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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Internet, Society and Economy (PGSP11116)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
Summary"You know why I love the Internet? Because it's just like me. Vulgar, combative, and contradictory? Overflowing with perversion and stupidity? Yes, and yes." - Deadpool talking to himself (from the Deadpool video game)

Hello and thank you for considering taking the course Internet, Society, and Economy. We have just entered the fourth decade of the World Wide Web's implementation and crossed more than 50 years of the internet's early history. Yet, the internet and most web and associated digital technologies still appear as new to us, carrying narratives of shiny utopianism and dark dystopianism. A walk at an airport bookstore's popular science and technology section will certainly reveal books about the "effects" of various types of connected computers: algorithms, (big) data, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, and more. This course aims to explore and challenge such claims about the internet as a singular "thing" - we will examine multiple mutually impacting phenomena, groups, institutions, and infrastructures which altogether shape the internet. Not so much about what the internet does to society, but how internet is a product of the society and its economic structures.

Do not worry if you have no prior background in computing, economics, or social science - if you enjoy using the internet and have a critical perspective on it, that's more than enough.
This course is for you if:
-You come from a social science background and want to learn more about the internet's social and economical dimensions - with no need to know about computers or economics.
-You come from an economics background and want to expand your knowledge about internet-related economies and their interaction with society.
-You come from a technical/designer/engineering background and you are interested in the social and economic underpinnings of internet technologies.
This course takes Science and Technology Studies (STS) as its point of departure. That means we are basing the course material on strongly empirical case studies, real-life examples; most, if not all, taught theories are extrapolations from actual happenings. With this approach, we tend to challenge predominant/mainstream theoretical accounts abiding by various types of hype. However, the internet is a rapidly evolving environment, hence the empirical-based theories produced 10 years ago might not be relevant today - feel free to challenge them!
Nevertheless, our course involves elements from histories and geographies of the internet; bits and pieces from media/communication theory, law, information science, philosophy, political economy, anthropology, sociology, and design. We are very much welcoming contributions from your background too. We are also very much curious to hear from your perspectives on all these fascinating topics if you come from a place where the internet seems quite different.
By the end of the course, you are expected to be aware of a wide array of conceptual frameworks and be able to apply them critically on challenges relating to the practice and policy of information and communication technologies (ICTs), digital technologies, and other web-related fields. You will have learned to detect and critically engaged with themes such as surveillance studies, the digital divide and online democracy and inclusion, internet privacy, materialities and sustainability of the internet and AI, as well as approaching such themes based on relevant methodologies.

Assessment is based on two essays, an early short one and longer final, as well as weekly blogpost contributions. We highly encourage you to decide topics based on your own interests, and if this is useful to you, link them to any potential future project you will be, or are currently, working on, such as an MSc or PhD thesis, a policy brief, and so on. While the scope is very interdisciplinary, we would expect you to engage with at least some of the theories taught during the course and develop the critical skill sets outlined in the learning outcomes.

Some trending essay topics include (but are not at all limited to):

-NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and art
-Memes and their politics
-Surveillance in the workplace
-ASMRtists and other TikTok/YouTube/Instagram influencers
-Online musicians on Spotify, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, etc
-'Revenge porn' and doxxing
-Hybrid protesting and social movements after/during Covid
-Conspiracy theorists and echo chambers
-Government nudging
-Online occultism, revival of witchcraft, anti-Trump hexing and witchtok
-Cyberfeminism and LGBTQI+ empowerment online
-Online cancel culture
-Military uses of AI and the internet
-Trade unionisation of camboys and camgirls
-Decolonialised internet
-The role of whistleblowers in influencing internet policy
Course description Week 1
Introduction to Internet Studies: Signposting to the Course and Basic STS Tools

Week 2
From Cybernetics to Smartphones: Historical and Conceptual Underpinnings of the Web

Week 3
Community-Identity-Hacking History: Coding, Copyright/left, Creative Commons, Open Access, Web 2.0

Week 4
Algorithmic Rhythms: Rankings, Recruitment, Recommendations

Week 5
Platforms and Policy: Moderation, Memory, Work, and Everyday Life in the Gig/Attention Economy

Week 6
Enter the Echo Chamber: Democratic Volunteerism and the Politics of Mis/Dis/Information

Week 7
Living "Onlife": Surveillance, Sousveillance, Power and Control

Week 8
Digital Divide, Inclusion and Diversity, Biases, and Justice

Week 9
Internet Matters: Beyond the Digital-Material Divide, Materialities, Sustainability, and Environmental Costs

Week 10
Social Movements, Political Participation, Slacktivism, and Hybrid Protesting
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:  105
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Weely Blogs 10%
1200 Word Essay 20%
4000 Word Essay 70%
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the historical context and theoretical underpinnings of a wide range of social science research focused on digital technologies.
  2. Be able to critically engage with different theoretical and methodological approaches for studying digital technologies and their epistemological assumptions.
  3. Be able to apply complex concepts and critical thinking from different disciplinary perspectives in order to tackle contemporary social issues relating to digital technologies
  4. Be able to interpret, evaluate, and use a wide range of different types of data, empirical material and arguments relating to the social dynamics of digital technologies.
  5. Be able to communicate complex ideas pertaining to the social dimensions of digital technologies.
Reading List
Flichy, P. (2007). The internet imaginaire. MIT press. Introduction (pages 1-11)
Feenberg, A 2012 . (Re)Inventing the Internet : Critical Case Studies. Introduction (pages 3-17).
Bory, P. (2020). The Internet Myth: From the Internet Imaginary to Network Ideologies Introduction (pages 1-6). University of Westminster Press.
Wyatt, S. (2021). Metaphors in critical Internet and digital media studies. New Media & Society, 23(2), 406-416.
Winner, L. (1985) `Do Artefacts have Politics?` in Social Shaping of Technology 28-40
Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The social construction of facts and artefacts: Or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social studies of science, 14(3), 399-441.
Williams, R and Edge, D (1996) The Social Shaping of Technology, Research Policy Vol. 25, (1996) pp. 856-899
Winston, B. 2007 Jun 5. Let Them Eat Laptops: The Limits of Technicism. International Journal of Communication 1:1.
MacKenzie D. & J. Wajcman (eds.) (2nd ed., 1999) The Social Shaping of Technology, `Introductory Essay` pp.3-27
Flusser, V. (1990). On memory (electronic or otherwise). Leonardo, 23(4), 397-399. refreqid=excelsior%3A891f1b546fb17290bcd9e6d8ce359371
Light, Jennifer S. `When Computers Were Women`. Technology and Culture 40, no. 3 (1999): 455¿83.
Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century`s On-Line Pioneers. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Peters, B. How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet. MIT Press, 2016.
Webster, F., 2006. Theories of the Information Society. 3rd ed. Routledge. (online through the library).
Kitchin, R. (2016). Thinking critically about and researching algorithms. Information, Communication & Society, Online. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2515786
Lee, F., Bier, J., Christensen, J., Engelmann, L., Helgesson, C. F., & Williams, R. (2019). Algorithms as folding: Reframing the analytical focus. Big Data & Society, 6(2)
Selbst, A. D., Boyd, D., Friedler, S. A., Venkatasubramanian, S., & Vertesi, J. (2019). Fairness and abstraction in sociotechnical systems. In Proceedings of the conference on fairness, accountability, and transparency (pp. 59-68)
Borges, J. L. (1962). Funes, the Memorious. Labyrinths. New Directions.
Gillespie, T. (2018). Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media. Yale University Press. Chapter 1, pp 1-23, Chapter 8, pp 197-213.
Pasquale, F. (2020). New laws of robotics: defending human expertise in the age of AI. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Chapter 4, pp 89-119.
Meijas, U.A. and Vokuev, N.E. (2017). Disinformation and the media: the case of Russia and Ukraine. Media, Culture and Society 39(7), 1027 - 1042
Marx, B. G. T. (2015) `Surveillance Studies`, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier, pp. 733-741. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.64025-4.
Dencik, L. & Redden, J. & Hintz, A. & Warne, H. (2019). The `golden view`: data-driven governance in the scoring society. Internet Policy Review, 8(2). DOI: 10.14763/2019.2.1413
Kittler, F. (1995). There is no software. ctheory, 10-18. (this is a dense reading, written in Kitter's very idiosyncratic language - but it is one of the first, if not the first, to place emphasis on the material dimension of software).
Reichert, R.and Richterich, A. (2015). "Introduction: Digital Materialism" Digital Culture & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 5-18.
Agre, P. E., 2002. Real-time Politics: The Internet and the Political Process. Information Society, 18(5), 311-331.
Tufekci, Zeynep. "Introduction" and "A Networked Public." Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Yale University Press, 2017.
Burgess, J., Marwick, A., Poell, T., & Dijck, J. van. (2017). Social Media and New Protest Movements. The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, 546-561.
Castells, Manuel. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age / Manuel Castells. Second edition. Cambridge, UK;: Polity Press, 2015.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Keywords- Internet - Society - Economy - Policy - Technology - Innovation Goverance
Course organiserDr Morgan Currie
Tel: (0131 6)50 6394
Course secretaryMrs Beth Richardson-Mills
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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