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About this Research Topic

Abstract Submission Deadline 15 February 2023
Manuscript Submission Deadline 17 April 2023

Humanity is digitally transforming. Seemingly durable social institutions — states, markets, civil society, science, and human rights— that we created to protect us from our shared human vulnerabilities as embodied and socially dependent organisms are now hitched to newly emerging, Internet-based digital technologies embedded in the very social relations that shape our understanding of humanity. These institutions too, and the relations between them, are profoundly changing.

We need more empirical research and sociological conceptualization to understand these changes and their uneven global impact on digitally mediated social, cultural, political, legal and economic relations, but we do know states are struggling in different and contested ways to shape this process. The US and China are competing to shape the future global Internet protocols and intellectual property rights upon which these emerging digital technologies, markets and commercial practices within a global knowledge economy depend. The US portrays China’s vision for the future development of the Internet as “digital authoritarianism.” But recent research describes the (US) Silicon Valley model as “surveillance capitalism” or “platform capitalism” – and, as tech workers within US Big Tech firms increasingly reveal to the public the abusive labor and human rights practices taking place within these firms and through their partnerships with governments around the world, we may have competing digital authoritarian models emerging. Simultaneously, the EU, Germany, and Japan are working to ground their artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging digital technology policies within an international human rights framework – one that promises a more democratic alternative to the rules and policies that the US and China are each pursuing.

Civil society organizations composed of scientists, technologists, and human rights and humanitarian relief advocates are working within transnational networks across all of these countries (and others) to shape this unfolding struggle over the transformation of knowledge production. These actors too rely on emerging digital technologies (and the platforms, social relations and contractual agreements in which they are embedded) for their interdisciplinary production of knowledge about human rights practices. These partnerships and projects use big data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, satellite and drone remote sensing, video synchronization, sound search, virtual reality, blockchain, digital forensics, photogammetry, biotechnology, pervasive neurotechnology, and other emerging digital scientific technologies to document (perhaps predict) humanitarian disasters and human rights atrocities.

Some actors exploit technological affordances, “hacking” them for more democratic and human rights-conforming ends. Yet, these interdisciplinary collaborations reveal different (even conflicting) scientific ontologies of the “human.” As the knowledge they produce about human rights practices becomes used as evidence in human rights courts and other legal institutions, we anticipate discursive elaboration of human rights, but also conflicts with existing ontologies of “the human” embedded in international legal discourse on human rights. This conceptual transformation of the human could seem promising to human rights reformers who allege the production and development of human rights flows unjustly from the global North to South. Yet, it also could erode beyond practical reform the very subject at the heart of human rights, currently our most viable institution for governing global justice.

This Research Topic explores the promises and perils for democracy, humanitarianism, and human rights posed by the digital transformation of knowledge production, including but not limited to:

• changing scientific practices of human rights and humanitarian relief organizations and their institutional partners;
• changing social relations facilitating or challenging the digital transformation of science and technology and its impact on human rights;
• emerging regulatory initiatives, practices, or visions of states toward the digital practices of corporations or “platforms” that own or control vectors of data and information
• institutional projects of states, market participants, and civil society actors (including movements combining multiple institutional actors) to redefine civil rights or citizenship in contexts of digital transnationalism;
• innovation of alternative digital platforms and/or technologies, or novel uses of the technical affordances of existing ones, that advance principles consistent with democratic and human rights principles;
• proposals for new civil or human rights norms or mechanisms that address emerging concerns with the practice of newly emerging sciences and technologies;
• new sociological theoretical perspectives on the digital transformation of capitalism and/or states, and its implications for civil society’s role in shaping or challenging the process;
• emerging relational identities, organizational forms of collective action, and justice claims that identify how digital technologies are embedded in social relations;
• contentious politics and discursive contestation arising from struggles to embed states and Big Tech corporations within competing structures of moral, ethical, normative, legal, and/or rights-based valuation;
• new human rights discourse and/or emerging understandings of humanitarianism;
• emerging interdisciplinary tensions between new relational ontologies of “the human”.

We encourage submissions from researchers across the social sciences and humanities, are open to diverse methodological approaches and research designs, and especially welcome contemporary or historical case studies from around the world, including those in comparative and/or transnational or perspective.

We will be accepting the following Article Types:

• Original Research – abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words);
• Conceptual Analysis - abstract (350 words); manuscript (8,000 words);
• Methods - abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words); or
• Policy & Practice Review - abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words).

Keywords: human rights, humanitarian, governance, digital transformation, science and technology


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Humanity is digitally transforming. Seemingly durable social institutions — states, markets, civil society, science, and human rights— that we created to protect us from our shared human vulnerabilities as embodied and socially dependent organisms are now hitched to newly emerging, Internet-based digital technologies embedded in the very social relations that shape our understanding of humanity. These institutions too, and the relations between them, are profoundly changing.

We need more empirical research and sociological conceptualization to understand these changes and their uneven global impact on digitally mediated social, cultural, political, legal and economic relations, but we do know states are struggling in different and contested ways to shape this process. The US and China are competing to shape the future global Internet protocols and intellectual property rights upon which these emerging digital technologies, markets and commercial practices within a global knowledge economy depend. The US portrays China’s vision for the future development of the Internet as “digital authoritarianism.” But recent research describes the (US) Silicon Valley model as “surveillance capitalism” or “platform capitalism” – and, as tech workers within US Big Tech firms increasingly reveal to the public the abusive labor and human rights practices taking place within these firms and through their partnerships with governments around the world, we may have competing digital authoritarian models emerging. Simultaneously, the EU, Germany, and Japan are working to ground their artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging digital technology policies within an international human rights framework – one that promises a more democratic alternative to the rules and policies that the US and China are each pursuing.

Civil society organizations composed of scientists, technologists, and human rights and humanitarian relief advocates are working within transnational networks across all of these countries (and others) to shape this unfolding struggle over the transformation of knowledge production. These actors too rely on emerging digital technologies (and the platforms, social relations and contractual agreements in which they are embedded) for their interdisciplinary production of knowledge about human rights practices. These partnerships and projects use big data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, satellite and drone remote sensing, video synchronization, sound search, virtual reality, blockchain, digital forensics, photogammetry, biotechnology, pervasive neurotechnology, and other emerging digital scientific technologies to document (perhaps predict) humanitarian disasters and human rights atrocities.

Some actors exploit technological affordances, “hacking” them for more democratic and human rights-conforming ends. Yet, these interdisciplinary collaborations reveal different (even conflicting) scientific ontologies of the “human.” As the knowledge they produce about human rights practices becomes used as evidence in human rights courts and other legal institutions, we anticipate discursive elaboration of human rights, but also conflicts with existing ontologies of “the human” embedded in international legal discourse on human rights. This conceptual transformation of the human could seem promising to human rights reformers who allege the production and development of human rights flows unjustly from the global North to South. Yet, it also could erode beyond practical reform the very subject at the heart of human rights, currently our most viable institution for governing global justice.

This Research Topic explores the promises and perils for democracy, humanitarianism, and human rights posed by the digital transformation of knowledge production, including but not limited to:

• changing scientific practices of human rights and humanitarian relief organizations and their institutional partners;
• changing social relations facilitating or challenging the digital transformation of science and technology and its impact on human rights;
• emerging regulatory initiatives, practices, or visions of states toward the digital practices of corporations or “platforms” that own or control vectors of data and information
• institutional projects of states, market participants, and civil society actors (including movements combining multiple institutional actors) to redefine civil rights or citizenship in contexts of digital transnationalism;
• innovation of alternative digital platforms and/or technologies, or novel uses of the technical affordances of existing ones, that advance principles consistent with democratic and human rights principles;
• proposals for new civil or human rights norms or mechanisms that address emerging concerns with the practice of newly emerging sciences and technologies;
• new sociological theoretical perspectives on the digital transformation of capitalism and/or states, and its implications for civil society’s role in shaping or challenging the process;
• emerging relational identities, organizational forms of collective action, and justice claims that identify how digital technologies are embedded in social relations;
• contentious politics and discursive contestation arising from struggles to embed states and Big Tech corporations within competing structures of moral, ethical, normative, legal, and/or rights-based valuation;
• new human rights discourse and/or emerging understandings of humanitarianism;
• emerging interdisciplinary tensions between new relational ontologies of “the human”.

We encourage submissions from researchers across the social sciences and humanities, are open to diverse methodological approaches and research designs, and especially welcome contemporary or historical case studies from around the world, including those in comparative and/or transnational or perspective.

We will be accepting the following Article Types:

• Original Research – abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words);
• Conceptual Analysis - abstract (350 words); manuscript (8,000 words);
• Methods - abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words); or
• Policy & Practice Review - abstract (350 words); manuscript (12,000 words).

Keywords: human rights, humanitarian, governance, digital transformation, science and technology


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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