Datafied Welfare States

ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association) pre-conference 

Keynote speaker: Professor Anne Kaun, Södertörn University

Data logging and processing have been fundamental for the development and maintenance of welfare states since the 20th century. Exemplified by key functions such as the assignment of social security numbers, the reporting of tax statements, or the registration of criminal records, state authorities have always been dependent on collecting and organising significant amounts of citizen data. With the digitization of welfare sectors and institutions and the rise of computerised big data, these processes have accelerated, leading to new and comprehensive modes of datafication (Cukier & Mayer-Schoenberger 2013; Kitchin 2014; Mejias & Couldry 2019).

Following this “paradigm shift” in the provision of public services and social welfare (Dencik & Kaun 2020), the pre-conference discusses the growing reliance on data-driven and algorithmic systems across sectors and institutions (Yeung 2018; Eubanks 2018). We are particularly interested in the extensive use of commercially supplied services and in the growing reliance on big tech companies who provide the underlying infrastructure for a wide range of societal functions. Amazon and Microsoft are, for instance, dominant actors in the provision of cloud solutions to public databases and services, while entire app ecologies rely on Google’s third-party services and developer tools. Focusing on the consequences of this inherent and hidden commercialization, the pre-conference welcomes contributions that enquire into the potential conflicts of interests and clashes between market logics and welfare ideologies.

The pre-conference, in other words, seeks to understand the nature of emergent data welfare states (Andreasen et al. 2021) and to critically assess how and why mechanisms of datafication and commodification are being built into the architecture of contemporary welfare states and democracies. It enquires into technical, ethical, and political choices that are made when digital technologies are implemented; the degrees and possibilities of citizen surveillance and data governance; the market structures and political economies around datafied welfare services and sectors; and the material infrastructures that undergird the datafication of the welfare state.

Call for abstracts

The pre-conference welcomes contributions on, but not limited to:

  • Datafication processes and challenges in key welfare sectors (e.g., healthcare, education, social services, policing, media, etc.)
  • Conflicts and clashes between welfare ideologies and commercial logics of big tech
  • Historical analyses of public datafication processes
  • Theoretical discussions on datafication and democracy
  • Case studies of e.g., Covid-19 strategies
  • Digital public infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships

The pre-conference is in hybrid format and both speakers and listeners can choose to participate in person or online. Participation is free of charge, but seats are limited, and registration is mandatory. Authors must indicate if they plan to present online or in person.

Abstracts of 300-500 words excluding references must be sent to no later than May 18th, 2022.


  • Deadline for submission of abstracts: May 18th, 2022
  • Notification of acceptance: June 1st, 2022
  • Deadline for registration: September 1st, 2022