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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh Futures Institute : Edinburgh Futures Institute

Postgraduate Course: Narratives of Digital Capitalism (fusion online) (EFIE11008)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh Futures Institute CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryWhat are words worth in an era of digital capitalism? What stories are told by digital platforms and the algorithms that control them?

This course centres around the concept of 'linguistic capitalism', which can be broadly described as the way in which words have become valuable pieces of data that are collected, analysed and exploited by various digital and algorithmic technologies (eg search engines, digital advertising, commerce, social media, smart devices, home assistants).

It uses creative and investigative methods to reveal and visualise how the commodification of language by digital platforms creates powerful narratives that impact our daily lives.
Course description The commodification of language-as-data is what fuels the wider digital economy (e.g Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook etc), yet linguistic capitalism can have serious side effects. Dangerous narratives are spread in the form of fake news or extremist content, search results can be biased, social media politicised and polarised, and sensitive personal data compromised and exploited.

Spanning concepts of political economy, critical theory, digital geography and digital humanities, the course explores the stories and narratives created in an age of algorithmic reproduction. As well as encouraging critical thought about the ethics of data and AI in the lived spaces of digital capitalism, it also explores creative methods of critique and visualisation through artistic intervention and creative visualisation.

This course is taught over an intensive 2-day block, with some structured activity before and after the intensive.

Teaching and learning activities will cover a mix of activities such as:

(1) Prior to the intensive days: introductory meet-up and introduction online, watching pre-recorded short lectures, and readings.

(2) During the intensive days: interactive workshops, group discussions.

(3) After the intensive days: group discussions to develop a group presentation on visualisations and artistic interventions making visible how language data is used and its potential effect, leading to a mini-symposium.

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) - Online Fusion Course Delivery Information:

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will teach this course in a way that enables online and on-campus students to study together. This approach (our 'fusion' teaching model) offers students flexible and inclusive ways to study, and the ability to choose whether to be on-campus or online at the level of the individual course. It also opens up ways for diverse groups of students to study together regardless of geographical location. To enable this, the course will use technologies to record and live-stream student and staff participation during their teaching and learning activities. Students should note that their interactions may be recorded and live-streamed. There will, however, be options to control whether or not your video and audio are enabled.

As part of your course, you will need access to a personal computing device. Unless otherwise stated activities will be web browser based and as a minimum we recommend a device with a physical keyboard and screen that can access the internet.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  6
Course Start Semester 1
Course Start Date 18/09/2023
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 2, Formative Assessment Hours 1, Summative Assessment Hours 1, Other Study Hours 4, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 80 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) 4 hours scheduled group work
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Summative Assessment:

The course will be assessed by means of the following components:

1) 2000 Word Essay (100%)

A 2000 word individual investigation/explanation of an existing technology/platform (e.g Facebook, Alexa, search engines, Wikipedia etc), using group, formative and individual research to inform discussion of what impact they have in producing narratives in the world, and how existing interventions/ visualisations/creative methods have made these narratives visible and understandable to wider audiences. Students should include an idea for a creative intervention in the final 500 words.
Feedback Feedback on the formative assessment may be provided in various formats, for example, to include written, oral, video, face-to-face, whole class, or individual. The course organiser will decide which format is most appropriate in relation to the nature of the assessment.

Feedback on both formative and summative in-course assessed work will be provided in time to be of use in subsequent assessments within the course.

Feedback on the summative assessment will be provided in written form via Learn, the University of Edinburgh's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Group work in Intensive days will include peer and academic lead feedback. This will help build knowledge, critical skills and confidence for the post-intensive formative assessment (mini symposium), and will help develop both performative and critical skills.

The post-intensive group formative assessment (mini symposium), will provide opportunities for group discussion and peer feedback, as well as academic lead input, which will help to inform the individual written summative assessment.

Throughout the course, the academic lead will encourage the Inputting of individual and group investigation work onto group document/ board (e.g Miro). This will begin to be populated in the pre-intensive period and will be added to throughout the intensive days and post-intensive. The document/board will capture students' group and individual investigations and ideas and will be used in group discussions and to facilitate peer-feedback.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of digital capitalism and its impact on the wider discourse.
  2. Recognise the relationship between words and data in the digital economy, and the narratives that can be produced as a side effect of digital capitalism.
  3. Identify, analyse and creatively critique digital technologies which use linguistic data.
  4. Formulate and pitch/present a proposal for a creative intervention/visualisation into a digital technology.
Reading List
Indicative reading list:

Baker, P., & Potts, A. (2013). 'Why do white people have thin lips?' Google and the perpetuation of stereotypes via auto-complete search forms. Critical discourse studies, 10(2), 187-204.

Bridle, James. 'Something is wrong on the internet.' Nov 6, 2017.

Bounegru, L., Gray, J., Venturini, T., & Mauri, M. (2018). A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders. A Field Guide to" Fake News" and Other Information Disorders: A Collection of Recipes for Those Who Love to Cook with Digital Methods, Public Data Lab, Amsterdam (2018).

Clarke, R. (2019). Risks inherent in the digital surveillance economy: A research agenda. Journal of Information Technology, 34(1), 59-80.

Flender, K. W. (2019). American Psycho. Reading an Algorithm in Reverse. Interface critique, (2), 197-211.

Ford, H., & Wajcman, J. (2017). 'Anyone can edit', not everyone does: Wikipedia's infrastructure and the gender gap. Social studies of science, 47(4), 511-527.

Graham, M., Kitchin, R., Mattern, S., & Shaw, J. (Eds.). (2019). How to run a city like Amazon, and other fables. Meatspace Press.

Graham, R. (2017). Google and advertising: digital capitalism in the context of Post-Fordism, the reification of language, and the rise of fake news. Palgrave Communications, 3(1), 1-19

Jobin, A., & Glassey, O. (2014). 'I Am not a Web Search Result! I Am a Free Word.' The Categorization and Commodification of 'Switzerland' by Google. The Categorization and Commodification of 'Switzerland' by Google.

Kaplan, F. (2014). Linguistic capitalism and algorithmic mediation. Representations, 127(1), 57-63.

March, S. T. (2019). Alexa, are you watching me? A response to Clarke, 'Risks inherent in the digital surveillance economy: A research agenda'. Journal of Information Technology, 34(1), 87-92.

Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. NYUPress. (selected chapters)

Sadowski, J. (2020). Too smart: how digital capitalism is extracting data, controlling our lives, and taking over the world. MIT Press. (selected chapters)

Schiller, D. (2015). Digital capitalism: stagnation and contention. Open Democracy.

Schiller, D. (2011). Power under pressure: Digital capitalism in crisis. International Journal of Communication, 5, 18.

Striphas, T. (2010). The abuses of literacy: Amazon Kindle and the right to read. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 7(3), 297-317.

Thornton, P. (2017). Geographies of (con) text: language and structure in a digital age. Computational Culture, (6).

Venturini, T. (2019). From fake to junk news, the data politics of online virality. In Ruppert, E., Isin, E., & Bigo, D. (2017). Data politics. Big data & society, 4(2), 2053951717717749.

Zuboff, S. (2015). Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization. Journal of Information Technology, 30(1), 75-89.

Indicative watch list:

Lewis, B., Brin, S., Carr, R., Clancy, D., Coleman, M. S., Collado, L., ... & Verba, S. (2013). Google and the World Brain.

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News

Zeynep Tufekci's TED Talk, "We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads."
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1) Critical analysis;

2) Research skills;

3) Creative visualisation of data;

4) Communication/translation skills;

5) Written, oral and media communication skills;

6) Innovative methods.
KeywordsData,language,digital capitalism,narrative
Course organiserDr Pip Thornton
Course secretaryMiss Abby Gleave
Tel: (0131 6)51 1337
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