The Digital Civil Society Seminar is the Lab’s flagship course for Stanford students. The class is taught and designed by the Lab’s postdocs and lead scholars. Every year, the syllabus is re-invented to incorporate our team’s ongoing research as well as the latest relevant scholarship from across disciplines.
Below, you will find information about various versions of the seminar over the years as well as syllabi and other teaching resources.
Check the Stanford Bulletin for course scheduling and availability in the current academic term.
2022-2023 “Digital Civil Society: Global Perspectives on Technological Transformations”
Teaching assistant: Ananya Karthik
A vibrant civil society is a core component of democratic life. ‘Civil society’ includes social movements, grassroots activism, philanthropists, unions, nonprofits, NGOs, charities, informal associational life, and cooperatives, among others. In this course, students interrogate how civil society is evolving in a world of pervasive digitization and data collection. The class takes a global perspective and historical approach. We will explore how civil society has played pivotal roles in developing digital technologies – as well as how these technologies shaped civil society in different ways across the world. We will analyze how communities develop strategies to mitigate digital harms and actively promote values, organizations, regulation, and design that support the equitable and emancipatory use of technology. Topics covered in the class include: tech workers unionizing, advocacy about digital ID, the human labor behind content moderation, and community-led efforts to address the digital divide. The course is global in scope (we will read authors and study cases from North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa), taught by a multidisciplinary team (communication, STS, education, history), and is committed to a syllabus inclusive of the scholarship, knowledge, and voices of marginalized communities.
2021-2022 “Digital Civil Society: Digital/Human Rights and Civil Society”
Teaching assistant: Corazon Johnston
A vibrant civil society is a core component of democratic life. ‘Civil society’ includes social movements, grassroots activism, philanthropists, unions, nonprofits, NGOs, charities, informal associational life, and cooperatives, among others. In this course, students interrogate how civil society is evolving in a world of pervasive digitization and data collection. Using human rights as an anchor, we will explore how digital technologies perpetuate long-standing threats and create new challenges for digital rights. We will also analyze how communities develop strategies to mitigate these harms and actively promote values, organizations, regulation, and design that support the equitable and emancipatory use of technology. Topics covered in the class include: mis-disinformation and racism/sexism; algorithmic bias; tech workers unions; immigration and technology; Covid-related digital surveillance.
2020-2021 “Digital Civil Society: Power and Resistance”
Teaching assistant: Isis Anderson
Digital technologies are changing the way members of the civil society come together to change the world. The ‘civil society’ includes social movements, grassroots activism, philanthropists, unions, nonprofits, NGOs, charities, and cooperatives, among others. Their mission is to effect important social and political transformations to bring about what they see as a better world. But their work and strategies are subject to significant changes in the digital era. The course will analyze the opportunities and challenges digital technologies present for associational life, free expression, privacy, and collective action. We will cover a wide range of key themes, including digital rights advocacy and racial justice, community-owned networks and de-colonial design, activist resistance to surveillance technologies, algorithmic bias, Black Twitter, and digital misinformation, micro-targeting and voter suppression. The course is global in scope (we will read authors and study cases from America, Europe, Asia, and Africa), taught by a multidisciplinary team (history, communication, computational social science, education), and is committed to a syllabus centering on the scholarship, expertise, and voices of marginalized communities.
2019-2020 “The Three Decades that Made Digital Civil Society”
Teaching assistant: Xinlan Emily Hue
In a short three decades we’ve seen the hope for digital networks shift from liberating and democratizing to an anxious age of surveillance capitalism. How did this happen, what’s being done about it, and what does it mean for democratic governance and collective action in the future?
This seminar course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students examines the ways in which digital technology shapes how we communicate, organize, advocate, and engage with each other in markets, politics, and civil society. We will focus on the ways digital networks and technologies have changed how people come together to make change in the world, a sphere of action commonly called the social sector.
This is a year-long 3-unit course, designed and offered as three independent quarters.
Across all three quarters, we will analyze the opportunities and the challenges to associational life, free expression, individual privacy, and collective action. We will examine the technological, organizational, legal, economic, and social shifts that have accompanied our growing global dependence on digital networks. The class draws from law, media studies, political science, and history, bringing in research perspectives from Europe, the U.S, and African scholarship.
Fall quarter focuses on the 1990s — the popular adoption of the internet in the northern hemisphere, the development of international digital networks, the creation of anchor digital civil society organizations (such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Archive), the emergence of the digital economy and the dot com bubble, global shifts in journalism coverage, key technology legislation and legal battles over free expression.
Winter quarter shifts to the 2000s — the emergence of social media platforms, the rise of mobile connectivity, institutional shifts in journalism, and major developments in intellectual property, state surveillance, and digital activism.
In Spring Quarter we focus on the 2010s and the future, from the Arab Spring and global political propaganda to electronic governments and biotechnologies.
Each quarter includes a “demo day” of student presentations, open to the campus public, in which we will be highlighting projects that examine the key themes of the course from different disciplines. Students will write one final paper or produce one project per quarter, based in their own disciplinary methods or integrated with others in a group project. Students are also responsible for leading at least one class session per quarter.
2018-2019 “Digital Civil Society”
Associated with the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) and the Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL). Quarter-long workshop for graduate students on the nature of civil society in the digital age. Civil society is a sphere of organizations and individuals operating for the public good, but independent from government or for-profit sectors. The digital age has expanded the potential for civil society participation, yet it also brings with it new challenges and threats. This course seeks to define, question, and trace the implications of `digital civil society,¿ through discussion of readings in this emerging field, peer-review of chapters and articles authored by course participants, and lectures by expert guest speakers. Focus is on pursuit of progressive research and writing contributing to the current scholarly knowledge of civil society in a digital age.