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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

Undergraduate Course: The Internet and Society (STIS10001)

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 Internet now plays a fundamental role in contemporary society: from the way your personal relationships and view of the world are mediated by smartphone apps, to the giant corporations collecting information on our every action; from politics being played out on social media, and the challenges of AI entering in to every aspect of the internet. In this course you will explore the evidence and debates about how the Internet shapes every aspect of our lives, relationships, power, culture and the economy. It will treat 'the Internet' not as one monolithic entity, but as a collection of at times disparate technologies, platforms, laws, practices and discourses that are co-evolving with society. You will ask what is the impact of the internet, and why do we have the internet we have? You will learn about key ideas, events, social movements and technical developments that will help you make sense of current debates, practices and controversies - everything from the difficulties in regulating the internet harms while maintaining freedom of expression, the crisis in online fraud and cybersecurity, and the future of AI in democracy and work. You will work with concepts such as identity and subjectivity, social exclusion and inequality, politics and democracy, globalisation and development, privacy and surveillance. The internet is global, but is not the same everywhere - by comparing the internet in China, India, across Africa and in Europe and America you will explore alternative futures for the internet, and shaped by both cultural differences and international power dynamics.

A key aim of the course is to enable students with non-technical backgrounds to gain the insights necessary to participate in the governance and future of the internet in society - from shaping legislation, deciding appropriate uses in the workplace, questioning the explanations of engineers, challenging the power of Big Tech, and taking a leading role in shaping how technology shapes democracy and culture.
Course description The course will focus on specific empirical case studies and technologies as well as theoretical and methodological questions on how to best study and conceptualise the role of internet technologies in society. We will draw, in particular, on the multidisciplinary area of research referred to as science and technology studies (STS), but, where relevant, will complement this with research in sociology, geography, anthropology, philosophy, history, media and communications, and politics. At the end of the course students will not only be familiar with the social study of the internet, but will also be able to apply key conceptual frameworks and sociological thinking to tackling contemporary issues, policy and practice pertaining to information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital media more broadly.

The first half of the course follows the historical development of how we arrived at the internet we have today, and critically introduces key conceptual ideas that have shaped the process: data, networks, the virtual, platforms, algorithms and AI. The second half focuses on key cross cutting themes: privacy, surveillance, community, personal relationships, politics and democracy, money, labour, and the environment.

No specialist technical knowledge is required other than students' personal experience of computers, internet, and mobile phone use. However you will be expected to explore a whole range of internet services and platforms you might not usually use, and learn some key ideas about how computers, the internet, and AI work.

The classes will consist of a combination of lectures, group discussions and debates, in class at home and online; work with data and evidence and small group presentations. Students will be expected to watch videos, read and summarise set papers before class, and prepare personal exercises for use in group activities. You will write a formative essay (or 2 short essays) at mid-term, and a long essay at the end of the course. For the second essay you are expected to develop your own topic and questions, and we will work in class to develop these.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 4 humanities or social science 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 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  91
Course Start Semester 1
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) Short paper (25%) and long essay (75%)
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 information and communication technologies.
  2. Be able to distinguish between different theoretical and methodological approaches for studying information and communication technologies and their epistemological assumptions.
  3. Be able to critically engage with key questions about the social dimensions of information and communication technologies in a nuanced manner.
  4. Be able to apply complex concepts and critical thinking to key issues relating to the regulation and governance of societies of deeply mediated by information and communication technologies.
  5. 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 information and communication technologies.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr James Stewart
Tel: (0131 6)50 6392
Course secretaryMr Ewen Miller
Tel: (0131 6)50 3925
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