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

Postgraduate Course: Digital activism: Power and protest around the world (PGSP11495)

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
SummaryThis course will enable students to broaden their understanding of different kinds of digital activism around the world, and how they interact with one another, as well as with embodied forms of protest. It will include a discussion of campaign websites, digital chatrooms, video virals, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as live-streaming practices involving FaceTime and Periscope.

Key themes running throughout the course include: anti-globalisation and labour; resistance to state, race and gender-based violence; as all as other issues to do with sexuality, class and nationality. 'Global' protests, such as Occupy, will be discussed alongside case studies of progressive activism carried out within particular countries, including Brazil, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Syria and Tunisia.

But we will also analyse the limitations and risks of digital activism. These include enhanced digital surveillance; psych ops; and co-option by digital capitalism; as well as the use of digital media to spread hate, fear and to call for further terror attacks.
Course description At the beginning of this course, students will be introduced to some of the key definitions of digital activism and related critical approaches, as well as being an overview of the course, teaching and learning methods, and learning objectives. In subsequent weeks, we could cover early uses of SMS texts, email lists and encrypted apps in organising and reporting on embodied protest, as well as enabling protestors to avoid arrest. But at the same time, students will be introduced to the witty, popular culture of digital protests. Examples we could refer to here include the Battle for Seattle in 1999 and the Occupy movement in 2011-12.

We could then link this to the ways in which Facebook, FaceTime, Twitter and Periscope were used in in-country democratic resistance to authoritarian regimes from the late 2000s onwards: the literature on the Arab Spring is of obvious relevance here, although it may also be useful to draw on other protests, such as the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong. Having introduced the concept of livestreaming as a means of evidencing or preventing police brutality, we could then develop it in relation to ideas of mediated witnessing and human rights reporting, for example in relation to the Syrian war.

However, in addition to these major, international protests, I want to allow time to explore digital 'micro-activism', perhaps using digital fora relating to sexuality in countries where bisexual and homosexual behaviour is banned, and/or the Everyday Sexism project. We could then bring the big-picture international protests together with tales of micro-aggressions by exploring new trends in feminism, including the #Me too campaign. Yet, I want to problematise this campaign in relation to ideas of nationhood and race, so I'd also like to develop these ideas by considering other hashtag campaigns, such as #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen(US) and/or #BlackLivesMatter (US), as well as #JusticeforLiz (Kenya), #DelhiRape (India) and/or #BringBackourGirls (Nigeria).

Having introduced the notion of intersectionality, we might then consider other hashtag campaigns which relation to reconstructing national and generational identity, rather than international solidarity, in the wake of colonialism. Examples here could include #RhodesMustFall and #ThisFlag (Zimbabwe). Finally, I really want to make sure that students understand that digital activism isn't always progressive: so we could either include a separate session, or weave in work on the ways in which digital media may be used for harmful purposes. This could include considering why ISIS use YouTube to spread terror and the growth of the so-called 'incel' movement behind the Toronto attacks, as well as issues concerning the co-option of activists' labour by digital capitalism, issues of data harvesting (such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal) and related work on psych ops, some of which has been carried out by researchers from Edinburgh University.
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
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Have a critical understanding of the complex roles currently played by alternative online and social media in different forms of protest and political resistance around the world
  2. Be able to critically analyse, evaluate and synthesize academic arguments about the characteristics of digital activism, and its effects.
  3. Develop extensive, detailed and specialised understandings of how the various practices involved in digital activism are shaped by particular geographic, cultural and military contexts, as well as political and economic structures
Reading List
Barassi, V. (2015) Activism on the web: everyday struggles against digital capitalism. London: Routledge.

Fenton, N. (2016) Digital, Political, Radical. London: Wiley and Sons

Kavada, A. (2015) Creating the Collective: social media, the Occupy Movement and its constitution as a collective actor. Information Communication and Society 8 872-886

Joyce, M. (ed) (2010). Digital Activism Decoded: The New Mechanics of Change. International Debate Education Association.

Lievrouw, L. (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Cambridge: Polity Press

Rambukkana, N. (2015). Hashtag Publics: the Power and Politics of Discursive Networks. New York: Peter Lang

Tufekci, Z. (2017) Twitter and Tear Gas: the Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Yale. Yale University Press.

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Graduates will become familiar with a variety of different ICT applications, and the ways in each are used to communicate by campaigners and other activists. They'll develop understandings of ethical and professional decision-making, concerning some of the difficulties and risks which digital media pose to activists and others; becoming familiar with the political and economic considerations involved in digital anonymity, surveillance and data harvesting. They'll have the opportunity to develop relationships with specialised practitioners and to refine their ability to work autonomously, as well as with peers.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Kate Wright
Tel: (0131 6)51 1480
Course secretaryMrs Casey Behringer
Tel: (0131 6)50 2456
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