Projects  >  dhCenter Initiatives

Digital Society 

We live in a digitized world: on a daily basis, we interact with complex bots, use recommendation systems to make choices, and have entrusted (willingly or not) large corporations with an immense array of personal data. The Internet is the “place” where we interact with our friends and families, collaborate with our colleagues, where our kids get educated, where we pay our bills and get that shopping done, and where we get the information that allows us to make decisions both small and large; individual and collective. 

If the WorldWideWeb imagined by Tim Berners-Lee has indeed produced a revolution in information access, we’re now struggling with questions of governance, bias, openness, truth, and ethics. Our relationship with the digital world is — now more than ever, maybe — marked by suspicion and mistrust. 

With this initiative, the UNIL-EPFL dhCenter wishes to create a discussion forum that brings together experts from diverse institutional settings and backgrounds, to discuss the influences of digital and data-centric technologies in our lives and more broadly the sociotechnical and political stakes of the digital transformation of our societies. 

The ongoing projects related to this field across UNIL and EPFL form 5 topical areas: 

  1. Media & Society
  2. Urban Data and Civic Tech
  3. Personalized Health 
  4. Digital Risks and Cybersecurity
  5. Social Science at the Digital Turn

1. Media & Society

The digital transformation is changing the contours, the contents, and the forms of what we understand as “media”. Research in the Media & Society area deals with the history, affordances and uses of media, drawing from epistemic traditions from social sciences, humanities, and – more recently – data- and user-centric computer interactions and imaging. 

At the dhCenter, the Media & Society area encompasses a broad range of disciplines and approaches, and is home to several research groups focused on digitalization via the studies of social media, new digital media and legacy media. Media & Society research also focuses on the algorithmization and platformization of today’s media landscape and on the socio-political impact of these processes on our democracies. Last but not least, digital media platforms such as Twitter or Wikipedia are “repurposed” by researchers who use their data for social science studies, thereby producing knowledge, through digital technologies, about a digitizing world.

Topics of interest

  • Digital worlds/digital lives through the prism of media studies
  • The application of digital tools and data-centric methodologies to the study of media
  • Social and human sciences research on and through digital media and social media
  • Building and navigating digitized media archives


View the associated projects of this initiative under ‘Related content’ blocks below. Additional associated projects include:

2. Urban Data and Civic Tech

Built environments are among the main application fields for digital technologies, but the potential and risk of the ubiquitous digitization in cities remain unclear. Urban life, from transportation to purchase, also provides paramount data to address pressing social, economical and political issues. At UNIL and EPFL, an emerging area of investigation gathers researchers across both campuses who analyze and study urban data, addressing the challenges faced by global urban populations.

Cities are also the key location for the deployment of participatory approaches facilitated by digital tools, which are renewing the functioning of democracy at the local level. These approaches involve a more open circulation of information and data, improved communication between citizens and institutions, as well as the empowerment of citizens as carriers of solutions and of their skills in the governance process.

3. Personalized Health

New medical approaches, closely connected to the development of computational tools, have emerged over the last decade under the name “P4 Medicine” (Predictive, Preventive, Personalized and Participatory). Their promise lies in the use of large amounts of data, both personal and collective, for the optimal treatment of each patient. The field of personalized health is not only a research territory for medicine, but also for the human and social sciences, which are questioning the implementation and impact of these approaches at the technical, social, economic, legal, political and ethical levels.

4. Digital Risks and Cybersecurity

Trillions of dollars: This is the scale of today’s estimated global profit generated by a booming cybercrime economy. Faced with this wave, which is vastly expanding with the rise of the Internet of Things and where the goal of profit crosses political destabilization projects, research in the field of cybersecurity aims, on the one hand, to design new methods to prevent, investigate, and mitigate cybercrime by looking at the methods, profile, and motivations of cybercriminals. On the other hand, the researchers are looking at the social and ethical implications of the cybersecurity measures deployed to deal with the ongoing escalation of cybercrime.

5. Social Science at the Digital Turn

By using computational methods and big data, social sciences can produce results that would not have been possible otherwise. Some researchers believe this is not enough. In their view, we must also question the nature of these scientific practices and the resulting insights, in order to actually understand what digital technology does to knowledge. In particular, at a time when virtually all social practices generate data that simultaneously allow us to study and to influence societal dynamics, digital studies can hardly do without a self-reflection on their practices.


Le ColLaboratoire

Initiative for Media Innovation: IMI 

IRGC – Improving Governance of Systemic Risks 

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