and genesis of the conference. All speakers highlighted the crucial relevance of digitalization in our personal lives and for our profession and discipline. Taking up this point, Helen Milner spoke about the dual nature of digitalization—its enormous benefits, and the daunting challenges it raises.
José van Dijck, a leading media and digital culture scholar and current president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, provided further insight with her keynote lecture. She pointed to the personal and societal implications of the digital age by providing a taxonomy of the means used by the “big five” companies (including Google, Facebook and Apple) to shape the online world. This “platformization” across several sectors of society, according to van Dijck, raises the question of how to hold companies accountable for their actions and protect public values in the digital age. One of van Dijck’s conclusions was that interdisciplinary research on these issues is paramount.
This interdisciplinary and multifaceted outlook was the driving force behind the panel sessions held over the course of three-day conference. For example, the panel on MOOCs as an electronic teaching method, chaired by Mauro Calise (University of Naples), provided practical tips on creating MOOCs and discussed some of the challenges faced by political scientists on the ever-evolving MOOC landscape. A panel on Gender Divides, chaired by Asha Gupta from the University of Delhi, helped theorize the “digital divide,” citing India as a case study to measure this divide in the Global South. A panel on Cybersecurity, chaired by Ronald Deibert (University of Toronto), provided an overview of the latest research on cybersecurity. The conference was equally well positioned in the field of methods: A panel chaired by Zachary Elkins (University of Texas) and Matthias Koenig (University of Göttingen) discussed the methodological challenges of setting up a database meant to provide an overview of rights granted under a large sample of the world’s constitutions. Another methods panel was chaired by Margaret Roberts from the University of San Diego.
In order to facilitate regional stocktaking of digitalization across various world regions, five roundtables focused on the status of research and teaching in political science, specifically in regards to digitalization from Latin America to Asia-Pacific, and helped identify future challenges likely to arise for the discipline. This regional stocktaking made clear that the ways in which digitalization is being implemented and perceived vary from region to region, but also within regions. Thanks to the rapporteurs to the roundtables on regional perspectives, IPSA will explore these differences in greater detail in a publication scheduled for next year.
Finally, two roundtables addressed the practical dimensions of publishing and editing, as well as political consulting. Paul Godt, Editor of IPSA’s International Political Science Abstracts, chaired the roundtable on “Digitalization as Challenge for Publishing and Editing,” opening the floor for a lively discussion between representatives of German-based international publishing houses, including Springer VS and Barbara Budrich, on current challenges in the field of journalism.
The roundtable on “Digitalization as Challenge for Political Consulting,” chaired by Marianne Kneuer, sparked a discussion involving representatives from two major German political foundations (Johanna Niesyto of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and Viola Neu of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation) as well as Wilhelm Krull, head of the Volkswagen Foundation, and Jeanette Hofmann (Berlin Social Science Center). While the challenges digitalization presents for survey research at political foundations were debated, Wilhelm Krull shared his view of recent developments in science management, while Jeanette Hofmann provided insights into the nexus between political consulting and practical politics, citing the commissions of inquiry set up by the German Bundestag.
In her closing statement, Marianne Kneuer again took the opportunity to thank all those who supported the conference, in particular the VW Foundation for its considerable financial support, the German Research Foundation and German Political Science Association, which provided travel grants for Global South scholars, and the University of Hildesheim. She concluded by saying that the event was richly rewarding and informative, helping build new networks and serving as an inspiration for future work within IPSA.
Please visit the IPSA website at https://www.ipsa.org/news/latest for further information on the conference.