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Lost and found: transforming assistance at digital Deutsche Bahn

Jörg Potthast (2021)

DFG-Sonderforschungsbereich 1187 « Medien der Kooperation »
Working Paper. Siegen: Universität of Siegen.

Abstract. Paying close attention to the intricacies of the episode below, this paper sets out to reflect in situ a shift to digitizing “lost and found” services. Foreshadowing a more extensive study on a contemporary redistribution of assistance at Deutsche Bahn, it refers to a pragmatist tradition concerned with preserving the condition of voice. Following this vein, it faces a purist critical attitude – epitomized in the practice of economics (Orléan 2014), which defends market forces (“exit”) as a way to outperform voice in any situation of decline, decay or dissatisfaction (Hirschman 1970). Anti-elitist suspicions, brought to perfection by another branch of social sciences, have become a powerful ally of this position. Rather than criticizing elitism and privilege, however, the present contribution draws on ethnographic research which displays the ambiguity of privileged users’ encounters with assistants. Exploring ambiguous patterns in the practice of assistance, it seeks for a politics of pity which has been largely absent from current appraisals of digital sociality.

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