Digitisation – Morals, Politics and Responsibilty

Two more Isar-Kanal Lectures, given by Peter Herrmann, currently visiting Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy [section social law] are now available. The second lecture looks under the title

Digitisation – Morals, Politics and Responsibility

Digitisation, highlighting that Responsibility has to be seen in a new light, namely and again the light of real publicness.

The reference to Popper and falsificatioism in simple terms

[https:// commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Swans.jpg]

There is no point in waiting for black swans, it is necessary to bread them!

The third of this short series of Isar-Kanal Lectures, titled

Digitisation – Meta-Methodological Reflections

highlights that much of the supposedly new issues are very much old questions around socialisation, pushing towards a new stage and thus looking at

  • the greatest good for the greatest number
  • the volonteeé générale
  • the volonté de tous
  • all dealing with the issue of publicness as control of production, the means of production and even more so the publicness of control of societal value.

Thus, all moral boils down to the question of the mode of production.


WYSIWYG – What you see is what you get?

A short presentation on Big Data and Digitisation at the Max-Planck-Institute fro Social Law and Social Policy

WYSIWYG[1] – Also for Big Data?

WYSIWYG, the supposed revolutionary concept that once opened a new world for computer quarter-literates is not necessarily applicable if we look at the supposed recent revolution: Big Data. More likely we find the emergence of a WYSID – What You See Is Delusion.


[from Leibniz’ writing on the Binary Code Calculating Machine]

The presentation aims on contributing from the perspective of political economy to an understanding of some systemic developments that are hidden behind a blurred understanding of Big Data and Digitisation. The following is guiding the development of the argument:

  • Moving from Adventures in Wonderland to seeing the World Through the Looking-Glass – Some Terminological Remarks
  • From Gold Standard to Sparkling Diamonds – The Economy of the Digital and Informational Revolution
  • The Lonely Crowd versus Crowded Loneliness – About Individual, Social, Public and Private Matters
  • L’État c’est moi – l’état, c’est-à-dire nous? – Socio-Eco-Legal Issues around Public and Social Responsibility

On the latter, especially four topics are seen as major challenge:

  1. Concentralisation
  2. Public-Private-Datachips
  3. Changed status of Employees or changed property issues
  4. The Firm and the loss of transaction cost

Some background material can be found here.

Here the link to the recording of the presentation  – speaker presentation: Professor Dr. Ulrich Becker.


[1]            What you see is what you get

To start with the end …

To start with the end … – The day I am talking about, around the time my little excursion comes to the end, I see a poster:

… Siamo tutte e tutti palestinesi …

one can surely read this in different ways – and the debates during the recent days, driving academics on one of the mailing lists, of which I am subscriber, to the highest levels of irrationality, clearly show the ambiguities.

Well, leaving the question of Palestine and the war in that part of the world aside, I may come to the beginning of the day, still dealing with Un sogno di liberta

More or less the very first part a bit strange for me – chatting, catching up with students – though it suggests it is about the question WhatsApp it is actually more about getting an answer …

Off to work then – the more or less regular Sunday morning meeting: about every second week we meet with a small group via internet-phone conference, connecting Australia, China, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. It is a small group, a small research, but at this stage a nice habit: catching up, on work related stuff and occasionally on other things (in this way the Monnet Method work for us: do business and become friends). I stay for a while in the bar – Internet, the nice atmosphere of Trastevere and …, well, still waiting for the answer – but that is another story.


A youngish woman approaches me, holding a map in her hand, trying to cover my phone and the fountain pen next to the computer … . I only say something, … expressing …, well: a kind of sympathy. But Cavallo, sitting at the next table, supposedly academic – economist and giving out against a narrow understanding, and at tenish already emptying at least the second bottle of beer … – Bufallo shouts immediately and loudly.

No, just go away …

And that is what she does, with her the other two …: another young woman, one child …

I am sitting there, feel somewhat paralysed – not because just having escaped the loss of some valuables, but because as I do not like the need to be protective, I do not feel the right which I have: owning something. – Rights, justice …, I wrote more or less a lot on the topic.

Isn’t that protection somewhat a war, imposed on us?


I recall one section of the article I just finalised:

Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen discuss part of this dynamic, stating that

(and I quote)

“Modes of production and consumption that become hegemonic in certain regions or countries can be generalized globally through a ‘capillary’ process, meaning in a broken manner and with considerable gaps in time and space. That process is associated with concrete corporate strategies and interests in capital valorization, trade, investment, and geopolitics; with purchasing power; and with concepts of an attractive mode of living that predominate in the societies into which these modes diffuse by way of the world market. ‘Generalization’ does not mean that all people live alike, but rather that certain, deeply rooted concepts of the ‘good life’ and of societal development are generated and are reflected in the everyday life of a growing number of people, not only symbolically but also materially. The symbolic dimension is important because what is at issue is not only the coherence of the regime of accumulation, but also the emergence and everyday practice of dynamics peculiar to this mode of living – which are of course not separate from the macroeconomic sphere.”[1]

(after the quote I continue)

However, this formulation gives the impression that such mode of living is solely or at least predominantly based on a hegemonic strategy, aiming on establishing a specific lifestyle. Such claim towards life determination is surely an important aspect. However, the present thesis is that we find again a two-layered pattern, the mode of living being based in a life regime which provides a foundation, inherently based in the accumulation regime. Of course, in some way this is also a political question, a question of hegemony – today a statement as “it is the rich who should be ashamed, not the poor”[2] may not even be made in serious terms, i.e. in terms that question the economic dimension of the problem. The mechanism is actually very simple: Those “rich” people are not simply rich in terms of affluence but also in terms of the determination of what is necessary, i.e. the inherent link established by what had been outlined earlier by quoting Erika K. Gubrium and Ivar Lødemel, namely “that having a job is not just a matter of economic security. In a social sense, it is a primary arena for attaining the dignity associated with social normalisation”. This is the firm mechanism, welding accumulation, regulation, life and living together.

This scene in Trastevere makes unmistakably clear what this means …. – the closure of the social: individualism …, but also the mutual protection of the haves against the have-nots.

No, don’t get me wrong: I am grateful in some way: Bufallo saved my property, “saved me”.

But I still would like even more to hear the same outcry against those who permanently steal the property of those who then themselves feel or are forced to steel.


Some more lines from the recent days come to my mind – this time from a mail exchange: Somebody expressed his hope that I would be OK, not effected by the Russian-Ukrainian air battle, conducted on the cost of civilians.

My reply:

Regarding the plane disaster: all fine so far, thank you. Having said this: in some way we are all effected, aren’t we?

And I receive a mail saying

You are absolutely! If one room leaks, the house is at risk. This Israel-Gaza conflict is worrisome!!!!

I continue briefly on this, writing

If it would be only one room, …

May be I am at times too pessimist; may be it is just a personal think (which, in a way, I hope): remaining in the metaphor of leaks …I have the impression we need to think about a new version of the large ship, saving the world. …

Well, not believer …, so failing here again.

Talking about ships ..: if you see how immigration is tackled by the EU, people stranding here, if they are lucky ending up on the shores of Italy …, lucky enough to be mistreated and abused here (in Europe) … – or is it that those who drown are more lucky?

Well, back to reality, it is early, a Sunday and I finally drive up the hill and do what I postponed for so many times: a visit in the park that hosts the Villa Doria Pamphilj.

A short message to Birgit, talking about this park:

It is some version of the Borghese park, though less crowded.

I sit down for a while, having to read …

… and I finally go for a small walk: the villa xyz is standing there as massive block: power of admirable beauty, of wealth and of still palpable political power.

Past …, history … and still

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.[3]

and this is what I feel just that moment, walking, seeing the people enjoying their promenade, their chatting, the kids playing well behaved … and crying when falling off the bike, immediately being rescued by the father (yes, it is Sunday and then fathers can join the rescue team) or mother.


A city of contrasts, indeed – and a city of some astonishing stability – not indicated by the amount of signs of ancient times but by the anxiety, widespread by the visibility of invisible power, the clear lines that divide the city – I have to check if and if so, for how long Antonio Gramsci lived here, in a climate that surely provoked theorising hegemony.

Anyway, though the park is large and had been somewhat underpopulated, the pressure remains … – possibly the work on finalizing the book on precarity, in connection with the heard and unheard cries and screams brings me into this mood. And I have to move, not just home but …

… I really know this place from 吕思xyz’s and 陈旭xyz’s visit – when they came to Rome we met in the park and stayed or a while. And actually I had been happy when Birgit said one day we could go there – the secret project of the comparative study on ice cream.

So again this day: after the Villa Doria Pamphilj, I go now to the palazzo del freddo, wait to be served and feel in some surprising way in one of the most Italian quarters of Rome,[4] an impression that is not changed by the fact that there are many, perhaps even mostly non-indigenous Romans. However, these people did not behave like “the Australians”, like “the Americans”, The KMT-Chinese when they arrived and genocided the indigenous Australians, Indians and for example the Bunun ….. – Just reminds me I have to get in touch with Rayen again, asking how the Mapuche are doing …


Prendo il gelato con me – join the people in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II – history here too, tradition: the young girls and boys from Bolivian, China … Venezuela proudly showing off: one dancing dress is more colorful than the other, they are dancing, laughing, fool around … and are crying … in order to get up again before papà (yes, it is Sunday and then fathers can join the rescue team) or mamma arrive.

– There may be a good reason to go more often to the little parks like the Torlonia, or the one in Testaccio – or also the other large parks as the Borghese, much more a people’s park …. Or there may a good reason to finally open the also doors of the Villa Doria Pamphilj …

Sure, in some way many of the small parks, the small places and even backyards lack some of the beauty, magnificence and surely the order of the gardens – be they Pamphiljic or papal. But they have another grandesse which is often overlooked, undervalued: I heard many times people saying that all these nobles: the Medici, the Pamphilj, the Borgehese … returned a good share from the profit they made back to society. And it would surely be foolish to deny the beauty of the works of Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc. . But the others, the unknown, the unnamed, the dwarfs and voles didn’t take anything, in first instance. And that is something that surely has its own grandesse, often remaining unknown, unnamed, existing as dwarfs and voles – finally

[m]en make their own history,

even if

they do not make it just as they please


The tradition of all dead generations …, it is there, but its character as a nightmare is perhaps more hidden, or it may even have given way to a certain jauntiness …

… Siamo tutte e tutti palestinesi … – we are all foreigners in occupied lands, working on soil we do not own, although we may possess it.[5]

– somebody covering it with a map, giving us mobile phones but taking our voices from us ….

 Un sogno di liberta


[1]            Brand, Ulrich/Wissen, Markus, 2012: Global Environmental Politics and the Imperial Mode of Living: Articulations of State-Capital Relations in the Multiple Crisis; in: Globalizations, 9, 4: 547-560; here: 549; http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2012.699928: 549

[2]            Choudhry, Sohail, 2014: Pakistan: A Journey of Poverty-Induced Shame; in: Gubrium, Erika K./Pellissery, Sony/Lødemel, Ivar (eds.): The Shame of It. Global Perspectives on Anti-Poverty Policies; Bristol/Chicago: Policy Press: 111-132: 126

[3]            Marx, Karl: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

[4]            sure, one of has to be underlined – I guess there is are many Rome’s in Rome

[5]            Actually the English language makes it difficult to express it: ownership is here understood as legal deed, commonly attested by a notary. Possession, on the other hand, is understood as (f)actual control over something. And of course, we see again, the tricks language plays as the English language, indeed, proposes both as synonyms; and indeed (sic!) jurisprudence frequently refers to “established law”, i.e. a right derived from custom … – To make things even more interesting, there is at first sight no clear distinction between common and customary law, something that is even carried over into positive law that always suggests that judgments are made “in the name of the people”.