Sphere Transgression Watch

Sphere Transgression Watch
Tracking the growing presence of Big Tech across societal sectors

When: 18 January 2023
Where: TNO Den Haag - New Babylon, Room 10.001, Anna van Buerenplein 1, 2595 DA Den Haag

Note: attendees are requested to bring a form of government ID in order to gain access to the building. Check-in will be at the front desk of the provided address.

We are currently witnessing a growing presence of Big Tech firms in virtually every sector, or “sphere,” of contemporary society – with healthcare, education, journalism, finance, and urban planning being but a few examples. In providing a range of products, infrastructure, and/or technological expertise, such firms accrue a myriad of advantages and opportunities in these extant spheres, and are thus conferred a powerful position beyond the sphere of digital production. The culmination of this phenomenon – that is, when advantages in one sphere carry over into another – is what we call, a sphere transgression.
A consideration of sphere transgressions in this regard raises a number of important questions: How does the presence of Big Tech reshape a sphere? How do the values and expertise these firms bring to a given sphere clash, or otherwise mesh, with sphere-specific values and expertise? And what new dependencies arise amidst this wider set of processes?
Moreover, given the sheer breadth, magnitude, and velocity at which certain spheres are witnessing the
incursion of large technology firms, a second question relates to how we can collectively track where sphere transgressions are occurring, and log details about specific cases – whether it is to simply grasp their dynamics, to make evaluative claims about their just-ness, or to perhaps even to inform the development of new digitalization strategies that are more responsive to a wider set of stakeholders’ needs. Engaging with these key questions, this PI.Lab workshop will introduce Sphere Transgression Watch: a novel digital platform that tracks the growing presence of Big Tech companies across societal spheres over time. As its name suggests, the tool aims to act both as a means of raising awareness about the phenomenon of sphere transgressions, and as a public archive of instances of Big Tech’s involvement in these spheres, to which researchers and other stakeholders can contribute and use for their own research or advocacy programs.

During the first part of the workshop, we will provide participants with background about the conceptual and technical development of Sphere Transgression Watch, and walk through the tool to demonstrate its features.

Following this, the second part of the workshop will consist of a Doc-A-Thon, where we invite attendees to gather in small groups and begin contributing to the STW corpus, adding cases from their own research domains or other spheres with which they are familiar. In the final part of the program, we will discuss users’ experiences, answer questions that participants may have come up with during their time using the tool, and discuss possible features that may improve the usefulness of Sphere Transgression Watch going forward.

Program (old)

15.00-15.15: Welcome & introductions - Andrew S. Hoffman (PI.Lab representative, iHub - Interdisciplinary Hub for Digitalization and Society, Radboud University )

15.15-15.45: Sphere Transgression Watch backgrounder & a tour of the tool - Marthe Stevens (Postdoctoral Researcher, iHub - Interdisciplinary Hub for Digitalization and Society, Radboud University)

15.45-16.15: STW Doc-A-Thon

16.15-16.30: Questions, feedback & wrap-up

Registration details: not yet applicable

Note: Attendees are requested to bring a form of government ID in order to gain access to the building. Check-in will be at the front desk of the provided address.