Frictional Infrastructures: An ethnography of compulsory digital self reliance and collective access in the Danish Welfare State

Barbara N. Carreras

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Coercive approaches to digitalizing welfare provision in Denmark are based on the premise that increased automation and digital communication will reduce the need for in-person support and improve the quality of welfare services "for all." Yet, I examine how coercive digital-by-default welfare provision does not reduce the need for in-person support, or benefit everyone equally. On the contrary, digital mandates, forcing a diverse population to adopt standardized digital public infrastructures, accentuate the need for in-person support as they delegate public administration responsibilities and the labor of access to individuals, the family, and the third sector (volunteer organizations, advocacy organizations, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit organizations). This delegation of responsibility, and labor, puts pressure on citizens, the family, and the third sector because their access needs, knowledge, and labor are neglected. This delegation also produces inefficient services for those most marginalized, as it becomes more difficult to access welfare benefits.
Through various research collaborations with disability rights representatives, activists, citizens, and organizations that support racialized, disabled, and marginalized groups, we have created the empirical data that underlies the dissertation's analysis. The thesis examines how an obligation to be self-reliant through the adoption of digital self-service, which this dissertation explores as compulsory digital self-reliance, undermines citizens’ dignity and self-determination, and produces frictional forms of access and inclusion, as well as new forms of unrecognized labor. I introduce the concept of frictional infrastructures to illustrate how digital infrastructures can simultaneously include, exclude, move, connect, and create new forms of equality and inequality. Using accessible and collaborative multimodal and arts-based ethnographic methods, the thesis foregrounds the role multimodal storytelling can play in both the production and dissemination of research examining the digitalization of welfare services.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages244
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-417-6
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Cite this