The following pages contain information about the current research projects of the members of the Internet Governance Group.


Cyberspace(s) and Netizens – The regulation of virtual spaces and self-regulation of netizens between the promise of transnational freedom and informational heteronomy

Until recently, neither academics nor the public were particularly interested in the internet as a subject of both political and legal regulation. This has changed in the past few years. However, there is still a substantial gap in social, judicial and behavioral research on the internet. On the one hand certain constitutional and regulative aspects of the internet have been established as a policy field and then as a field of study under the umbrella term ‘Internet Governance’. On the other hand there have been more and more studies dealing with online behavior and political actors’ use of the internet. Due to their narrow focus, these studies disregard the co-constitutive relationship between structures and actors, between regulation and self-regulation. The project is bridging this particular gap. To better understand the evolution of goals, individual and collective practices as well as regulative structures in virtual spaces, the project addresses three essential issues:

  1. How do the social and political roles of states/governments change in relation to other states and non-governmental actors, especially their own citizens?
  2. How do the individual self-conception and the role of netizens in relation to state and corporations in virtual spaces evolve over time?
  3. Which conflicts can be identified in and in between societies due to the regulation of virtual spaces?

The core project investigates how states and other internet governance actors impair internet regulation and especially the transnationalization of internet governance processes. In this regard, the project aims at explaining recently developing containment tendencies, such as the so-called balkanization or the (re-)nationalization of the internet. In order to do so, a methodological combination of quantitative and qualitative discourse and dispositive research is used to analyze meta data as well as contents of political online communication. Furthermore, we investigate how netizens receive new (transnational) participatory opportunities in the interaction with states and corporations. At the same time, netizens are subject to more control and regulation, which results in changed political demands and social actions that may lead to balkanization, transnationalization or democratization developments.

Besides the above mentioned aspects, the project is a starting point for and a link to further research projects, particularly of an interdisciplinary nature. The aim is to combine political science and law studies of regulative structures and conflicts with psychological and sociological approaches that deal with the micro-foundations of social actions online. To initiate such cooperation, a regular colloquium will be held for everyone involved in the project and all interested parties.

Project management: Dr. Wolf J. Schünemann, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Harnisch and Prof. Dr. Ekkehart Reimer

Involved staff/PhD candidates: Stefan Artmann, M.A., Stefan Steiger, M.A. and Sebastian Stier, M.A.

Project timeline: December 2014 – May 2016

This project is funded by the Excellence intitiative (Field of Focus 4: Self-Regulation and Regulation: Individuals and Organisations).



Cybersecurity and role change – a role theoretical discourse analysis of international internet governance before and after NSA revelations

During the previous decades of internet development the US have played the role of a guardian of a free internet. This role was largely accepted by European partners and the European Union. After the surveillance practices of the NSA and other secret services have been revealed in 2013, the US seems to have lost a lot of credit with their followers. This indicates an important role change in international relations and in particular cybersecurity, which might have important implications for future developments in international internet governance (e.g. a reform of ICANN/IANA functions). The main aim of the study is to reveal empirical evidence for such a role change. This is done through a role theoretical discourse analysis (RDA) of documents from international negotiation forums. RDA builds on two research approaches which both have strong representations at Heidelberg University. The findings of the project might give new insights concerning role theory in IR (role transformation, meaning of trust), discourse analysis (interactionist explanations of behavior), as well as current political debates (freedom vs. security in the internet).

For the empirical inquiry with RDA, the study makes use of a set of quantitative and qualitative research tools. The research process starts with a corpus-linguistic analysis as a tool of empirical exploration, followed by a qualitative analysis based on SKAD (Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse). As corpus elements, governmental documents (strategy papers, press statements, negotiation protocols) of the US executive are systematically gathered for software-supported analysis. Moreover, the allied countries Germany and UK can be seen as 'significant others' that are different with regard to their political structures and processes in the field of cybersecurity and might thus take different counter-roles towards the US in reaction to the revealed intelligence activities. For both countries, data corpora are built in a similar way.



Privacy and Data Protection in Europe: Traditions, Practices, and Discourses

Data protection has become a contentious political issue. A transnational campaign for better data protection has emerged and gained support over recent years. Fundamental EU regulation is under way to create a harmonized European data protection regime (EU General Data Protection Regulation). However, while the concomitant lobby battles in Brussels and the Snowden revelations have taught us a lot about economic and governmental interests in this new and complex area of the internet governance macrocosm, we know much less about the socio-political reality of privacy and data protection and how it varies across different countries even within the European Union. Lacking such knowledge, the democratic legitimacy of the EU’s efforts in internet governance as well as the chances and pitfalls for an international regulation in general are difficult to assess.

Against this backdrop, this collaborative project shall provide a substantial analysis of political structures and discourses in different European countries. The research is conducted in cooperation with the John Stuart Mill Institute for Freedom Research in Heidelberg. The main research questions are as follows:

  • Which interpretive schemes appear in current debates about privacy and data protection across Europe?
  • Which optimistic or pessimistic narratives are told in response to the digital challenges?
  • Which traditions and practices are reflected, challenged or renegotiated in discourses about privacy and data protection?

As a start, we are planning a workshop with international experts that shall take place in November 2015 [CfPAdobe]. After that, we will select contributions of high quality for an edited volume.

Project leaders: Dr Wolf J. Schünemann, Dr. Max-Otto Baumann (John Stuart Mill Institute for Freedom Research)

Time span: 2015-2016




Die Rolle(n) der USA und der NATO in der Cyber-Sicherheitspolitik (Arbeitstitel Dissertation Stefan Artmann)

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Cyberspace(s) – internet regulation between transnational ambitions and structural nationalism (Forschungsprojekt Wolf J. Schünemann)

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German and British cybersecurity policies in comparison: A role theoretical analysis (working title dissertation Stefan Steiger)

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Internet regulation and political online communication in democracies and autocracies (working title dissertation Sebastian Stier)

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