Governance and legislation face profound transformation processes in the networked society. These concern both the conditions and forms as well as the subjects of governance. While the territorial scope of norms often extends beyond the borders of nation states, their life spans seem to be shrinking. Legislative reform cycles are accelerating and rapid technological developments exert severe pressure on the political institutions. Transformational processes can also be noted with regard to the relationship of relevant actors and stakeholders. Beyond the nation state as the ultimate arbiter of collective self-determination, a wide range of formal and informal modes of participation and (self-)regulation have emerged, blurring the lines between the regulators and the regulated actors. These phenomena are accompanied by a pluralisation of regulatory techniques, comprising legal norms, technical standards and implicit agreements.

The development of the Internet is both an outstanding example and an important driver of these processes. Eschewing national and international telecommunications policies, the Internet has been able to establish itself as a cross-border data network based on de-facto standards, enabling experiments with new forms of global coordination by non-governmental actors. Regulatory models in the digital sphere depend on multiple, in some cases competing forms, levels and loci of regulation, all of which are subject to continuous change. The use of digital services such as search-engines or social networks, now virtually indispensable agencies of the public sphere, is governed, among others, by contractual obligations, standards of conduct, algorithmic filters and ranking systems. Likewise, they are also subject to national and European legislation. Adjudication by courts has gained importance as well, providing crucial impulses in areas such as Data Protection and Intellectual Property. In light of these ongoing processes of movement, displacement and substitution of norm-setting, we are interested in the driving forces and mechanisms of these phenomena, but also in their ramifications and assessment: what does this transformation of governance imply with regard to individual and collective self-determination? What regulatory powers will be required in the future and where should they reside to effectively ensure the enforcement of public interests?

The research area is divided into three research groups:


The research groups are conducting research on significant changes in governance mechanisms in the context of the Internet and Digitalization. The locus of norm-setting is shifting from national parliaments to international agreements and multilateral conventions, but also technical configurations (e.g. with regard to Intellectual Property). It can be assumed that technical standards, such as those currently used to enforce copyrights on content platforms and promoted in the field of Data Protection as “Privacy by design”, will also gain importance in other regulatory contexts and partially replace legal norms. Smart contracts represent a new field of automation. However, in light of the asymmetric distribution of market power between suppliers and consumers, the automation of governance mechanisms raises the issue of individual and collective self-determination and their prospective conditions.

Another important development is the increasing use of evidence-based methods in political decision-making. The concept of “governance by numbers” presupposes comprehensive quantification processes that facilitate the comparison and measurement of diverse phenomena such as human labour, the quality of policies or the performance of states, schools, and hospitals.

Building on the research projects of the three research groups, the Institute will contribute to theorising the interplay between political, legal and technical modes of regulation and their role with regard to democratic self-determination.