Researching Digital Payments

Welcome to our project’s website! We are capturing ongoing developments in Europe’s payment sector from a sociological perspective. The project “Digital payments: Making payments personal and social” is led by Sophie Mützel, Professor of Sociology, Media and Networks at the Department of Sociology, University of Lucerne, and is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). 

Digital payments: Making payments personal and social

The way we pay is constantly changing. For many, cash and cards continue to be the go-to, however, other services like PayPal are catching up fast in popularity. The project proposes that shopping and paying are becoming more “personal” and “social» through digital payments.

New payment services like TWINT in Switzerland, Swish in Sweden, or PayPal globally not only make money move in real-time but also constantly generate transactional data. Digital payments are the “missing link” in the digital economy: user-generated transactional data is the central element that links digital but also physical actions when users click “pay now” or swipe their smartphones to pay at a store’s check-out. Payment apps may thus serve as the so far missing prism to see whole chains of transactions between users, customers, the banking industry, retailers, and brands, which in turn allow for enhanced “personalized recommendations.” The project proposes that digital payments alter existing and create new relations.

The payment sector around the globe has changed drastically in the last few years. Empirically, the project examines the field of digital payments from the perspectives of customers, retailers, and the banking industry in two contrasting European cases: Switzerland, where digital payments usage is low, and Sweden, where digital payments usage is pervasive. Data collection is based on traditional qualitative methods of interviews and ethnographic fieldwork as well as on collecting textual data from archival and digital documents. Four subprojects investigate (1) the banking and fintech industry in Switzerland and comparatively in Sweden, (2) retail customers and retail companies in Switzerland, (3) digital payments in everyday life in Sweden, and (4) macroscopically, future imaginaries of policy makers, lobbyists, and business consultancies globally, in Switzerland, and in Sweden.