Digitalisierung sozialer Dienstleistungen in ländlichen Regionen: Eine Analyse feldkonfigurierender Diskurse

The aim of the present study is to reconstruct and analyse digitisation discourses observed at con-ferences on social services, volunteering and rural development attended in 2018 and 2019. At conferences, actors give a common meaning to their field of activity by representing points of view, formulating expectations and creating or reinforcing narratives. The analysis of the observation protocols, the documented lectures and the conference material identified the overarching discourses "organisation of social services" and "development of rural areas" with their respective sub-discourses "professional provision of social services", "organisation and work in civil society organisations", "social services in rural areas", "services of general interest and living conditions in rural areas", "citizen participation" and "economic development", in which the topic "digitisation" takes on specific functions in each case. The term "digitisation" remains open to many attributions and interpretations in the discourses. Different actors can thus discuss their own goals and activities under the sign of digitisation. Overall, the discourses observed are characterised by technology-optimistic hopes and visions of digital technological feasibility. The embedding of technologies in the respective institutional and social conditions became clear, for example, where it was pointed out that for the successful implementation of digitally supported reforms of work processes and organisational structures, the interests and needs of local actors must be considered. With regard to telemedicine and telecare, the legal framework, limited funding possibilities and lack of acceptance were discussed as the non-technical limits of digitally supported changes. Due to the conceptualisation of digitisation as a neutral, extra-societal technical change, which is widespread in the identified discourses, the interest-based and political dimension of the development, implementation and use of (digital) technology is not considered. Especially the discourse on the development of rural areas moreover shows how various stakeholders add authority to other demands with the narrative of digitization as progress. For example, political actors underline the supposedly forward-looking nature of the idea of mobilising unpaid work to overcome weaknesses in social services in rural areas by referring to digitisation. Moreover, by concentrating on the technological solution, the discourse hardly reflects on the approach of increasing the use of unpaid work or contrasts it with alternative solutions. In this way, projects can be legitimized with technical problem statements without further questioning the goal behind them. Within the discourses, however, digitisation was largely conceptualised as socially and politically neutral technical change. In this perspective, specific interests and the political dimensions inherent in the development, implementation, and usage of (digital) technology remain invisible. In the discourse on rural development it becomes apparent how the narrative of digital progress adds authority to further specific claims. Reference to digital solutions emphasizes, for example, the supposedly forward-looking character of the claim for an increase in unpaid work for the sake of social services provision in rural areas. Moreover, the discourse's concentration on technical solutions hinders reflections upon the actual approach to the problem, i.e. the increased reliance on unpaid work, or its comparisons with alternative approaches. Thereby, technical problems can legitimate projects without further questioning of the underlying aim.

Issue Date:
Oct 23 2020
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
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JEL Codes:
H40; I38; L31; M15; O33; R58; Z13
Series Statement:

 Record created 2020-10-23, last modified 2020-10-28

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