Ideas, politics, and technological change. Essays on the comparative political economy of digital capitalism


Digitalization – the process by which more and more of what we think, say, and do becomes mediated by digital technologies – has a commodifying and a disruptive thrust. It is commodifying to the extent that it undermines decommodifying institutions (e.g. labor regulations) and expands the reach of markets (e.g., the commodification of human attention). And it is disruptive to the extent that it radically alters the requirements for success on the individual-, firm-, and national level (e.g. by making certain skills or products obsolete). This double dynamic confronts societies with a number of challenges to which they can – and do – respond in different ways. To explain this variation, this thesis advances – and empirically assesses – two central arguments. First, it argues that the variegated trajectories of digitalization cannot be understood without taking the politics of digital policymaking seriously. In other words, the course and character of digitalization are not preordained by digital technologies themselves. Rather, digitalization is a political and politically contested process for which the forging (and dismantling) of coalitions is decisive. Second, it argues that ideational factors – values, frames, narratives – play an important role in the politics of digitalization. The uncertainty that surrounds digitalization opens up space for competing interpretations of what digitalization is and what it will bring. This allows ideas to shape actors’ perceptions and conceptions, and it incentivizes actors to use ideas to make their interpretations count. The five papers that make up this dissertation tackle this larger problematique from different angles. What unites them is an emphasis on the importance of politics for digitalization and on the importance of ideas for the politics of digitalization. Methodologically, they use a variety of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to tease out when and how ideas matter for the coalitional politics of digital policymaking, and how ideational factors interact with structural and institutional ones.

Timo Seidl
Timo Seidl

I am a Post-Doc at the University of Vienna’s Centre for European Integration Research (EIF).