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In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

For a few hours today, Uber users could view their passenger rating thanks to a how-to posted by Aaron Landy. Uber gives both passengers and drivers ratings, probably by averaging the post-ride ratings each gets, and they affect whether riders can get picked up and whether drivers keep their jobs.

UberlogoPassenger ratings like these raise two kinds of concerns: first, that opaque and inaccessible metrics don’t allow for recourse or even explanation; and second that driver ratings aren’t very consistent or reliable raw material for those metrics.

You hear stories from people who missed a pickup because of buggy notifications, for example, and those people all of a sudden just can’t catch a cab. Any kind of technical error can skew the ratings, but because they’re invisible they’re also treated as infallible.

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Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939

(Wikimedia; CC-BY-SA-3.0-de)

“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben).

The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
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This blog is provided by our guest blogger Kristen Hopewell. Kristen Hopewell is an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada and has been a visitor of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in 2013.

After protracted and contentious negotiations among trade ministers in Bali last month, the WTO announced agreement on a new global trade deal.  The so-called “Bali package” is being touted as an historic achievement and a victory for the WTO.

However, such claims should be met with considerable skepticism.  In reality, the deal stuck at Bali is of limited consequence and the hype surrounding it is intended to mask the deeper failure of the Doha Round. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Baby trade is likely to continue to grow, partly it is no longer simply a response to wars and humanitarian crises. For better or worse, it now behaves much like a commodities market, with demand informing supply; and neither demand nor supply is likely to subside.” – Ethan Kapstein 2003

Since Madonna and Angelina Jolie famously adopted children from Africa, the international adoption system is under fire.  The suspicion is that the system may be driven by market forces and profit seeking, and that regulations and international conventions just camouflage (illegal) market practices and facilitate the trafficking of children.  Clearly, international adoptions are serious normative and political issues for the “sending” countries because children are normally understood as “sacred” and are loaded “with sentimental or religious meaning” (Zelizer 1985: 11). They should be protected, educated and loved.

The international dispersion of these ideas is reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which has been signed by 193 countries until now, who

proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance …  [children] should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding …  in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Extra commercium

The idea of child protection clearly reserves them “a separate noncommercial place, extra-commercium” (Zelizer, ibid.). However, although it is prohibited, child trafficking is still a worldwide phenomenon. Usually it takes place between “Third World” countries and the industrialized western world, and it appears in different forms. Especially the practice of “child laundering” has gained high attention. Read the rest of this entry »

This guest post is provided by Milford Bateman who is a Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila University of Pula in Croatia and a development consultant. He recently accepted a two-month position as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Development Studies at St Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, Canada, to be taken up in late 2013.

Four of the most high-profile research teams have in recent months released papers summarising the results of multi-year projects that aimed to assess the impact of microcredit. All of these projects claim to have found some small residual value in the increasingly de-bunked concept of microcredit which, the authors quickly go on to say, suggests to them that it is too early to agree with the growing number of nay-sayers and abandon the microcredit model in favour of other local development models.  The four papers I refer to are:

Dazzling econometrics and pioneering impact methodologies aside, the most important thing these four papers all have in common is actually something else: they all go to great lengths to avoid exploring the most awkward downside issues that lie at the heart of microcredit and, to do so, they choose to deploy some faulty logic along the way. Read the rest of this entry »

On the night of the December 14, 2012, a 25 year old woman was sedated with date rape drugs in Cologne, Germany, and subsequently raped. When the police and medical authorities took her for medical checkup and evidence collection, two hospitals refused to treat her and prescribe emergency contraception.  Both hospitals were run by the Catholic Church. The doctors told the woman that emergency contraception was not in line with the worldview of their employer. Media reported that the doctors feared to lose their jobs.

The incidence was only picked up a couple of months later by the press; however it provoked harsh public criticism against the Catholic Church. The negative publicity fell on fruitful ground. Earlier in the same year there had been an intense media discourse about alleged inappropriate behavior of Catholic welfare providers. A female manager of a Catholic day care facility had been fired after the woman had divorced and moved in with a new partner.  The church argued that “not keeping faith ’til death” was incompatible with the Catholic worldview and hence the woman had to go. The press dug out similar cases where Catholic welfare providers had decided not to employ or to fire people due to their homosexuality or because they had divorced.

The German public was puzzled: how could it be that in a society  in which regular churchgoers barely make up more than 10 percent of the West and 3 percent of the East German electorate, the Church maintains such a strong normative grip on society?

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This post is provided by guest blogger André Förster who studies the Masters program “Sociology and empirical social Research” at the University of Cologne. Alongside his studies, he works as a student assistant at gesis – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne.

book cover

Mark R. Beissinger, 2002: Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In this important book Mark R. Beissinger, director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) and former professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sets out to explain how the collapse of the Soviet State  became viewed from the impossible to the inevitable within only a few years. While many studies refer to the inherent logic of the communist system as the main reason for its disintegration, Beissinger highlights the importance of nationalist events that took place during the years 1987 to 1991. Based on rich quantitative and qualitative data, the author argues that the tidal impact of these demonstration and protest events and their cross-country influence shaped a phase of history, in which institutions were changed not as the result of an inherent logic, but rather through the whole process itself.

Beissinger’s book offers a very productive combination of transnational and comparative sociological analysis. In the following review, I will focus on the second and fifth chapter of the book, in which Beissinger explains how the transnational glasnost tide of nationalism evolved and why some movements of nationalism succeded while others failed. On the basis of Beissinger’s analysis I will show that the development and the success of nationalist movements can be explained from a transnational perspective, whereas the failure of movements can rather be explained from a comparative view. Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde of the University of Southern Denmark.

As evidenced by inventive movements and campaigns (for a future example see Half the Sky Movement: The Game), the field of charity is undergoing considerable dynamics. As a skeptically-optimistic observer, I am happy to see research that explores such developments against the backdrop of broader material and social change, appreciating their innovativeness and critically questioning the suppositions, mechanics and stakes at play.

I recently stumbled upon a book sharing my skeptical optimism. Surveying historical change in Amnesty International and Oxfam advertising, Chouliaraki argues that poverty is increasingly instrumentalized, setting the focus on the “self” (of the Western donor), turning charity into an ironic spectacle largely shaped by “compassion fatigue” (a.k.a. avoiding stuff that is unpleasant). Rather than amplifying the voice of those in need, many charities end up prioritizing the interests/pleasures of donors.

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This post is provided by our guest blogger Moritz Heumer.

The winning streak of the German Pirate Party is continuing with the latest success of entering the Saarland parliament. Recent polls for the national election suggest that the pirates might reach 11 percent of votes. The continued success of the pirates raises doubts about claims of their gains being entirely based on protest voters. What are the supporters of the Pirate Party then voting for? In this blog I will argue that the Pirates are addressing highly topical issues that are not dealt with by other parties. By doing so they appeal to primarily young voters, especially the digital natives. Based on an analysis of the German Pirate Party’s wikis, I was able to trace its links to other actors which are part of a social movement with transnational scope. This social movement is aiming for policy changes in different fields that are connected with issues arising from the digital revolution. The formation of parties is one element of the mobilization repertoire of this movement. The rise and diffusion of Pirate Parties, itself a transnational phenomenon, therefore cannot be  understood without connecting to the frame of reference that was created by other actors who previously dealt with similar issues.

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This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Faculty of Economics (FELU) at the University of Ljubljana/Slovenia. He is also running a personal blog at bajde.net.

In one of his depressingly amusing anecdotes Ronald Reagan suggests that in the US ‘War on poverty’ (declared by Lyndon B. Johnson two decades earlier) ‘poverty won.’ In the decades that followed, Reagan’s smug conclusion has resonated with many who have either lost faith in organized political/governmental action against poverty or have altogether refused to conceive of poverty as an issue of governance. Similar qualms have been raised in regard to nonprofits’ and charitable organizations’ ability to effectively besiege poverty. Not surprisingly, the ‘foot soldiers’ of the anti-poverty regiment (i.e., regular citizens/donors) are often overwhelmed by the endless charity appeals and a profound sense of hopelessness.

In our collective efforts to discover (create?) ‘fresh’ champions in the ongoing war on poverty, many heads have turned to business. Philanthropy-business hybrids, such as venture philanthropyphilanthrocapitalism or social entrepreneurship, have become central to contemporary pursuits of poverty alleviation. These hybrid alternatives are often depicted as an unproblematic marriage of economy (self-interest, resource management) and philanthropy (social values, charitable giving). Due to their supposedly apolitical and non-ideological nature they appeal to individuals of varied political convictions and domiciles (globally, so to speak). Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
October 2017
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