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Ph.D. research outline as of Oct 2020. Research located at Visual Arts Ph.D. program at Bauhaus University Weimar. Theoretical advisors: Prof. Gabriele Schabacher (JGU Mainz) and Prof. Henning Schmidgen (BUW Weimar), Artistic Advisers: Prof. Yvonne Wilhelm & Prof. Christian Hübler (knowbotiq, ZHdK Zürich).

The research was funded by a Graduate Stipend of the Federal State of Thuringia 2017–2020

Artist website and statement at www.irmielin.org

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Francis Hunger, databasecultures@irmielin.org

The form of the database – genealogies, operationalities and praxeologies of relational databases in East and West.

Relational databases order the world and enable cooperation. Whenever software is mentioned, relational databases are always already a prerequisite. From the perspective of cultural techniques research, this dissertation examines the genealogies and the operationality of relational databases, the tabular origins of knowledge order in databases, and the economic processes encoded as transactions, and how they became mappable in relational database management systems.

Further, the genesis of the concept ‘database’ in the 1970s from Management Resource Planning applications is investigated in East and West. Since previous historiography has focused strongly on a single actor and the situation in the U.S., the project contrasts this narrative with the example of the Eastern European GDR in the years 1970-1990. By juxtaposing SOPS (East Germany) and SAP (West Germany), differences and similarities of long-term software applications in capitalism and socialism can be worked out.

The following theses guide the project:

– The emergence of the relational database can be observed at the threshold of the economic global networking of late industrial capitalism and at the transition from disciplinary to control society. It enables international flows of goods, people and information and is a fundamental medium of cooperation in a global infrastructure of information processing.

– Relational databases are part of an emergent complex of knowledge organization anchored in cultural techniques. In addition to their mathematical-logical operationalization based on set theory, it is tabulation and process-related practices of transactional symbol processing that add new, collaborative registers.

– In contrast to Artificial Intelligence or networks, (relational) databases are genealogically linked less to cybernetic concepts of information and more to registering and coordinating everyday practices, which leads to the necessity of an adequate reformulation of the concept of ‘information’ as ‘in-formation’.

– The comparative view of the emergence of relational databases in the West and East at the transition from the mainframe to the personal computer reveals media specifics in conception and use.

In the course of the dissertation, a materiality of data (in databases) is established. Media theory discourse, which has to a large extend concentrated on algorithms, will be supplemented by the triad of data-model-algorithm and the concept of in-formation. Further, the investigation of actual software in the GDR provides new historical insights into database practices.

The form of the database – genealogies, operationalities and praxeologies of relational databases in East and West.

1 Spread of a research field

1.1 Theses

1.2 Storyed fields in the software studies
– 1.2.1 Cultural techniques research
– 1.2.2 Infrastructure studies
– 1.2.3 Cooperative Figuration

1.3 Historiography under the tension of the East-West discourse
– 1.3.1 Overlapping approaches
– 1.3.2 Periodizations
– 1.3.3 The material as a base

1.4 Archaeology of the immaterial: materials and methods
– 1.4.1 Journal articles & manuals
– 1.4.2 Interviews
– 1.4.3 Archives

1.5 Navigation

2 Praxeologies of relational databases

2.1 In-Formatization – structured data in the relational algebra
– 2.1.1 Focusing on the use
– 2.1.2 Names and meaning
– 2.1.3 Set theory and machine independence
– 2.1.4 Data independence
– 2.1.5 The relational view on In-formation and normalized relationships
– 2.1.6 Conclusion

2.2 Operationalization – tabulation
– 2.2.1 Tabular materiality and operationality
– 2.2.2 Tabular practices
– 2.2.3 At the threshold of databanking
– 2.2.4 Conclusion

2.3 Coordination – Transactions
– 2.3.1 The medial-economic network of double-entry bookkeeping
– 2.3.2 Depersonalization of capital and registration
– 2.3.3 Interlocking of commercial and statistical fields of knowledge
– 2.3.4 Dispositifs of the transaction processing
– 2.3.5 A ticket seller becomes an in-formation provider
– 2.3.6 On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP)
– 2.3.7 On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP)
– 2.3.8 Conclusion

3 Stations – Technoemergence in East/West comparison

3.1 Contexts of the case studies
– 3.1.1 Institutions of planning and management in the GDR
– 3.1.2 The Robotron combine
– 3.1.3 Embargo of the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM)
– 3.1.4 Software adaptations
– 3.1.5 Temporal and Topological Overview of database systems in the GDR

3.2 Robotron Dresden and SAP Walldorf: Socialist and capitalist Enterprise Resource Management in comparison
– 3.2.1 Dresden & Walldorf: Coordinating the production process
– 3.2.2 Dresden, Berlin(East): Digitization and standardization
– 3.2.3 Dresden, Guben, Moscow, Rostock: Subject area Oriented Programming Systems (SOPS)
– 3.2.4 Walldorf: SAP and modular integration
– 3.2.5 Dresden, Walldorf: Concepts for the In-formatization of reality
– 3.2.6 Dresden, Berlin(East): Rationalization between assembly line and transaction
– 3.2.7 Conclusion

3.3 California, Dresden University of Technology and Robotron Dresden: The Problem-oriented seminar »databases« and DABA 1600
– 3.3.1 A computer science center at the TU Dresden
– 3.3.2 Joint research and development – institutional framework
– 3.3.3 A problem-oriented seminar as a hub of knowledge transfer
– 3.3.4 Research results from the department of information processing
– 3.3.5 Transition from research and development to production
– 3.3.6 User information
– 3.3.7 Conclusion

4 Why databases, why now? Cooperative media practices of the database

4.1 Research questions
4.2 Results of the examined material
4.3 Results for the history of computing and software studies
4.4 Future research questions
4.5 Coda – Your return has been picked up

→ author: Francis Hunger, published on: 2020-Oct-22