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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Politics

Undergraduate Course: Perspectives on Digital Capitalism (PLIT10138)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe digital revolution is profoundly changing the way advanced economies work. This course provides a detailed introduction to a range of contemporary debates on the nature of these transformations and their implications for global capitalism and its governance. This will include understanding different perspectives on the future of work, the implications of automation for inequality and welfare policy, the regulation of technology platforms, competition law in the era of big tech and the political economy of personal data.
Course description How should we reform welfare systems to take account of the changing nature of work? Should technology platforms be regulated like other public utilities (are they 'natural monopolies')? How should employment law and trade unions adapt to the realities of technology-driven automation and the gig economy? Who should own the vast value extracted from the personal data we generate online? Is an information society compatible with capitalist institutions based on private property rights?

These and other pressing questions have been raised with a new urgency by the rise of digital technologies and the growing power of the firms that control them. This course equips students to critically engage and understand a broad range of inter-disciplinary debates on the implications of digital technology for the governance and future of global capitalism.

The course is structured thematically. Each week the students will critically assess competing perspectives on a major issue relating to the digital economy and its governance. Weekly lectures will introduce the broad contours and intellectual history of these debates. The lectures will be supported by weekly seminars that examine the set texts in more depth, drawing on real-world policy debates examples and using structured activities (e.g. debates, presentations, group work) to bring these to life.

Indicative topics covered by the course may include:
1.Digital Goods, Scarcity and Property Rights: Is Capitalism Compatible with Information Society?
2.How 'Free' is Free Stuff? The Political Economy of Personal Data and Algorithms
3.Monopoly and Competition Policy in the Information Age
4.Regulating the Digital Economy: Are Tech Platforms Public Utilities?
5.The Precariat: Labour Rights and Unions in the 'Gig Economy'
6.Automation and the Future of Work: Re-thinking Welfare for the digital age
7.Taxing Tech: Fiscal Policy in the digital age
8.Finance in the Information Age: Cryptocurrencies and Digital Money
9.National Security in the Information Age: Trade Policy and the Geopolitics of Data
10.COVID-19 and the Future of Digital Capitalism

To analyse these topics the course draws from a range of inter-disciplinary literature - bringing to bear perspectives from economics (studied in a non-technical way), political economy, public policy, economic sociology and political theory. It will place contemporary debates on this subject in broader historical context through introducing it alongside a curated selection key historical texts and extracts on the implications of automation and technological change - including Marxist, Keynesian and Liberal theory.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Introduction to Politics and International Relations (PLIT08004) OR Politics in a Changing World: An Introduction for non-specialists (PLIT08012) OR Politics and International Relations 1A: Concepts and Debates (PLIT08017)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 4 Politics/International Relations courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 11, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 175 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The course is assessed entirely through coursework. Students are required to submit two essays of 2,000 words. Each essay will account for 50% of the final grade.
Feedback All feedback will be returned within 15 working days of submission. This will allow feedback from the mid-semester policy brief to inform final essay writing.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand and clearly communicate major theoretical perspectives on the implications of digital technology for the governance and future evolution of capitalist society.
  2. Present and evaluate relevant forms of empirical data and evidence that support/challenge these perspectives.
  3. Analyse the major challenges, problems and opportunities that digital technology and automation pose for democratic capitalism.
  4. Critically assess competing policy agendas proposed to address these challenges, and appraise their strengths/weaknesses/viability
Reading List
Castells, M. (1996), The Rise of the Network Society, Wiley-Blackwell.
Gorz, A. (1999), Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-Based Society, Polity.
Keynes, J.M (2015 [1930]) 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren', in The Essential Keynes, Penguin.
Lanier, J. (2013), Who Owns the Future?, Penguin.Marx, K. (1993 [1858]) 'Fragment on Machines' in Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, Penguin.
Rifkin, J. (2014), The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Palgrave MacMillan.
Standing, G. (2011), The Precariat: The Dangerous New Class, Bloomsbury.
Srnicek, N. (2017), Platform Capitalism, Polity.
Zuboff, S. (2018), The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Profile Books.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will develop students overall critical thinking and analytical ability. It will advance their ability to synthesize a range of complex, abstract ideas and rigorously assess these using empirical information and examples. It will develop their ability to summarize their own position on complex policy debates and ideas using high-level written communication skills.

More generally, they will understand at a higher level of sophistication their place within a changing world that is substantially shaped by the economic power of technology firms and digital platforms. This will enrich the exercise of their democratic citizenship. It will also be of use in a diverse range of subsequent careers, including in politics, the media, civil society and social enterprise.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr David Yarrow
Course secretaryMr Ethan Alexander
Tel: (0131 6)50 4001
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