New podcast series brings the digital welfare up for debate
In the podcast series ‘Digital Welfare – What is it?’, Center for Digital Welfare focuses on how digitalisation has changed the premises of our welfare. The series’ seven episodes are made in collaboration with journalist Anders Kjærulff.
In the 2018 book ‘What the welfare state means’ professor of Danish literature Lasse Horne Kjældgaard chronicles the debate over the welfare state in Denmark between the 1950s and the 1980s.
Horne Kjældgaard emphasises the involvement of authors such as Villy Sørensen, Klaus Rifbjerg, Anders Bodelsen, and Henrik Stangerup, who eagerly discussed the purpose of the welfare state with leading politicians of the time. The authors played a significant role in establishing the most important principles of the welfare state, which have only become more entrenched with time.
"The concepts of 'welfare' and 'the welfare state' were subject to debate. They were new concepts that enabled a discussion of the most important things in life. The public debate was about defining the welfare state, and how it would affect the individual and interactions between people. The concept of welfare was not necessarily perceived as something uniquely positive, as it is today. What made the debate unique at the time was the fact that artists were involved and had a voice,” says Michael Hockenhull, postdoc at the IT University’s Center for Digital Welfare and one of the people behind the podcast.
A need for renewed debate and new perspectives
Michael Hockenhull and his colleagues at Center for Digital Welfare were inspired by the 1950s debate between artists and politicians about the nature and purpose of the welfare state, which Horne Kjældgaard's work has uncovered. In their view and in light of the digitalisation of society, the perspective of intellectuals and artists in the debate over the concept of welfare is once again relevant – however, this time the subject is digital welfare.
The key question is what welfare is when digitalisation has become a fundamental part of our lives
Michael Hockenhull «
The podcast ‘Digital Welfare – What is it?’ consists of seven episodes. Journalist Anders Kjærulff interviews seven subjects with different backgrounds about their experiences with and attitudes towards the digitalised welfare state ultimately posing the question: What is digital welfare? The seven guests who each have their own episode are artist and pilot Simone Aaberg Kærn, robotics researcher at the IT University Kasper Støy, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights Rikke Frank, entertainer Jacob Haugaard, IT legend Poul-Henning Kamp, Denmark's Tech Ambassador Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen, and activist Emma Holten.
“The key question is what welfare is when digitalisation has become a fundamental part of our lives. Digitalisation creates new arenas and changes the old ones, and there is a need for artistic and intellectual perspectives on the key question, which is where our guests can contribute. According to Kjældgaard, fiction was used as a tool to imagine the welfare state. Similarly, we believe that this podcast is a tool for imagining the concept of digital welfare,” explains Michael Hockenhull.
Welfare in a technocracy
In the 1950s, the welfare state had not been established yet, and therefore the debate was both exploratory and critical. Since then, welfare has become synonymous with healthcare, education, elderly care, childcare, and infrastructure. In short, welfare is closely linked to material welfare.
Therefore, there is a need to detach the understanding of the digital welfare society from technocracy and instead open it towards a new debate
Michael Hockenhull «
In the 1970s, the welfare state went on the defensive. It became technocratic. For many politicians it was a question of defending and preservation.The digitalisation came right after the technocratic debate. The strategic work paving the way for digitalisation fell – after a brief stay at the Ministry of Science – under the purview of the Ministry of Finance. This proved to be important for the understanding of digitalisation:
"Digitalisation turned out to be almost exclusively about efficiency and 'maximum welfare for the money'. No one is opposed to more welfare for less money, but digitalisation holds more possibilities than just efficiency. Therefore, there is a need to detach the understanding of the digital welfare society from technocracy and instead open it towards a new debate,” states Michael Hockenhull.
The podcast as ethnographic probe
In addition to engendering debate, this podcast series also serves to capture and document views and cultural perceptions that are associated with digital welfare. Michael Hockenhull describes this second purpose of the series by using a metaphor related to technology:
“We are inspired by an ethnographic scientific method, and we consider the podcast an ethnographic probe. The ethnographic method is used to collect data on cultural perceptions associated with specific phenomena. We gather knowledge, perceptions, and ideas about the phenomenon of digital welfare. The task is complex. Just like society is. ”
The podcast series presents as many notions of what digital welfare is as there are episodes.
Perspectives range from an analysis of the power that big tech companies have gained globally – this in conversation with tech ambassador Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen – to a more individual-oriented rights perspective emphasising mechanisms of power, control, inclusion, and exclusion in the conversations with activist Emma Holten, senior researcher at Danish Institute for Human Rights Rikke Frank, IT legend Poul-Henning Kamp, and entertainer Jakob Haugaard.
Other conversations focus on technology itself. Robotics researcher Kasper Støy is sceptical of the sci-fi-esque predictions of robots taking over the world in a few years. Artist and pilot Simone Aaberg Kærn explains how being able to fly a drone represents digital welfare to her, because the drone "extends" her gaze. Listen to the seven episodes here